Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Cabinet member and mayor of Ramsgate enters the dialogue about The Royal Sands Development on the Pleasurama site in Ramsgate.



In my previous post http://thanetonline.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/sunday-ramble-about-skinny-dipping-in.html   I highlighted the fact that I hadn’t had any response about the recent additions to the ongoing Pleasurama saga from my ward councillors who are also cabinet members.

Cllr Dave Green responded in a comment there, here is what the said.

“Michael

I've scanned back through your emails and apologise for not replying. You seem to be asking me to comment on what happened in 2009 under the previous Conservative administration.

I'm afraid that I do not have the detailed knowledge to do your questions justice, except to say that the agreement reached then was aginst officers advice, and that advice now is that the development agreement effectively gives the developer until 2017 to complete.

In a way, your questions are now largely irrelevant (except as comment on the previous administration)as they largely focus on due diligence around the source of the finance behind the developer. We are now in a new situation, where the developer must produce a substantial sum in cash, and submit his source of funding for examination by the Council both for the main site, and for the building and fitting out of the hotel. Only if the Council Officers are absolutely satisfied on all counts will we proceed.”

It was easier for me to reply to him in this new post, due to the length and the links in my reply, here it is.

Dave the main problem for me is that this whole issue has the feel of mistakes under both administrations, where no one will answer simple and reasonable questions, the key issue for me is that the development should be reasonably safe for people to live in.

I would say that the recent mistake under this Labour administration was not including a flood risk assessment in the conditions of this new deal, where the developer asked for more financial concessions.

Of course there may be a good reason for doing this, but as I wrote to the cabinet members asking them to do this prior to the agreement and didn’t get a reasonable reply, I don’t know what that would be.

Justifying building on a high risk flood zone without a flood risk assessment would seem very difficult and in the light of The Environment Agency letter http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/ea/ seem impossible.

Like everyone else in Ramsgate I would like to see the site put to some use, but not at any price and not with a development that is fundamentally blighted from the outset becase it is a new build without a fra.

I notice you use the word “developer” when describing SFP, as they never appear to have developed anything, perhaps speculator would be a better word.

Now when it comes to the financial arrangement this isn’t my field of understanding and as I was lead to believe that both officers and councillors of both parties were experts in this field, I made the act of faith that they knew what they were doing and this area had been covered properly.

All along the line my take is that the council has been protected by retaining the site freehold, with the ultimate sanction that if the developer/speculator fails to deliver the council get the site back. This has been backed up by decreasing amounts of bond so that the council would have the money to finish off the development if anything went wrong. 

As to the value of the site, this appears to be somewhere in the region of £10m to £20m, like me you know various local developers, who have actually bought land locally and developed it, so you can ask their opinions on the site value, which is how I arrived at the figure.

Now my understanding of the secret deal reached between the cabinet and the developer/speculator is that the council sell the developer/speculator the site for £3.3m, I am not sure if this figure includes the £1m currently held by the council to safeguard it if the developer/speculator fails to deliver.

I do know that the council has spent nearly £1m on cliff repairs and having surveyed the cliff wall – probably because of the fuss I have made about it – they are about to embark on some more expensive repairs.

I guess a major problem for me is that I am concerned that the cabinet having secret negotiations with the developer/speculator is, are they able to do this properly, both in terms of not getting us into more problems over the financial side and not having more years of derelict building site.

Living in the Eastcliff area yourself I guess you will be only too aware of the problems there, which can’t have been helped over the years by having the prime site in the ward derelict.  

Going back to the previous council involvement under Labour.     

The project that was initially proposed in 2002 was financed by what appeared to be a Swiss bank, Société Financière Privée S.A. (SFP), via SFP Venture Partners Ltd and supported by the brewer Whitbread as set out in this document http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/blogpicts10/id5.htm

I think what may have happened here is that none of the councillors or officers grasped the difference in meaning between the French word Financière and the French word Bancaire.

My understanding is that Société Financière Privée S.A. (SFP) was licensed as a Swiss stockbroker in 1999 and was trading as such in 2002, so wouldn’t have been able to act as a bank then and fund the development.

