Friday, 17 February 2012

Royal Sands Development on the old Pleasurama site in Ramsgate comes back before the council cabinet, an update.

When I did my last two Pleasurama updates which involved asking Thanet District Council and Cardy Construction the contractor building the development questions about the development, the answers I got led me to ask more questions and make some assumptions.

This combined with some historical research and another foi request to the council has produced enough information for another post updating the situation.

First the legal position with the leases and the development agreement.

Here are the documents for anyone interested

Back in October of last year I got the following answers from the council:

1.    No records are held of changes to the development agreement on this issue.

1a.    No records of a revised programme are held.

1b.    No records of a public information programme are held.

2.    No material alterations to the approved scheme have been proposed or approved.

You can read the post about this at if you want more information.

What I took this to mean is that the council haven’t agreed to the changes that the developer has to make to continue in the way they say they are going to on their website

By this I mean building the hotel last, in fact starting from the other end of the site to the one agreed in the development agreement. My understanding is that these changes will have to go back to the council for agreement and that the council will have to amend the agreement again.

I would guess until this happens the development is pretty much stuck, I also assumed that the council would have to check on the status of financial guarantees and progress so far and that the option to determine the development agreement would come before cabinet once again.

Second progress on the site.

I think the most worrying thing here is the contractor’s assurances, combined with their heath and safety documentation has suggested for over a year now that there would imminently be about 200 workers on the site rapidly building the development.

In practice what has happened for the last year is that there have been between two and four workers on the site, using very inexpensive materials to produce unexpectedly shallow foundations.

Throughout the last year the speculation has been, is this really the start of construction, or is it a delaying tactic to keep the option open to develop the site?

To expand on this, the developer seems to have done the absolute minimum in terms of expenditure and resources, that would comply with the delays allowed in the development, agreement assuming the council was notified of those delays. As they haven’t notified the council it looks like we have come to crunch time on this aspect too.

What the council have published about this is a bit vague, see

Third the flood and storm risk

One of the main problems with this site is it sits on land reclaimed by the sea and is in a high risk flood zone, the environment agency have already recommended that there is a proper flood risk assessment see

Having read this document I thought the greatest danger in a big storm with a high tide was overtopping by the sea, now I have more serious concerns. 

This story goes back to about the time of Christ when the first harbour was made at Ramsgate, at this time the cliffs would have gone straight down to the sea as far as about the low tide level, where the solid chalk bedrock that forms the seabed here would have been.

The harbour was started by extending out north-eastern side of the natural inlet and forming groins to hold the sand in place to protect it in easterly storms.

This map published in 1736 shows the situation then, as you can see part of the Pleasurama site has already been reclaimed by the build-up of sand. 

By the 1790s the harbour had been completed and this further extension of the East Pier produced the shelter that allowed more sand to build up. 
This map was produced in 1849 click on the link for the whole map, greatly enlarged as you can see by then pretty much all of the site has been reclaimed.

As far as I can tell the natural shape of the reclaimed area produced by the harbour wall is that shown in the map.

The next major step forward with this site was turning it into a railway station in 1860. what they did was to build up the level on top of the sand with chalk dug from the railway tunnel and face the seaward inclined front of this pile of chalk with small slabs cemented onto it.

This 1872 map shows the situation then, click on this link for an enlargement of the whole map these map enlargements are best viewed in internet explorer.

The groins to collect sand in the hope of protecting the structure are clearly visable.

The railway company that built this railway extension from Herne Bay were in a hurry, they cut quite a few corners and the opening of the line was delayed for two years because some of the bridges they had built were condemned.

After the railway had opened there were various structural failures of bits of the associated civil engineering the most dramatic of which was the north Thanet sea defence between Reculver and Birchington.

This failed in a storm and in one night about ten square miles of land and about four miles of the railway were washed out by the sea.
Here is a photo of them filling the area back in after building a proper concrete sea defence.     

My various enquires have reached a stage where the council have agreed that the sea defence, in front of the Pleasurama site, is so old that they don’t have any plans relating to it.

They have sent me plans of the recent concrete promenade, but they reveal that this is just sitting on the old sand beach and the pile of chalk.

OK time for a diagram, the grey bit is the solid chalk cliff and seabed, the yellow bit the sand the sea has deposited, the red bit the sea wall between the Pleasurama site and the beach, and the green bit the chalk infill.

