Wednesday, 24 June 2009

What Thanet District Councillors have to say about the Pleasurama development in Ramsgate.

There is no doubt that Pleasurama is the largest development in any of the Thanet towns at a quarter of a kilometre in length it dwarfs the Turner Contemporary into insignificance.

In view of the forthcoming full council meeting to decide its fate I emailed each of the councillors individually (apart from Bob Grove whose email address doesn’t appear on the council’s website, I emailed customer services and asked them to pass the email on to him) asking for their views on the matter, particularly in relationship to the environment agency technical experts letter.

You can click here to read the email I sent them I made it clear that their replies were for publication and as they come in I will put the up as comments with my replies to them.

To avoid any derisory comment about their and my literacy I should remind people that these are emails where typos and text abbreviations are quite acceptable.

I should also remind people that those councillors that bother to reply should be seen with much greater esteem than those who don’t.

I will post all the comments received by email under my own name to prevent any irregularities.

31 comments:

  1. From Cllr-Shirley Tomlinson

    I understand your concerns but that these have been fully explored through the planning process and at TDC Cabinet and the final decision will be taken on 23rd July at Council.
    Best regards
    Shirley

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Shirley so you have no concerns about the EAs development control technical specialist saying.

    “We are certainly disappointed that access from the development to the top of the cliff, which we believe to have been in the original layout, has since been removed. In the event of the esplanade being impassable, access from the cliff-top would ensure a safe dry route to and from the residential units.

    As the proposal stands, a serious flood could potentially leave residents stranded in their homes without a safe means of escape, for the duration of the event.”

    I would have thought as cabinet member for environmental services you would have more interest in the concerns of a qualified environmental specialist.

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  3. From cllr-Iris Johnston

    Dear Michael, Thank you very much for your email. I think Dave Green is probaly best qualified to respond to the points you ahve made as he along with others has kept a very close eye on this project. I will bear in mind your comments but I believe all of us have to be careful not to predetermine any outcomes. Best wishes Iris

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  4. Hi Iris I haven’t heard from Dave yet although I expect I will.

    What caused me write to all of the councillors was the councils announcement that construction work would start 10 days after the decision which presumably means they intend to go ahead with the plans that are not EA compliant.

    This could mean that we get a situation where local people could be killed or injured because of a full council decision, so I wanted to be sure that all the councillors understood the EAs position.

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  5. From Cllr Simon Moores

    Dear Michael

    I'm aware of your concerns and thank you for your note. The proper person to leave this with is really your own ward councillor. As far as I understand the matter, the relevant issues and objections have been reviewed by the officers and members and in the absence of any firm objections on the grounds you suggest the appropriate decisions have been made.

    I can't really be of much more help.

    Kind regards

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  6. Hi Simon in view of the cabinet’s decision I am a bit concerned that the planning officers didn’t make the EAs views clear on this one, fundamentally it is a matter of public safety.

    May I remind you of my previous concerns about the probability of the cliff collapsing there that have now been addressed, I believe it was the pictures of previous collapses in Ramsgate that convinced you.

    I don’t have any pictures of the damage there in 1953 to convince you on this one as there was much more severe damage on the north coast of Thanet, so no one bothered about the relatively minor damage in Ramsgate, there was no one living down there to be killed to injured when the crane was washed over the sea defences.

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  7. From Cllr Roger Latchford

    Michael thank you for your e-mail,I beleive you have made all the points on a number of occasions, I cannot agree with the issues you raise but thank you regards Roger

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  8. Hi Roger like you I don’t think my points are that important or should carry much weight, as I am not an expert in this area.

    I would be interested however to know your views on the points made by the EAs development control technical specialist, particularly as she appears to be the only expert with experience of developments between the cliff face and the shore line involved in the project.

    As Cabinet Member for Regeneration & Economic Development I am sure you don’t want to end up with a blighted development, which unless you can produce a letter from the EA contradicting their previous one, or a flood risk assessment it surely will be.

