My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Ramsgate Pleasurama Work to Begin Whilst Cllrs Sit On Arses

According to an e-mail I received from Kent County Council on 15 September, work on constructing 107 luxury flats and a 60 bed hotel at the Ramsgate seafront Pleasurama site is about to begin.  

Following Thanet Council’s sale of the Pleasurama freehold in July 2016 for a reported £3 million the last remaining obstacle to the commencement of the development work – the granting of a “stopping up order” - has now been concluded. According to KCC’s email “the developer’s representative has confirmed this conclusion has allowed preparation to commence for a start (of the development works – my insertion) this Autumn. We are currently awaiting further information and details on their intentions to commence work 

Where have we heard this before? Wasn’t this the oft
repeated mantra of Thanet estate agent Terrence Painter who was the spokesperson for the previous Pleasurama developers SFP Ventures UK Limited? And wasn’t it Terry who in the local press, at public meetings and on BBC Radio Kent, bleated persistently that work was about to commence. But it never did.

So, who is the new Pleasurama developer and is work really about to start on this £30 million construction project now that Autumn has arrived?  Well the developer is the Ramsgate Development Company Limited. Documents (formerly known as Cardy Ramsgate). Documents on the Companies House website say that the Ramsgate Development Company is owned and controlled by Swiss domiciled multi-millionaire Colin Hill and his son Robbie.

Colin Hill, as those of you with an interest in the Pleasurama scandal will know, was the financier behind the original Pleasurama developer SFP Ventures UK Limited, who were sacked by Thanet Council in 2014 and replaced by Kent construction giant  Cardy via a special purpose company Cardy Ramsgate in 2015.

It was the Hill’s who, through an offshore Panamanian registered company called the  Mintal Group Inc, which I believe they probably own, lent Cardy Ramsgate £3 million on 20th July 2016 to purchase the freehold of the Pleasurama site from TDC. Just 14 days later the Cardy construction empire collapsed into liquidation owing its creditors a staggering £18million. This convenient financial collapse enabled the Hills through legal charges on the Pleasurama site to take control of the land  and also the development company Cardy Ramsgate which was quickly renamed the Ramsgate Development Company.

So the question must be asked whether a Swiss based multi-millionaire and his son who either own, or have considerable influence over, an offshore Panamanian registered investment company, will now use their not inconsiderable wealth to begin developing the Pleasurama site which they own?  Well I’m not holding my breath. Based on past performance, Colin Hill, as the financier behind SFP Ventures UK Ltd, was not averse to lots of promises being made about work commencing but nothing serious happening. So why should things be any different now? 

I suspect, like many others, that the real motivation behind the Hill’s manoeuvres is not to build luxury flats on a high-risk flood zone which are unlikely to sell, but to make a nice profit on reselling the land at a significant mark-up. Just as Colin Hill did with land one of his companies owned  which used to belong to Peterborough Football Club.   

In the meantime, the Pleasurama hoardings continue, as they have done for more than a decade, to despoil and blight a prime Ramsgate seafront location and occupy thousands of square metres of public promenade, even though building work is highly unlikely to ever start. I sincerely hope that KCC will “later this month hold a meeting “to review our position and set our timetable in regard to the next steps we may take in regards to the current (hoarding) licence”. I hope that this may result in the Hill’s being ordered to remove the hoarding, move it back the perimeter of the land they own,  and repair, restore and free up thousands of square metres of public land they have occupied under false pretences for  more than a decade.

I’m surprised and disappointed that it has been left to me a, local blogger, to research,  enquire and break news about an issue which is of huge public interest and which is clearly the responsibility of Ramsgate’s Kent County Councillors.  I can’t understand why Labour County Councillor for Ramsgate, Karen Constantine, appears not to followed up on all of her high profile election promises to local residents “to get to the absolute bottom”  of the Pleasurama debacle; “to force action if the eyesore isn’t completed”  and to press KCC “really hard on the on going saga of Pleasurama”. Not a word has she published about the results of all her claimed “pressing”, “pushing” and “working hard” on the Pleasurama issue.  