I guess as the planning application was put in and some deal was done with the developer/speculator by the then Labour controlled council, you will be able to access all the information about what happened.

It remains very unclear whether Whitbread ever had any commitment to this development, or if they just expressed an interest, but at some time near the beginning I know they disassociated themselves with the project.

I also know that around this time it was discovered that SFP wasn’t the ventures part of a Swiss bank, but a Virgin Islands Company and obviously not connected to the Swiss bank, as the Swiss bank didn’t exist.

Just after this time I and several other concerned residents investigated this Virgin Islands Company, in the first instance to see what other developments they had built. We soon discovered that BVI companies were mostly associated with money laundering and BVI companies didn’t have to produce any paperwork, so discovering what they did was impossible.

So I would guess that back in 2002 the council officers and the Labour group did something to check on this company and their ability to deliver, there is also the problem with it being a BVI company that there is no way of knowing who was behind the company, so it could even have been council officers or councillors.

So in the first instance I would like you to revisit this initial arrangement and tell us what the basis for proceeding with this developer was, who the council was dealing with and what else they had developed that would have given the confidence to proceed.

On to why I would like you to revisit the decisions by the Conservative cabinet to continue with this developer, which mainly relates to the information supporting the development agreement and associated variation, see http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/pda/

Obviously if the supporting information wasn’t correct then this casts doubts on the validity of those documents. 

I have seen some of the documentation but not all, and the documentation I have seen supporting the 2009 variation and the decision to proceed with a substantially less guarantee, seems to have a similar problem with a non existent Swiss bank to the 2002 documentation.

In 2003 Société Financière Privée S.A. (SFP) was granted a banking licence so it changed its name to Société Bancaire Privée S.A. (SBP), it continued to trade as a bank – apart from a period when its licence was revoked – until mid 2009 when it got into difficulties, was taken over and became Banque Profil de Gestion (BPDG)

Then at the end of 2009 SFP came back asking for more time and reduced financial guarantees, most of the documentation seems have been based on supporting documents from Société Bancaire Privée S.A. (SBP), a bank that as far as I can see no longer existed.

Now with the officers appearing not to have checked the fundamental point of whether or not the developer/speculator’s bank actually existed at the time two fundamental decision were made, you are saying that the decision you intend to make will be based on officers being satisfied about the developer’s finances.  

You are also I think supporting that this decision should be carried out in secret with all of the supporting documentation kept secret, this obviously hasn’t work too well in the past and I guess the people here in Ramsgate would like to know why you feel it should work any better now. 



As a further thought, officers tell me that they take any money paid via a UK bank as being ensured against money laundering, which in view of today’s news http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20673466 leaves me somewhat at a loss for wwords.  



Another reason for replying with a new post was the opportunity to include the watercolour of Ramsgate Harbour painted by Joseph Mallord William Turner around 1825, courtesy of The Tate Gallery London.   
 
A point about development design highlighted by the picture – you may need to click on to expand it – is that the lighthouse shown in the picture was built too near the end of the east pier and despite the wooden structure built around the end of the pier, it continued to rip the rigging and spars off of vessels entering the harbour. Obviously in the end the only course of action was to demolish it and build the lighthouse we have now, further away from the end of the pier.  

37 comments:

  1. We look forward to David Greens answer with baited breath. I suspect we might have to wait, while it is scrutinised by TDC's legal boffin's in case David lets the cat out of the bag.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michael,

      Yours are trenchant and disturbing questions. No wonder the protagonists are desperate for secrecy. No one will answer you, Michael. They are much too scared for that. They will sit tight in the forlorn hope that you will give up. I expect you'll soon receive some abusive anonymous posts. What a mucky business this is.

      This sorry mess is not going to go away, Whistle blowers should consider whether the game is up, and that they should speak out, if only to save their own necks.

      Delete
  2. Seems to me that the £3.3 millions will come in very handy towards the CPO of Dreamland. Money that would otherwise have to be borrowed. TDC alo have to pay KCC £2.4 millions in 2013/14 for their 50% share of the costs of the EKO spine road, again money they don't have so It looks like they are in a spot of bother cashwise.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Seems that secret deals with public money are common in Thanet:

    http://margatearchitecture.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/when-will-margate-town-team-have.html

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well done Michael. I don't see any bank or money launderer lending readies on a flood risk development.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Following consultation the EA have signed off the project

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Retired Engineer,

      So everything is alright then? The sea shall not have them.