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  9. From cllr-Alasdair Bruce

    Dear Michael
    Thanks for the info. I too share some of your concerns over this site. Sea level rise is now when and not if. The EA are, for a government body, ahead of the game with planning forward to anticipate the coming changes associated with climate change, and should be commended for producing a flexible and proportioned policy in the 'shoreline managment plan'.
    With regard to this specific site, I have in the past raised concerns as to the quality of the repairs to the cliff face. However, on examining the work plans they appeared adequete for the near future.
    Despite any dubiousness surrounding the developer, I believe enough safeguards exist through our current planning framework and the watchful eye of the EA, to ensure that when/if anything gets built on this site it will be safe. I can assure you that I too will be keeping an eye on this development.
    Regards Alasdair

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  10. Hi Alistair good to hear from someone with a more professional opinion to add, I had a considerable dialogue with the geotechnologist that produced the survey of the cliff façade and was in charge of the work there.

    I have a full copy of the report but have published some of it here as it may interest people http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/tdc/id39.htm

    There were some amusing inconsistencies, for instance on one occasion I told him that a considerable length had no foundations, when he replied that it was sitting on 1 metre thick concrete I was obliged to send him a photo of me poking a stick under it, hence the road at the back being raised by a metre to cover this failing up.

    If you have looked at the latest plans you will see that the space behind the building would be inadequate to carry out the sort of repairs that have just been done.

    In view of the rusting reinforcement inside the concrete that has been exposed to the salt air for all this time, I would expect major repairs will be needed in ten to twenty years time.

    However the structure I am most concerned about is that supporting the public transport access see http://www.michaelsbookshop.com/tdc/id50.htm it is made of Victorian housbricks of varying hardness’s and at the moment has a forty tonne weight limit on it.
    I had assumed that at the very least a FRA would take place and plans compliant with this, including emergency escapes to the cliff top, would appear before construction started, so when the council announced that construction work would commence ten days after the meeting I became very concerned and emailed all of the councillors.

    ReplyDelete
  11. From Allan Poole

    Hi Michael,

    I also have a number of continuing concerns with the Pleasurama development.

    1. SFP (Ventures) Ltd are currently unable to provide the required performance bond said to be due to the ‘current economic climate’. This bond is necessary to guarantee that the building gets completed even if the developer cannot finish the project (for whatever reason)……no bond could mean TDC (Council Tax Payers) having to pick up the tab. I believe this could leave TDC and the Council Tax Payers exposed to a significant financial risk.

    2. The Environmental Agency issued new flood risk guidelines after the Planning Application had been determined by TDC (the guidelines are not retrospective). The TDC Planning Department maintains the building was ‘started’ within the three year time limit so it can still be built. I believe it is very debatable as no work of any significance has been started….none that I can see anyway! The EA say they would not allow the current approved building to be built under their new guidelines.

    3. I believe there is still some doubt as to the height of the finished building and believe despite assurances that it will protrude above the cliff top.

    4. The original idea of a mixed leisure / commercial / residential development has long since disappeared.

    5. All that said the site is a continuing eyesore that needs to be developed……….

    Alan

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  12. Hi Allan

    1 I don’t think all of the councillors appreciate that this sort of bond is a fairly normal requirement for many projects, doesn’t mean that the developer would have to come up with the full amount, just pay an insurance company a fraction of the sum.

    As other developers don’t seem to be having problems obtaining bonds the question begged here if the specialist insurance companies that sell bonds to developers don’t trust SFP should the council?

    2 The bond being in place before the development started was a condition of the development agreement when the planning consent expired, they can’t have it both ways, either the bond was in place or it wasn’t in which case work hadn’t started.

    3 The plans are very difficult to decipher as the site survey is calculated in the height above sea level, whereas the elevations are scaled drawings, the front of the cliff slopes slightly from one end of the building to the other.

    Best I can calculate from the latest plans is it probably sticks up about a metre above the cliff where it is at its lowest near the lift.

    4 No one has ever been able to tell me why Westcliff Park Estates that wanted to produce just that and give a free swimming pool to the town, in the ground floor of the building were rejected.