The original idea mentioned in the documents produced by the council’s engineers, see the pages at was to screw the development to the solid chalk seabed.

What has happened instead is that the developer has opted for shallow load spreading concrete foundations resting on the sand that was deposited by the sea.

As what the sea leaves behind it can also take away again, this makes sea wall important.

Most of the sea walls in Thanet were designed by and are maintained by The environment Agency, this is very evident in Margate at the moment where major works are being undertaken on the sea walls there, to prevent damage during a big storm.

As far as I have been able to find out the only bit of sea wall in Ramsgate that isn’t a modern well maintained structure, is the bit in front of the Pleasurama site, this is owned and maintained by the council.   
 We have a bit of history locally of council maintained structures failing.
The nearest is the harbour wall shown in these pictures.

I do have a lot of correspondence about this issue, which I will publish eventually, but at the moment I am trying to keep a complicated issue as simple as possible.

The problem here is not so much whether the sea defence is up to the task of protecting the sand that the building stands on in the event of a serious storm, but really at the much earlier stage of no one having evaluated the sea defence.

Fourth Cliff Safety Issues

The council’s cliff façade inspection was delayed and they have promised to send me the report when the work is complete.  

Fifth Summery of the Situation

Once again this development is coming before the council, this time: “To make changes to the development agreement in relation to the provisions for third party funders, the timing of parts of the development, the guarantees supporting the agreement and the agreed project milestones.”

I take this to mean further delays, the financial aspects are not my province so I won't even try to guess at what third party funders and guarantees supporting the agreement implies.

My take has always been that a proper flood risk assessment and a cliff condition assessment independent of those involved in the cliff repair contract both need to happen before anything else is done on site.

Essentially to address the basic safety issues, especially those highlighted by The Environment Agency, for a development of over 100 residential units, hotel, road, shops and restaurants for a structure that is likely to have about 1,000 people in it.

Back in 2009 this issue came before cabinet, at that time the development had been delayed so much that it had breached the terms of the previous development agreement. 

What the developer put to the cabinet then was that they would finish the ground works by August 2010, the wording in the cabinet document is completion of Groundworks, Piling and Services.

There certainly hasn’t been any sign of piling, the laying of sewers water mains, gas mains or anything apart from the unexpectedly shallow foundations.

Back in 2009 the council officers recommended that the cabinet ended the development agreement, so I am assuming that there is a possibility of the agreement and therefore the development coming to an end when it comes befor cabinet next month.   

Whichever way it goes this decision is a very major one for the future of Ramsgate, the building is much larger than The Turner Contemporary, the asset is the most prominent and largest council owned empty site in the town.

All through the decade of this saga the amount of public information, consultation has been just about zero, the damage done to the economy of the town in having the main leisure site an unsightly mess has been incalculable.  

Finally there is my personal view of the development.

I have always considered this to be one of the most demanding sites anyone could build a residential development on and from the outset I looked for anyone involved that had any experience of the main problems associated with this site, that wouldn’t exist on an ordinary building site. One being building very close to an unsupported chalk cliff and the other being building right behind the beach on the foreshore.

My understanding is that there is a millionaire behind the development who I don’t think has any experience with the problems associated with this site.

Various contractors have come and gone and various things have been done and presumably some of them have made quite a bit of money, some aspects of the work so far are just beyond belief.

One example here is the large roundabout at the pavilion end of the site, first what could a roundabout of this size there possibly be for? Next why lay it all at great expense and then dig it up again to put the surface drain in?

Another is the two way road between the development and the cliff, anyone can see how narrow parts of this are, the implications of a lorry catching either a building support or the cliff façade seem pretty obvious. 

On several occasions over the past about eight years I have discussed this development with senior council officers and councillors see and and followed by multiple blog postings over that time various goal posts have moved, some of the issues I have raised have been addressed and some just haven’t.  

Sometime early in this dialogue my concerns about the site switched from those about the look of the thing, which frankly is pretty awful, partly because of the chopping of the gull winged roof to get most of the building below the cliff and partly because the architect has never addressed the problem that the roof of the building will be viewed form the adjacent cliff top path, to those about the safety of the building.

I think they originally intended to go ahead with the development without doing anything to the cliff at all, I think it fair to say that it was this intention to build so close to a cliff façade with a serious structural defect, that first put me on my guard about the safety issues. 