      Delete
    2. Michael,

      Is it your understanding that the EA are content with the flood defences as they stand?

      Delete
    3. RE lets be quite clear about this one, after the I received the letter in feb 2008 I put my concerns to council officers and councillors I, after a year of getting some pretty strange replies, including one from a council officer who implied that as the Environment Agency’s engineer was both young and female, she was probably incompetent and as you say another saying the EA had signed it off but with no documentary evidence to support this, I became quite annoyed.

      In feb 2009 I discovered that Laura Sandys and Roger Gale were meeting with the southeast’s most senior EA officers so I asked them to get written confirmation for me of the EA’s position, which Laura emailed to me on 9/02/2009.

      This is a quote from that email:

      “The Pleasurama development gained planning consent prior to the publication of the latest government guidance on development and flood risk, PPS25. When we were consulted in 2003 our floodplain maps did not show the site to be at risk and the design, at that stage, had clear evacuation routes to the the top of the cliff. But, having received revised plans for the development last year, we highlighted our concern over flood risk and recommended that a site-specific flood risk assessment be undertaken. This would inform appropriate mitigation measures such as recommended floor levels, flood resilient design and an evacuation plan to ensure that the development is made as safe as possible.”

      John I hope that answers you fully too.

      Delete
    4. Me thinks the Engineer has not so much retired as moved to the Virgin Islands

      Delete
    5. Readit,

      I like the way the 'Engineer' seeks to close down inquiries with his risible technique of 'I have spoken - now you can all shut up and go away'.

      Delete
  6. Michael, Your catalogue of errors on the Pleasurama site above, coupled with the recommendation by the Chief Financial Officer in 2009 to withdraw from the agreement, and the fact that this development was only commenced a full seven years after the planning approval with a five year limit, just stinks.

    Any other planning authority in the UK would have stopped this development as no foundation works had been commenced within the confines of the site, which is the general rule for judging commencement of a development.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Readit, You must be joking. TDC enforcement to actually enforce anything would be a first. They certainly wouldn't want to upset their mate the estate agent.

    ReplyDelete
  8. A few days ago I spoke to the estate agent along the lines of the discussions on these blogs. He assured me that the flats were still for sale and that everything was fine. He was dismissive of Ian Driver's letters, saying that you know what these politicians are like. He tried to reassure me. I was not convinced.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Estate agents commission of about 2%. Over £20 millions worth of flats for sale represents estate agent income of £400,000. Not suprising the estate agent is talking the development up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous 9:09,

      Neither was I surprised. I mentioned it solely because I thought that my conversation with the estate agent was germane. Please do not infer a sinister meaning in what I said. I am not suggesting any wrongdoing. After all everyone has the right to earn an honest living, estate agents included.

      Delete
    2. Zip,

      I think the agent is caught between a devilish cliff and the deep blue sea. I am sure he would love to sell some flats if they can ever get built. I wonder how many SFP directors he knows?

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    4. I was going to comment, but frankly I do not have a clue Wat is going on; it's all a sad and sorry mess.

      Delete
    5. Readit,

      Of course I do not know for a fact. However, I do not think it unreasonable to conclude that he would have a close business relationship with some SFP directors. Or that he would turn to TDC for advice and guidance, as indeed would any of us.

      As I said before, I see nothing wrong in this. We all have a right to earn an honest living.

      Delete
    6. The only advice you would receive from TDC on this matter is to "go away in short jerky movements" and they would probably want to charge you for it.

      Delete
    7. Readit,

      Oh, I suspect they have been much more helpful than that, much more.

      Delete
  10. Readit, Zip, John, RE and anon, I think the problems with the royal sands always come back to it being such a demanding site. Building between an unsupported chalk cliff and the foreshore needs a developer who has experience, I don’t think engaging various contractors and an architect is enough, it needs a hands on developer with a grasp of the problems.