    I was told that this was because the were financially unsound, but as they were involved in another major development in Ramsgate at the time this seems unlikely.

    As this was done under a Labour administration perhaps you would know.

    5 I don’t think this is as urgent as preventing going ahead with a dangerous one, it is a prime site and would easily clear for leisure use and parking while we wait the recession out.

    I would imagine that after the recession is over the value of the site would be much greater than it was back in 2003 so the council could stand to benefit from this.

    Finally do you have access to the development agreement as I was told recently that it states that the council would be obliged to buy the hotel if a purchaser couldn’t be found and if this is the case it could put a considerable strain on the councils funds as it is the hotel that has to be built first.

    ReplyDelete
  13. From Iris Johnston

    Thank you Michael,
    I spoke to Dave last night at our group meeting and I expect you will hear from him soon if not already. I think I emailed you some years ago with a comment abbout the potential for flooding on the site.! Very best wishes Iris

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  14. From Michael Jarvis
    KCC Member for Margate & Cliftonville

    Dear Michael

    Thank you for your emal and the concerns you have about the Pleasurama Development. I note that this was discussed at Cabinet but for some reason I did not receive the report that was to follow. The Environment Agency have raised some valued points and have put forward recommendations as part of their flood risk assessment. It should also be noted that at KCC there is a Flood Risk Management in Kent Select Committee. Who is responsible for flood risk management? for Policy decisions it is Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and at the operations level it is the Environment Agency, Local Authorities and Internal Drainage Boards. Others include Planning Authorities, Sewage Companies etc.

    I would have thought that the Environment Agency recommendations was a clear indication that more work was required by the developer to mitigate the flood risk.

    As for SPF Ventures financial position, a good construction company would have banking facilities in place in order for the bank to issue a performance bond for usually 10% of the contract amount on their behalf. The company would be paying guarantee fees on a quarterly basis and there will be a fixed expiry date. Reading the latest press reports it appears that a variety of assurances from the developer about the investment funding for the project had been obtained.

    Best Regards
    Michael Jarvis

    ReplyDelete
  15. from Mark Nottingham

    Dear Michael,

    The best people to comment are the local ward councillors Steve Ward, Dave Green and Kerry Harker. It is also something the new Town Council should be taking a view on, preferably before Thanet Full Council meets to come to a decision.

    My views at present are

    1. We need the site developed and not to be an eyesore.
    2. We should not be ransomed by the eyesore of non-development into allowing things we would normally object to.
    3. Any development should if possible have an element that is a public access amenity. I mean more than toilets! There is a chance for "planning gain". I think a public space/building/facility will benefit everybody, those that will live there, local businesses because it will attract people, and most importantly local people who can use it all year round.

    ReplyDelete
  16. looking at these comments its easy to see who is going to go and roll over and grant this ridiculus scheme yet again local democracy at work i wish we could recall this lot like they can in California and get rid of them and get people who really care about the area

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hi Iris emails to and from councillors go back years on this one, really old ones about the height issue and yes there have been several from you, I do get the impression that you understand the issue which is helpful.

    I get the feeling that the Labour group are much more sceptical about the development than they were.

    One aspect that does occur to me is that no one seems to be able to find a copy of the development agreement and I am a bit concerned that I think it stated that the council would be obliged to buy the hotel if there were no other takers.

    Obviously without the bond and with the hotel being built first this could put the council in a very financially vulnerable position if the developer decided not to continue after the hotel was built.

    Could you have a look and see if you still have a copy and let me know the position on that one.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hi Michael Jarvis

    As a KCC councillor the main issue you should be aware of is the new access road issue, it appears that KCC highways were not aware of the EA letter when they approved the new access road design.

    Wave overtopping occurs there most winters and as there is nothing holding the slabs and cobbles down sooner or latter the sea will damage it and anyone trying to escape along it.

    I have made KCC highways aware of the problem and they have taken my points onboard but say there is unlikely to be any money to put the road right.