Now I have a new safety problem and to understand, you have to appreciate I already have a situation where the environment agency have said in writing that the development should have a flood risk assessment.

I now have written confirmation from the council that they have no plans for the sea defence in front of the development. This means that have nothing whatsoever on which to base any understanding of its ability to withstand a severe storm.

I would guess position with the sea defence is in rather the same category as the cliff where the developer’s contractor examined part of it, found it to be defective, the developer seems to have used this information as a delaying tactic, when it was convenient, but is now ignoring the defects and carrying on regardless.

There is a difference between providing a reasonably safe development and shifting all of the responsibility to the council. There is also a limit to the amount that can be spent by the council in making this development safe for the duration of its life.

With the cliff façade we have got as far as determining that part of the structure is reasonably safe and well constructed, the arched part, the developer’s contractor even went as far as checking the foundations of one of the pillars and found it to be sound.

Unfortunately we have also got as far as determining that part of the structure has problems, doesn’t appear to be reasonably well constructed, the developers contractor even went as far as checking the foundations of one of the pillars and found that instead of a concrete foundation there was just a pile of muddy chalk, see 

If the council goes down the road with the sea defence that they went down with the cliff, they will commission several reports on it, spend a six figure sum on repairs and we will all be looking at another three or four years of delay.

The underlying problem is that both the cliff wall and the sea wall weren’t designed to protect a residential development, the standard of both these structures is appropriate to a fun fair and amusement arcade.     

Over the last year or so, I have asked the council about the ongoing liability of the development, as things stand it would seem that the council have to pay to maintain the cliff and the sea defence, to a sufficient standard to protect residential dwellings.

With a lot of the cliffs in Thanet the normal standard is you can walk under them but there is I sign warning you not to sit under them and with the other council maintained sea defence in Ramsgate, the harbour’s east pier, there is sign telling you not to go on it in stormy weather, I guess the pictures above are an indicator of why doing so could be unwise.

With the cliff façade the council have already said they will have to spend money on the part at the Broadstairs end and they have already spent money on the portal part at the lift end since the £1m repair contract.

It is important to appreciate that cliffs and sea defences have an element of risk attached to them which increases as the man made structures associated with them ages.

The officers I have asked about this have chosen to interpret these enquiries only in terms of worst case scenarios, saying that the council have insurance cover for when these structures fail, however I think the main cost is in preventing them from failing.

Politics and Responsibilities

I hadn’t really expected much in the way of comments on this post until I had finished it, but there is already some comment suggesting that this is a political issue, or at least there needs to be someone to blame, probably a politician or a group of politicians.

I think in terms of politics that actual planning application slipped under the political net. Around ten years ago under the old Labour council administration there were plans for a smaller development, one well below the cliff, which was backed by Whitbread the brewers.

With these big applications there is usually a great heap of architectural drawings and a document called the planning and design statement, with mock up pictures and an explanation of what is going to be built.

I am not saying here that the Whitbread proposal was a good one that would have got through planning, it never reached that stage. However from the planning and design statement it looked OK and as far as I understand both the Labour Group and the Conservative group were behind it.

During the time when we changed from a Labour to a Conservative administration, which is when the local politician have their eyes off the ball, Whitbread pulled out and their partner SFP that I think were supposed to be the investors not the developers took over the project. At some point in all of this the planning drawings changed although the planning and design statement remained pretty much the same.

By the time anyone realised the building had changed it was to late to object to the planning application and of course the local politicians had backed the thing.

We then entered the bizarre situation where plans had been approved for a building that was too tall to fit in the space between the high tide mark and the top of the cliff.

When it comes to the blame game, there are a few things that don’t add up, decisions that looked weighed unreasonably in favour of the developer and against any local consultation.

One of these was when the gull winged roof was removed, which I think should have been viewed as material change and ought to have resulted in a new planning consent.

This would have meant a mandatory flood risk assessment and local people having a chance to object to the development.

There was the cabinet meeting of 19th June 2009 when the development agreement came before cabinet with officer recommendations to terminate the agreement, mostly in financial grounds.

I have asked why the Conservative group went against offices advice on this one, even asked Simon Moores on several occasions where he has commented in blog threads, but have had no meaningful response.