    I would say that had the work done so far, laying of the access road, partial foundations and cliff repairs, both taken into account the special difficulties of the site and or been overseen by someone who properly understood the problems, then they would have enhanced the site value.

    As it is my guess is that eventually a lot of the work will have to be undone and redone in a way that is viable. One of what is see as problems taken individually I guess I would have put down to not understanding what I was seeing, but collectively I think it must eventually be back to square one, or at least square two or three.

    Roughly you have.

    The access road, Marina Road incline; not likely to work for the life of the development, unless there is huge local authority investment.

    The new road layout, cobbles and slabs on lose sand, where wave overtopping occurs.

    The cliff façade, needing ongoing maintenance and unlikely to last for the life of the development.

    The new foundations on sand, not pile bored, on a high risk tidal flood zone, behind an old sea defence of unknown construction or condition.

    The height issue, where I think we will only know roughly how high it will appear with the help of new mock up photos, promised but not forthcoming.

    The roof treatment, which I am told will result in an acre of ribbed rubber.

    The lack of parking to support the business and leisure aspect.

    The lack of pedestrian access to the businesses other than the seaward facing frontage.

    The narrow two-way road in the canyon between the development and the cliff face.

    No flood risk assessment.

    No cliff condition survey independent of the council engineers who signed off what subsequently proved to be not what they had said it would be; a solution for many years to come.

    Whatever financial package is agreed the problems still remain, one or two of them may be because of something I don’t understand, but I don’t think they all are.

    My guess is the developer is working on the assumption that the money spent so far has added to the value of the site by at least the amount spent.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michael,

      A less charitable soul would infer that you believe TDC to be incompetent - Surely not.

      Delete
    2. John I guess TDC like other fairly large organisations is made up of a made up of a mixture of people working had and doing their best, people trying to feather their own nests, the competent and in incompetent, councillors and officers.

      What I do find interesting though is that there is also now a new type of officer emerging, who is theoretically in charge of something where the funding has been cut and there really is very little left for them to do.

      Delete
  11. Let's not forget the £25k Ramsgate labour largest-ever donation and appraently the same promised for Margate tories.

    Gale and Sandys and McGonigal have not said one word on Pleasurama? What are they and the TDC officials doing for their wages?

    Pleasurama looks like a big pension payday for TDC councillors and officials and developers under a veil of secrecy.

    At least the site isn't polluted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anon without anything to substantiate what you say your £25k is just an anonymous contention which make your whole comment look weak, do you have anything whatsoever to support what you say?

      Delete
  12. I suspect your contributor is getting his China Gateway's mixed up with his Pleasuramas. The infamous £25,000 donation to Thanet South Labour Party was connected to the China Gateway and took place in 2008. To be fair I think it was to Dr Ladymans bit of the partry not the councillors bit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think so Chris.

      I guess all down the line with Pleasurama people have wondered about choosing an offshore speculator that doesn’t ever have appeared to have developed anything instead of A J Browne and Company a reputable firm with adequate finances already engaged in a quality local project.

      There has to have been some incentive, either financial, in terms of a donation or whatever or some other thing which hasn’t ever been explained.

      Making it quite clear here that I consider the fault lies with both political parties, have you any idea why the Conservative group supported this course of action and didn’t use the various opportunities they had to extricate themselves from the ongoing disaster of Pleasurama?

      Delete
  13. We shall never uncover the truth without the aid of an official public inquiry.

    Where is Panorama when you need it.

    I find it hard to accept that this development will be started, let alone completed, within the foreseeable future.

    This debacle has gone beyond party politics. We have been badly served by TDC. We need a whistleblower.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Reported on www.thisiskent.co.uk 14th december :

    "Terence Painter has been the agent for the development since 2002 and is "very confident" that the due diligence is now in place.

    He said SFP director Shaun Keegan has written offers from hotel giants Hilton and Accor and hopes to demonstrate the £20 million funding to finally secure his vision for a revitalised seafront.

    Mr Painter said: "The council have a £1 million bond for the site and Shaun has contributed around £600,000 to work on the cliff face and road improvements out of his own pocket.