    With the flood risk to the building what I am most worried about is the lack of emergency escapes to the cliff top, as when we have the next big tidal surge storm the sea is inclined to throw thing like road vehicles or any vessels that have come adrift about like so much flotsam, this could cause the building to collapse.

    I would appreciate it if you could draw my concerns and the EAs letter to all of the appropriate bodies that you mention.

    Coming now to the bond, so far you appear to be the only councillor that appreciates that this is not about SFP putting up a huge amount of money but about a developer failing to obtain normal business insurance cover.

    I would appreciate it if you could try and get this across to some of the other TDC councillors as I have been having a bit of an uphill struggle.

    If you haven’t already I would urge you to go over the latest plans with Doug Brown aspects of them are case for considerable concern apart from the obvious flooding issue, there is the road between the back of the building and the cliff face and the stair wells neither if which seem to be workable.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hi Mark Nottingham

    I have written to them all and expect replies soon, however this is such a large project that it effects everyone that uses Ramsgate seafront and as all of the councillors are to make the decision they all need an informed view.

    I am hoping that the new town council will also be involved in this as it a most important Ramsgate issue.

    1 I don’t think it is that important to get the development started quickly after all this time, what is important is to get the site tided up while the people involved take stock of the situation. I genuinely doubt that Cardy Construction would build against EA recommendations as they have such a good track record, which means more delays anyway.

    2 There is no doubt that the plans they want to build to wouldn’t be allowed were the presented now so I agree on that.

    3 I believe that when we get to the end of the recession it should be possible to interest a developer to do just that in this prime site, it may even be possible to interest Westcliffe Park Developments again. If you remember they wanted to build an attractive development based on the red brick arches on the other cliff, with a swimming pool on the ground floor to be donated to the town gratis. They have already built a large and attractive development opposite the westcliff boating pool, no one can tell me why they were turned down in favour of SFP.

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  20. Hi Chris Selmes

    I am no longer sure on this one I am getting constructive responses across party lines and am beginning to think that cabinet members misunderstood the nature of the bond and hadn’t read and properly understood the EA letter.

    I suppose as like it or not we are stuck with what we have it is better to try and work with the existing people than to just antagonise them.

    You have to appreciate that the Pleasurama problems have developed under both a Labour and Conservative administration and many of the problems relate much more to having an absentee developer rather than being entirely the fault of the councillors.

    What is a great shame is the lack of local consultation that was promised, the latest set of plans that are very different to the original ones displayed and discussed at Albion House have never been on display or explained by the developer in Ramsgate.

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  21. From Iris Johnston

    Thank you Michael, I do keep everything but it might be quicker to ask TDC directly under FOI.

    Once the EA made further comment the situation needed to change and the fooling around with the height caused a great deal of delay. The question we would all ask is why during a building boom this project failed to progress.

    Our little grand daughter is very ill and I am on call for when she goes to the Brompton for a heart operation so I may be out of circulation on and of over the next week or so.
    Best wishes, Iris

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  22. Hi Iris I am sorry to hear about your Granddaughter and hope all goes well.

    TDC planning seem to very reluctant to forward information about the development agreement to me, this is the last I have from them.

    Good afternoon Michael,

    Pleasurama

    Thank you for your message of 18th June.

    It is the case that Cabinet have now referred this subject to Full Council. But my understanding is that for commercial and legal reasons the report is still considered as confidential. And thereafter not available to the public.

    If the position changes, and most certainly after Full Council in July I will contact you directly.

    Your Sincerely
    Brian White

    I will try asking a few of the other councillors but believe it is on pink i.e. not for public viewing.

    I think the problem for the developer is that there isn’t realistically room for a five story building there and changing the plans to a four story building would be material change so they would have to resubmit the plans. These would have now to be both EA compliant and compliant with the new heritage regulations

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  23. From Cllr Jo Roberts

    Thank you for your thoughtful letter. The Pleasurama site is an important one for the whole of Thanet, and it deserves careful consideration.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Hi Jo I am glad you are of that opinion, I recommend you have a word with Alistair Bruce and Michael Jarvis both experts in the various aspects of this development that are of most cause for concern.