My guess is that it may be to do with spiting Ramsgate where the there is a Labour majority or it may be to do with some special relationship with the developer. Councillors don’t often go against the advice of senior officers, so they may have had a genuine and legitimate reason to do so.

There was the granting of the leases without going through the asset disposal process, which once again would have involved public consultation. 

How we got to a situation where all of the expensive liability wound up with the council is unclear, I can understand the sea defence which has always been the councils problem, but I believe with the previous lease the cliff façade was the responsibility of the amusement company.

There is also the developer’s responsibility, not pursuing the contractors investigation of the cliff, but I think worst of all ignoring the Environment agency’s strong recommendations for a flood risk assessment and safe emergency escapes from the development.

Another issue here relates to building control, over the past few years I discussed the issue with the head of building control and the officer in charge of major projects, both of these officers have left the council now and as always I don’t put officers names on the blog.

However they both told me that my concerns about the safety of the buildings design, particularly in terms of ability to withstand a tidal surge storm would be handled by the council at the building control stage.

They said that at this point the council would receive detailed planning drawings and that the council’s building control department would ensure that the designs contained features to withstand the special problems related to the site.

To me the construction looks about a light as it could be for a structure of this height on an ordinary site away from an unsupported cliff and high risk tidal flood zone.

I now gather that the information that the council officers gave me was wrong and the developer is able to use a private outside firm for building control, which is what the developer has done.

I have contacted this firm and had assurances that the person dealing with the building control would discuss some of the issues, but the have never returned my communications.   

I think that is about it, sorry it was such a long post, I am still waiting for some of the documentation, but as I said I will publish the supporting documents. 


  1. Why am I not amazed at the lack of interest generated by this post. It was only ever of interest when there was a Tory led council to blame and, even then, it was getting a bit boring. Now, the combination of it having been flogged to death as an issue and a beyond reproach socialist administration led by the able Mr. Hart in office, perhaps it is time to put it to bed.

    It is either going to happen or it isn't and we, along with all the foi requests, are not going to change anything.

  2. Anon 4.33 if it dosn't happen, with no £5,000,000 bond in place are you going to pick up the tab for restoring the site to something that is a public amenity? In the meantime we are left with a building site eyesore that will and has put people off from visiting the Royal Sands area.

  3. According to the brochure that the agents send out 17 appartments are already reserved but the one I wanted is already reserved!Ah well you cant win em all I shall move to Lyme Regis instead.

  4. Disagree with anon 4:33pm. Michael is doing an excellent job in highlighting an important issue in Ramsgate. The colour of the Council is irrelevant.

  5. Might be to you, James, but it is enough to make me feel it is time to move away.

  6. -Time to Build the ICE RINK

  7. Or an outdoors swimming pool!

  8. I don't think many(any?)care about this development and who is doing it or how long it takes or if residents may need wellies to get to their cars.. I just want to see it built and in use, rather than an eyesore.

  9. To anonymous at 4:33,

    You appear to see reds under the bed no matter what.

  10. Great stuff Michael and on the nail! Needs circulating to the residents of Eastcliff and nailed to the foreheads of RTC and TDC!

  11. Maybe, John, because they are there, but my post was more about the issue being flogged to death.
    Anon, 9:42, is right when he says it is time to get this eysore finished and something worthwhile in its place.

    The issue, regardless of who is running TDC or RTC, has dragged on far too long.

  12. Michael,

    Actually I was taking a swipe at knee jerk, trite and tribal politics.

  13. John, call it trite and tribal if you must but the tendency for the far left to dominate and take over remains. Ian Driver, who is by far the most left wing of our current crop of councillors, is rapidily becoming the one with the most publicity and has managed to work himself into a position of king maker at TDC.

    Another relative newcomer to Thanet,and Kent for that matter, Labour activist and head of a small primary school in Broadstairs, is already chairman of the Kent Association of Head Teachers. Probably because most head teachers are too busy trying to run their schools to dabble in politics and power games, but you can rely on a red to leap into the position of influence. Some things never change.

  14. 9.26 & 9.36
    it could be both indoor or out

  15. I think I have finished the post now and will try to respond to the comments as best I can.

    4.33 the stats tell me that about 1,000 people have read the post, so there is some interest in the issue.

