WHEN Nathan Tinkler’s building company Bolkm recently sought contractors to work on a major overhaul of its waterfront offices, Hunter tradespeople received the news in disbelief.
“It’s like they are living in a fantasy land where they don’t have a string of unpaid bills stretching all the way across town that is really hurting people,” one sub-contractor said.
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This perhaps explains why the company, led by directors Darren Williams and Jon Mead, could paint such an optimistic picture of its future.
Dozens of tradespeople and suppliers stretching from the Hunter to Queensland are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars because the builder is not fully paying its bills.
Since May, three companies have successfully taken legal action against Bolkm to recoup almost $70,000.
One of the creditors, a Queensland plumbing firm, later agreed to have its judgment set aside after Bolkm paid all outstanding debts and legal fees.
A spokesman for related company Buildev Group said earlier this month the developer was ‘‘facing challenging times’’, but had ‘‘great financial support from the Tinkler Group’’.
Recent Bolkm projects include works carried out on Mr Tinkler’s horse stud in Canungra, Queensland, to Newcastle Port Corporation’s $3.4million port centre that opened on Newcastle Harbour earlier this month.
A Port Corporation spokesman confirmed last week it was “making representations” to Bolkm following complaints from subcontractors about “non-payment of accounts”.
Mr Tinkler’s spokesman said last night the job was incomplete and ‘‘Bolkm had not been paid in full as yet’’.
The creditors are all asking one question – where did the money go?
They are also asking how a company backed by self-made mining magnate Mr Tinkler can be in such a financial state that it is unable to pay bills that start from $1200.
The mess is a long way from the 2009 Newcastle Master Builders’ Association awards when Bolkm was recognised for excellence in commercial construction for The Glass House building in Hannell Street, Wickham.
It is this Tinkler-linked building that Bolkm is planning to overhaul before it and Buildev move in.
The failure of Bolkm to pay its bills comes as Buildev was earlier this month ordered by the Supreme Court to complete a multimillion-dollar property purchase at Steel River.
Property and development company Mirvac took Buildev to court after it failed to complete its promised purchase of a block worth as much as $20million.
Mr Tinkler first bought into Buildev in 2009, is now the major shareholder and a director alongside Newcastle lawyer Aimee Hyde and general manager Andrew Dowling. In the past year Bolkm and Buildev have lost 16 staff, with two sacked, two made redundant and 12 resigning.
Newcastle building industry veteran Bob Jeffkins said there was no doubt Bolkm was in trouble.
Mr Jeffkins’s fitout company is owed $17,000 and has employed a debt collector to chase the money.
‘‘I am just glad I got it down to a relatively small amount compared to the figures they did owe us,’’ he said.
‘‘I have no interest in ever doing business with them again, there are many people owed money and it’s just not the right way to do things.’’
Creditors said phone calls and emails regarding overdue accounts were rarely answered.
Former Bolkm shareholder and construction manager Tom Elliot, who was sacked from the company in April, described the builder’s decline as “sad”.
Mr Elliot, who had a 10per cent share of Bolkm, was preparing for a courtroom battle with his former employer later this month, but the matter was settled out of court.
He said for years he enjoyed working for the company, but the charm quickly wore off when it started not paying its subcontractors more than a year ago.
‘‘Newcastle is a small town so unfortunately I still receive calls from subcontractors and consultants chasing money from Bolkm,’’ he said.
‘‘All I can do is just advise them to contact the directors of Bolkm.’’