    I would also recommend that you take a look at the latest plans if you haven’t already, I gather your husband is an engineer as I once was and should point out that anyone who can read an engineering drawing won’t have any difficulty spotting what is wrong with the plans.

    The planning ref is F/TH/03/1200 and the council’s planning website is www.ukplanning.com/thanet

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  25. From cllr-Mark.Nottingham

    Michael

    Yes as you suggest on 1 a tidy up would be a good start.

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  26. Mark every year since this daft saga started I have written to numerous councillors trying to get the site used for leisure and only managed once.

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  27. From David Green

    You are correct, this project is hugely important to the Town.
    Perhaps I should declare my own history regarding the development. I was part of the then Labour administration at TDC that gave approval in principle to a development on the site.

    The Council undertook a full tendering process and from a shortlist of only two remaining bids, the current developer was chosen.

    I still believe that on the evidence presented that was the correct decision.
    Labour then lost power at TDC and the new administration took the project through Planning approval.

    What came out of the planning process was a much larger and taller building than the concept drawings of the tender process. Council then approved a development agreement containing amongst other things, the financial terms and conditions.

    Since then, I have been involved with you and others to obtain a reduction in height such that the new building is below the level of the clifftop.

    There are to my mind, three residual areas of concern with regard to the proposed development:

    1. The flood risk
    The threat of wave over-topping is obvious, and I share the views of the EA. However, I don't share your alarm to the same degree.
    I accept that if this was a new application, the Council would probably take the EA's advice, insist on a flood risk report and impose appropriate conditions. I think it would probably be in the developer's interest to do this anyway if he ever wants to insure or sell any of the flats. I don't think this is reason to reject the development agreement though. It may require extra protection, strengthening, or even escape provision to the cliff top.

    2. The financial risk to the Council

    I have done my best to understand what is involved here.

    As I understand it, TDC has £650k of the developer's money, and has had for 18 months now.

    This is composed of the original £55k deposit, a £100k contribution to the cliff face works and a further £495K to make up the £550k required in the development agreement before work starts.

    The developer has met the £700k for the highways work, which has now been signed off by KCC. There must also have been costs to the developer in preparing plans ect to get to this point.

    I mention this, because at some point the Council needs to make a judgement on how serious the developer is in bringing the development to fruition. I think he has already invested about £2M.

    There have been delays in progressing, partly because of the protests over the height, but mostly because of the highways works and the cliff face work. That the developer is still there in the current climate is a good sign.

    The new proposal involves a further £1M deposit with the Council rather than a £5M insurance bond.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Dave Green contiued

    I can see this is attractive to the developer because the £0.5-1.0M he would have had to pay to insure the bond would have been "lost" money whereas the £1m deposit will form part of the overall payment to the Council, eventually totalling £3.7M. Does this increase the risk?

    Yes I suppose it does, but given the other clauses in the development agreement, I think the Council is protected sufficiently. The other components of the finance package, including a local builder, Cardy's and HSBC, increase confidence in the package, as does Wentworth Investments interest in the Hotel and retail.

    The revised development involves an extended timetable to complete the works, this will impact upon the seafront, but gives the developer time to sell some of the flats to finance later stages of development.

    3. The visual impact
    I still have severe concerns about the eventual height of the building and its appearance from the cliff top. I am deeply disappointed in the Council's dismissive attitude to this. I have tried and failed to impress the importance of this on Council officers and members.

    Against that there need to be balanced:

    4. Potential financial gain to the Council
    As above, £3.7M plus a considerable contribution to affordable housing. The Council desperately needs the capital.

    5. The potential economic boost to Ramsgate
    There would be jobs, both during construction and afterwards associated with the retail and hotel. There would also be the spend associated with the residential element.

    6. The potential boost in confidence in the Town
    Progress on this scale of development at this time would be a highly significant signal that Ramsgate has potential for inward investment.