    My main concern here is, if the thing is built that it is fairly safe for the people living in it and that if it isn’t then we get the site cleared of the posts and used for leisure and parking this summer, while decisions are made about what to do with it, hopefully with some local consultation.

    5.35 I don’t think either the bond or the £1m would come the council’s way unless the developer pulled out, or passed the extended time period.

    I think there may be a problem if the council decides to terminate the agreement of the developer engaging in litigation with the council to try and recoup money spent on groundwork so far.

    6.46 the developers website now says 11 apartments reserves, so the one you wanted may have become available. Perhaps some people pulled out after the brochure was printed.

    James I think you are right here, however I do get a sense from councillors of both parties that there is a certain amount of favouritism given to areas where the parties have special interests when they are in power.

    9.24 it is as well to remember that if what gets built there is the wrong building, my guess is it will be higher than we expect, for one thing, we will probably be stuck with it, either for about 100 years or until the sea or the cliff demolish it.

    John I think the problem here is that politics won’t hols back the sea or hold up the cliff.

    I believe that when this development was first on the table the people who built the large development on the Westcliff offered a tender to build a development including a swimming pool to be gifted to the town. At the time I asked the then MP Steve Ladyman why it was turned down, ironically he replied that their finances weren’t thought to sufficiently secure.

  16. To anonymous at 4:08

    Thank you. This is interesting.

  17. To anonymous at 4:08.

    Thank you for steering me towards Ian Driver. He comes across as a rather obnoxious man.

    I notice that Driver said, "Queen goes to Ireland. Prince comes to Kent
    She won't give a proper apology for 500 murderous years of tyrannical occupation of Ireland. She won't abdicate and take her rotten, corrupt family of scroungers, grafters and racists with her. However the good news is that the real Prince will be conducting a royal vsit to Maidstone's Hop Garden this summer. Here's a Royal who "don't need to be cool to rule my world". If I can afford a family ticket me, the wife n' kids definitely intend to party like its 1999. Long Live the Republic!!

    The above is nothing more than a mean spirited vacuous diatribe.

    Among other things he has a poor command of English. He rants and rambles.

    He has a tenuous grip on history.

    Ian Driver is a clown

  18. From what I have been told the Royal Sands project will still be built to the orginal 2014 completion. Which is remarkable when you consider the delays that have occured and indeed the current economic climate. It has been confirmed that the Developer has now also purchased the adjoining amusement arcade and this too will be incorporated into the project. That shows great intent and gives me confidence in the developers lomg term plans. Apparently there are two Global Hotel Chains who both want to open the Hotel in 2014. And we can also expect a celebrity chef restaurant too. All in all very positive. Michael's post however is whacky in the extreme.

  19. 9.17 I think you may have missed the point here that the council’s website says the development is coming before cabinet for, I quote: “To make changes to the development agreement in relation to the provisions for third party funders, the timing of parts of the development, the guarantees supporting the agreement and the agreed project milestones.”

    I suppose the changes to the agreed project milestones could mean that the development will be on target but it doesn’t seem likely.

  20. Pugin ----

  21. Michael,

    It appear that whenever a positive reply is posted your stock answer is “you seemed to have missed the point” as noted by your reply to anonymous 9:17pm.

    I on the other hand are lifted by the detail the respondent has provided, in that it would appear Ramsgate is to be provided with a first class residential development, a completed and operating hotel and a celebrity chef operated restaurant. In addition if anonymous 9:17pm is correct all of this will be completed within the existing time frame.

    Given the current economical situation, the fact that a developer has had the conviction to go forward with the project and had forethought of the opportunities in the town is incredible and should be applauded.

    So rather than just casting an opinion aside because it doesn’t fit with your negative approach why not consider other more positive outcomes in these cloudy grey times.

  22. 6.52 SFP have been making promises about developing this site for about ten years, the oldest of their documents I have says the development will be finished by October 2003. That was four or five contractors ago.

    Eventually in 2006 SFP signed a development agreement with the council, but were unable to comply with it.

    In 2009 they went to the council and asked for a variation to the development agreement, to delay the completion and to proceed with less financial security.

    Now it is 2012 and SFP are asking the council for a variation to the variation of the development agreement.

    Now I am sure that both you and 9.17 mean well and have plenty of anecdotal information that the development is on target, but the actual progress on the site and a maximum of 4 workers where there should be a maximum of 200, suggests that instead of the development being completed in two years it will actually take 100 years.