    "With hotel operators on board and the money in place, we are hoping to get the go-ahead.

    "After 10 years working on the project, I am very confident we can make it happen."

    Thanet council made concessions in 2009 to reduce the bond.

    Councillor Alan Poole believes a deal can be struck with an agreement in principle to sell the site's freehold.

    The Labour deputy leader said: "SFP has not been able raise the money to complete the project so we are looking at making it easier.

    "Selling the freehold for £3.3 million means we can get our money up front.

    "With the £5 million already spent on the site, I'm sure they're keen not to let £8 million go to waste.

    "If it was a case of building just flats, we could demand much more money but we believe that a seafront hotel and shops are needed to properly regenerate the site."

    Several groups, including the Ramsgate Society, have raised concerns about the sale of the site's freehold to SFP. A debate at last week's Thanet council meeting calling for decisions about the deal to be heard in public was rejected by the ruling Labour group."

    Sp SPF director paid £600,00 out of his own pocket, why was this not paid from SPF then?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or 2.17 it means that the rest of the road works were funded by the taxpayers purse and that the only investment SFP or its directors made to the millions of pounds apparently spent on them was £600k as they contributed £100k to the £1m the council spent on the cliff.

      Could they be saying the other £4.3m was spent on the three men and digger on the site, or was that paid for by Cardy’s.

      I will write some sort of post about it when I get time.

      Delete
    2. I am not reassured. I do not think it unreasonable to conclude that once the speculator has his hands on the Freehold he will do as he pleases and build what he wants, when he wants and in any order that he so chooses.

      TDC has served us badly. Before TDC parts with the freehold the tax payer deserves a full inquiry.

      I am puzzled. Terence Painter is quoted as saying that he is "very confident" that due diligence is now in place. Presumably, there is a difference in being very confident, just confident, or knowing for a fact having seen the evidence. Or maybe it was nothing more sinister than sloppy English

      Delete
  15. Just read in the paper that McGonigal and Poole are to meet with the developers to clinch the dealt. That's the end of that then. The developers will run rings round both of them, give them a load of guff and the freehold will be gone. If they think they can tie the developers to anything, they are in cloud cuckoo land.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is yet another total and unmitigated defeat for the the Thanet tax payers.

      I would dearly like to know who are the beneficiaries of this shabby deal.

      Delete
  16. Well, If all else fails, perhaps groups in Ramsgate can apply to be a "rule 6" party to try to take on our own council to stop this going ahead? That is what happened in the case of residents groups and small traders taking on Arlington Tesco. Not sure how this might apply here though?

    I also found it chilling that Chairman Doug Clark stopped a debate from happening on the basis of a lack of paperwork before him? Well, this is not unsurprising given that correspondence between Sue Mcongial and Cllr Driver was dragged out by Ms Mcongial, giving Cllr Driver so little time to properly prepare for a debate. Is it really a fact I wonder, that a debate can never be spontaneous, without paperwork, no matter how serious the issue is perceived to be? When will they learn that the issue here is not just about their ignorance surrounding getting something built at any cost, but also their shocking condescending patriachal tone.

    ReplyDelete

Please note comments that may be libellous, comments that may be construed as offensive, anonymous derogatory comments about real people, comments baiting internet trolls, comments saying that an anonymous comment was made by a named real person, boring comments and spam comments, comments in CAPs will be deleted. Playground stuff like calling real people by their time stamp or surname alone, referring to groups as gangs, old duffers and so on will result in deletion. Comment that may be construed as offensive to minority groups is not allowed here either, so think before you write it, remember that the internet is a public place, that it is very difficult to be truly anonymous and that everyone who uses it leaves a trail of some sort. Also note the facility to leave anonymous comment will be turned of during periods when I am unable to monitor comment, this will not affect people commenting who are signed on to their blogger accounts. When things are particularly difficult on the commercial spam front I may turn comment moderation on for periods.

If you feel that someone has left a comment that is offensive and directed at you personally please email me (link on the sidebar) asking to have it removed, you will need to tell which post and the date and timestamp of the offending comment. Please do not reply to the offending comment as I will assume you continuing the dialogue as meaning that you want the comments left there.