    Overall. this is not an easy decision. I have a briefing at TDC before the Council meeting where a decision will be taken.

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  29. Hi Dave thanks for the comprehensive reply I will respond where I believe it may be helpful in ensuring that councillors make the decision, with the best understanding of any problems.

    1 With the flood risk outside of the issue relating to global warming the eastern undercliff has a history of major flood and storm damage about every 50 years, the two most recent events being the 1897 storm that demolished pretty much every thing down there and the 1953 storm during which a 12 ton crane was thrown over the sea defences and into the site.

    Obviously if a large object is thrown at the building by the force of the sea the building will be damaged and the people inside will need a means of escape. The sea alone can do considerable damage as happened in 1978 when the sea demolished part of the harbour wall.

    The harbour wall is considerably higher than the base line of the new development and blocks of granite there weighing several tons were thrown up into the air by the waves as though they were of no consequence.

    The only thing that will protect the pavilion and the new development next time we have this sort of storm with a southerly or southeasterly is the amount of sand above the high tide mark in front of them.

    As the sand moves around this doesn’t appear to be a sufficient safety factor for residential accommodation.

    I believe that a flood risk assessment would have a result similar to that for The Turner Contemporary i.e. on a higher sea defence designed to disperse the effect of the wave action with a specified distance between the sea defence and the building line to stop the waves reaching the building.

    2 My understanding is that as the new road layout was done without a flood risk assessment, I have discussed this with KCC Highways, they told me that they were unaware of the EAs letter when they advised on the design and having read it now consider that much of the road may have to be rebuilt to be safe.

    As far as the bond goes I have been doing some research on this one and have spoken to someone I know that works in the accounts department of a local developer, he told me it looks as though the council have been given the wrong information here.

    To obtain a bond for a development his firm deposits 10% of the value of the bond with the bank for the duration of the development, which is returnable when the development is completed, the bank charges 2% of the 10% for this service.

    When I told him what the council believed the situation to be with SFP he pointed out that were the banks to charge 10% of the bond value they still would have made a handsome profit if 9% of all developments they had ever covered had failed, with the developer going bankrupt.

    My feelings here is if the bank don’t consider SFP to be sound enough to issue a bond then the council should look into the matter more closely.

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  30. More reply to Dave

    So far TDC have spent more money on the cliff repair works than the have received form SFP which doesn’t look particularly beneficial to the council.

    Can you be a bit more specific about Wentworth Investments as the only UK company of that name I can find appears to be dormant?

    A further point here is that I believe that part of the agreement states that the council would be obliged to buy the hotel if there were no takers when it is completed, if this is the case it could leave the council in a somewhat difficult position.

    3 I am 100% with you on this one Dave I believe we will have a huge flat roof to look at made of ugly material littered with rubbish thrown from the cliff top and seagull droppings.

    As for 4 5 and 6 I am all for a suitable development there with a developer with some sort of experience of the very demanding task of building between the cliff face and foreshore in an area where there are a considerable amount of buildings of architectural significance visible.

    Cardy Construction are a good contractor with a good track record, but as two contractors have already pulled out of the project, will there be any clause to ensure that if they pull out a bad contractor can’t takeover?

    Most of the problems so far appear to have been because the developer is absent and without contact details, there are many problems associated with the new plans and the developer should be available to local people to explain how he intends to tackle them.

    There has been none of the local consultation that was promised and over the new plans, Doug Brown went over them with me but there were many aspects of them that he couldn’t explain how the would work in practice.

    For instance take a look at the road between the cliff face and the back of the building shown on the ground floor sheet, anyone who has driven a car can see this isn’t workable in practice.

    The picture is of damage to the harbour wall in 1978.

    Ed. I have added it to the post.

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  31. You seem to have worked hard on this Michael, am in agreement that something needs to be done, the council has taken money for the building but not if we get another scheme that runs into difficulty and certainly not if TDC has to undertake to buy a hotel?
    Keep the pressure up?

    ReplyDelete

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