    I genuinely think that if the developer was serious about building on this site he would start by getting a flood risk assessment done, or perhaps you think he would be advised to build with foundations sitting on the beach without a flood risk assessment.

  23. 9:17 and 6.52 I guess are the same person.

    Blimey, it doesn`t give you much confidence when those connected with the development use such playground tactics - even more so when they prefer to remain anonymous.

    Which celebrity chef are they referring to?

    Ben Kelly

  24. Having moved to Ramsgate just before the new year (and visiting Thanet several times a year previously) I for one am very interested in the progress of the Royal Sands site/fiasco/skulduggery (delete as appropriate. In my opinion, the site has not changed in appearance for several years and I find the completion date of 2014 to be a very unlikely prospect- especially taking into account the only time I have ever seen workmen on site (all three of them- a merry trio indeed) they were having a cup of tea and a nice bit of cake before retiring for the day, obviously exhausted. Keep up the good work, pip pip!

  25. This fiasco has nothing to do with politics. Instead, the evidence suggests to me that the Royal Sands Development has faltered due to the incompetence of TDC, its Councillors and Officials.

  26. "It was only ever of interest when there was a Tory led council to blame"

    Let's not be too hasty. It was a Labour Council led by Richard Nicholson which did the deal with the developer. I think we can apportion blame quite widely on this one.

  27. Am I the only one that got bored of the thread after a paragraph or two and wondered why this is rambling on still? Not sure what it is trying to gain from it?

  28. I Went down there yestaday lunchtime, site was locked up, nobody there at all, perhaps they have run out of money?

  29. Sorry I haven’t replied to comment until now, I have been too busy, yesterday – being pancake day – culminated in my children arguing about who was the greatest tosser, leaving me in a mood where I thought I could be unkindly flippant.

    Ben I have to admit that with a development of this scale it is a bit strange to find the only comment that seems to be supporting it both anonymous and rather out of date.

    Whichever way things are going this business of the development coming back before cabinet for another decision is vitally important to Ramsgate.

    There does seem to be some sort of rather bizarre desire to associate this development with celebrities at what is after all a very early stage. I believe that when it came before cabinet before part of the financial support was £5m to be put in by the hotelier, as the developer has subsequently suggested that there is interest from hoteliers one can only assume that the one with the £5m has pulled out.

    Sofie the only work done on site, over the last ten years, apart from various cliff repairs done by the council, are the shallow concrete foundations and the concrete posts sticking up from them, this has been done in the last year with between two and four workers on site.

    I did get some pictures of the workers down there playing cricket and as I have said before it is hard to tell whether what they have done is build the actual foundations, or just produced something that looks like progress to comply with the absolute minimum requirement of the variation delaying the completion deadlines.

    John it was the cabinet going against officers advice that concerns me most, particularly as the advice related to the financial guarantees and the potential liability to the council, this was made by the council’s financial experts to cabinet members and didn’t really have anything to do with the practical aspects of the building.

    8.09 I am hoping that it is a solution rather than blame that will be sought, I guess that there may be a problem in finding a solution because this problem developed under both administrations.

    10.30 I don’t quite understand what the it trying to gain from it means, perhaps you mean Ramsgate hoping to benefit from the site actually being used for something. After the first two paragraphs come the answers from the council, no, no, no, no, perhaps that could be it.

    9.49 I have just had a look and it does look a bit deserted, but then it often does.

  30. No matter which way you look at it there is something very wrong with this project.

    It is a pity that those involved have not been held to account - at least not so far. We have no local newspaper with either the courage or the will to perform this task. I would like to see a TV investigation. A question in Parliament would be good.

  31. Maybe 'Thanet Watch' will investigate?

  32. It would advance our knowledge if we could discover who is the one Official in charge of this project at TDC. But I suspect that this will be impossible.

  33. I have it in good authority that the reason Michael Childs is so against the project is that one of the Retail Units on the site is going to be a book shop.....poor show Michael

  34. Ad hominem.
    "An argument that is ad hominem is one that has deviated from the claims being made and has instead focused on the person making the claims."

    Posted by Anonymouse.
    My first post.I am interested in the answers before making an investment in a Royal Sands apartment.Glossy brochures and computer generated images is not enough.


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