Clearly, like all politicians, talk is very cheap for Constantine and promises easily broken. But this duplicitous and cynical behaviour equally applies to Conservative KCC councillor for Ramsgate, Paul Messenger who, just like Constantine,  appears to have neglected the need to take  action over this appalling and unacceptable 20 years  blight on Ramsgate’s seafront. A blight which is all the more apparent and stark now that the nearby Royal Victoria Pavilion has been restored to its former glory.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Dreamland's £2.5million Debt. Creditors Get Just 25p in £1!

According to a document which mysteriously came into my possession, creditors of the financially troubled Margate Dreamland operating company, Sands Heritage Limited (SHL), have voted to agree a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) which will repay their outstanding debts at a rate of 25p in the pound.

Within just a year of Dreamland opening amusement park operator SHL had ran up debts of over £8million and in May 2016 it was forced into administration. Almost 250 unsecured, non-preferential, creditors were owed almost £2.5 million

The documents leaked to me reveal that a

meeting of SHL’s creditors was held in London on 30 August 2017. At that meeting, the administrators proposed to share a sum of £600,000 between the 250 creditors - a repayment rate of 25 pence in every pound owed. The proposal was accepted by a majority of the creditors who voted. 

Having secured an agreement to settle its debts it is likely that SHL will shortly be released from administration and allowed to continue to manage Margate’s Dreamland Amusement Park. 

SHL was recently purchased by Cayman Islands registered hedge fund Arrowgrass Masterfund who now own 99% of the company shares. The original company directors have now resigned from the SHL board and been replaced. Arrowgrass have also invested a reported £25million in landscaping, extending and further developing the amusement park site and purchasing several properties adjacent to the Dreamland site. Sources close to Dreamland have told me that it is Arrowgrass which is funding the £600,000 offer. 

Whilst I welcome Arrowgrass’s investment in Dreamland and the surrounding area I am very disappointed by its 25 pence in the pound offer to its creditors, many of whom are small local businesses. Arrowgrass is an extremely successful hedge fund which generates very high returns for wealthy clients seeking tax-efficient offshore investments. Surely the right thing for Arrowgrass to have done would have been to have offered to pay at least 50p in every pound for those businesses who were shafted by SHL. 

Friday, 1 September 2017

Margate’s £1-A-Year Seaside Pier (continued)

I recently published an article in which I exposed the scandalous situation whereby Thanet Council was leasing the Margate Harbour Arm for just £1-a-year to businessman and property developer, Mr Graham Knight. In the article I estimated that Mr Knight may be making somewhere in the region of £100,000 a year profit from the rents and car parking income he receives from his £1-a-year seaside pier. I described this highly unusual arrangement as a “gold-plated” lease which provides an astronomic rate of return for what I believe to be a tiny investment.

The question has to be asked how on earth Thanet Council agreed such a stupidly generous lease with Mr Knight . A lease which will have lasted 13 years when it expires in 2021. And a lease which may be in breach of the Local Government Act 1972 which requires councils to secure the best possible terms for property disposals, including leasehold disposals.

Well thanks to colleague blogger Louise Oldfield I am now able to shine some light on how this totally unacceptable situation which has cost council tax-payers tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds, of lost income, came about.
The origins of this scandalous deal go back to 2007 and an organisation called the Margate Renewal Partnership (MRP). The MRP was established in 2005 and included representatives from Thanet District Council, Kent County Council, the now abolished South East England Development Agency and the Government Office of the South East (GOSE), the Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage. Their remit was to promote the regeneration of Margate and encourage investment into the town.

One of the regeneration projects identified by the MRP was to refurbish the Harbour Arm and breathe new life into the then dilapidated and run down historic structure. According to the Margate Renewal Partnership Board Minutes, of 13 June 2007 which were released and published under a Freedom of Information Act request by Louise Oldfield in 2014, under the heading Margate Harbour Project the organisation’s Director, Derek Harding, reported that “A planning application is expected within the next 2 weeks for change of use to cafĂ©, arts studios, galleries etc. Could include Canterbury Christ Church Arts department. Developer is Pineapple Properties”.

There is no mention in the minutes of the process by why which Pineapple Property Kent was selected to be the developer of this important project. Nor is there any mention in the previous MRP minutes, which Louise shared with me, of a developer procurement exercise being carried out by the pier owner, Thanet Council, the MRP, or anyone else. So how did Pineapple Property Kent become the developer? Was there an open and transparent competitive tendering exercise carried out, as is required by local government rules, or was there not? Well the minutes appear to suggest that that there wasn’t an open and transparent developer selection process. Just to be certain and to avoid any misunderstandings I have submitted a freedom of information request to Thanet Council to find out and will let you know when I get an answer.

Soon after the MRP meeting of June 2007, Pineapple Property Kent began work on a planning application for the change of use of the Harbour Arm to allow for the development of artist studios and retail premises on the structure. The application was submitted to Thanet Council in November 2007 and approved in early 2008. In March 2008 Graham Knight, on behalf od Pineapple Property, signed the gold-plated lease agreement with Thanet Council for the Harbour Arm.

Work on the restoration of the Harbour Arm began about the same time and was completed towards the end of May 2008. In a letter to Graham Knight dated 16 November 2007, Derek Harding confirms that Mr Knight will receive a grant from the MRP of £120,000 to carry out the restoration works to the Harbour Arm. There is no mention in this letter, nor in the lease agreement, that Mr Knight was expected to invest any of his own money into the refurbishment of the Harbour Arm. I have submitted a freedom information request to find out from Thanet Council whether Mr Knight and Pineapple Property Kent did in fact make any investments into the refurbishment of the Harbour Arm. I’ll keep you posted.

The other interesting issue about the refurbishment of the Harbour Arm is the developer’s (Pineapple Property Kent) choice the choice of building contractor Margate based Design and Build Ltd. According to the company’s website, Design and Build is “proud to have helped refurbish Margate Harbour Arm into a bustling area of restaurants, bars and galleries in this stunning setting” . Design and Build is owned by Mr Stephen Groom, who was at the time of the Harbour Arm refurbishment and, according to the latest Companies House annual return, still remains, a shareholder of Pineapple Property Kent. 
Not that I am suggesting anything inappropriate, but for a development company, such as Pineapple Property, to appoint as a contractor one of it’s own shareholders, might be regarded by many people as creating a conflict of interest. I certainly think so. Also Thanet Council and/ or the MRP should have investigated this situation to ensure that the close financial links between the developer and the contractor would not adversely impact upon securing best value for the large investment of public money which was being made in the Harbour Arm. I have submitted a feedom of information request to Thanet Council to find out what checks they made into this matter. I emphasise however that I am not suggesting any wrongdoing by anyone.

Last but not least Thanet’s council taxpayers, who undoubtedly lost out because of this stupidly generous leasehold deal, need to know why when the lease was renewed in 2014 its terms were not altered in favour of the council to say £50,000-a-year instead of remaining fixed at a £1-a-year. Or why the lease was not competitively tendered to get the best possible return for the council? In charge of Thanet Council at the time of the lease renewal was Labour Party Council Leader Iris Johnston and coincidentally the Harbour Arm is situated in the middel of the ward she represents. For someone who constantly reminds anyone who chooses to listen, that she knows about everything which happens in her ward , why didn’t Johnston do something about a lease which most people would agree was outrageously bad value for Thanet Council and its taxpayers?

Apart from being the Council Leader Johnston was also the council’s portfolio holder for regeneration and economic development with political responsibility for the Dreamland Project and of course the Harbour Arm too. Once again the question must be asked why didn’t Johnston do something about a lease which most people would agree was appalling bad value for Thanet Council and its taxpayers? I have submitted a freedom of information request to Thanet Council about this matter and will let you know when I find out more.
Whilst I am not suggesting any wrong doing by anyone and whilst I think that the Harbour Arm has been well restored, I am suggesting that Thanet Council has significantly contributed to its own financial difficulties by failing to put out competitive tender, failing to revise, and agreeing such a stupidly generous gold plated lease for its one-pound-year-seaside-pier.

I would also appeal to Mr Knight to make a gesture of good will to the people of Thanet by terminating his lease of the Harbour Arm with immediate effect and in so doing allowing the people of Thanet to benefit directly from the income generated by this popular historic attraction.