Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Royal Sands Development on the Pleasurama Site in Ramsgate Conservative Group U Turn.

 Having spent about eight years trying to get Thanet Conservative group to examine financial and safety aspects of the development I have to admit to being slightly surprised by their press release, issued earlier today, click on the link to read it http://thanetpress.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/labour-ignore-overview-and-scrutiny.html

When it comes to common sense statements about the development this press release is the nearest to expressing my own views on the subject that has ever appeared as an official statement, from either or Thanet’s main political groups.

It also suggests that Thanet’s Conservative group have finally woken up to the fact they have completely lost Ramsgate and in doing so have lost control of the council. I think that the Pleasurama acts as a constant reminder to the voters in Ramsgate of council shortcomings. This position has been considerably enhanced by the council’s costly and highly publicised work to return the sister leisure site, Dreamland in Margate to a leisure site, despite considerable opposition from a residential development company.     
 The main difficulty is that the council have surrounded every aspect of The Royal Sands development with a shroud of secrecy, which for a major high profile project on prime publicly owned site seems inappropriate.

This leaves us all guessing as to the council’s, officers and councillors motives, so this is just a best guess of what they may be.

I think since the project was first approved officers concerns both about the viability of the site and the nature of the construction work done on the site so far have increased considerably. However I think their main concern has been the nature of the developer who started out a partner of Whitbread in the project and became the sole developer when Whitbread pulled out. I think officers moved to a state where they wanted the council to pull out of the project some time before the previous cabinet meeting about four years ago, when the officer advice to the then Conservative council was to pull out.
 As we all know the then Conservative cabinet went against officer advice and decided to go ahead against the recommendation of the council’s head of finance, so the leases and variation to the development agreement were issued.

This took the council from the position where they could pull out with very limited risk of the developer making a successful legal action to recover the money he had already spent, to one where there is much more risk of this happening.

Without checking the council’s restricted documents I can’t be sure of the exact figure, but I think the developer would be likely to try and recover an amount in the order of £4m if the council booted him out now. This is mainly because the existing development agreement is framed so weakly, something that probably wouldn’t reflect well on officers.
 Another aspect is the ongoing cost of the council’s liability to make the site safe to a standard appropriate for a residential development, for the life of that development.

The two main safety aspects that concern me are the cliff and flood risk, in both cases I have pressed for proper independent safety assessments. With the cliff I was partially successful, part of it was surveyed and the council had to spend £1m on it, then recently part of it was surveyed again and the council will have to spend a further and as yet undisclosed sum on it. I failed to get a flood risk assessment and now the Conservative group are saying. “Does the council have a moral, if not a legal, duty of public safety to conduct a flood risk assessment on the site?” Obviously the results of this may possibly mean more money has to be found.

It’s been a busy day in my bookshop and I will endeavour to continue this post if I get time. 

The Royal Sands development has produced many unanswered questions, some of which are quite difficult to follow, but the simple one. How can a new development be built on a high risk flood zone, without first having a flood risk assessment? Should be easy for anyone to understand.

Now after putting this question to the conservative group for the last few years they finally seem to have grasped its implications, it is just a pity that they didn’t manage to grasp it when they were negotiating the previous set of changes to the development agreement.

Does this mean we will see Simon Moores questioning the safety and the financial viability of the development on Thanet Life? Does it mean that the new development agreement will come before full council?

This also raises some important questions about what the overview and scrutiny panel actually do, if they can call in a cabinet decision, ask pertinent questions about it, but the cabinet can simply ignore them, then why are we paying for the cost of having this panel at all?

Obviously I phoned the council to ask them what the position is with the decision, I got the promise that that someone would phone me back during the afternoon, however no one phoned me back. So it is possible that the council’s democratic services don’t know the answers either.  

It further occurs to me that perhaps the press release was a fake, sent out maliciously to make the Conservative group look…… I realise I am lost for word here. 

I have just cheked this with a shadow cabinet member and apparently it is a genuine press release. 

Minor update here, I just tried to find out if there were any more call in documents relating to the decision and this came up http://tdc-mg-dmz.thanet.gov.uk/Data/Cabinet/20040617/Agenda/$Agenda%20Enclosure%2014.doc.pdf well it made me chuckle.

and this http://tdc-mg-dmz.thanet.gov.uk/Data/Cabinet/20050310/Agenda/Agenda%20Enclosure%204.pdf


  1. Maybe the Tory group can enlighten us now on what they think of the Dreamland CPO which will cost us many millions rather than wait and be wiser after the event as they have done in the Pleasurama case.

    1. Michael, you really do take the biscuit when it comes to presenting the unbiased view with an anti-Tory bias. You know as well as anyone that the original agreement for the development of this site was negotiated by Labour and when the Conservatives were elected they were greeted with a done deal. You will also be aware, for you are well read on happenings locally, that the Conservatives did OK electorally in district council elections in Ramsgate up until 2011 and that it was night flights, not Pleasurama, that cost them their former Nethercourt stronghold.

      Both Chris Wells and Simon Moores have previously explained to you their concerns and views on this development yet you choose to herald this press release as a u-turn. In all honesty should you not be directing your venom elsewhere. It was Labour who originally approved this development and it is Labour once again who is ignoring the concerns of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee and giving this disaster the green light, still in the absence of any reasonable evidence of ability to perform by the developer.

    2. 1.45 On 17th June 2009 the then Conservative cabinet met to review the Pleasurama development agreement, because the developer had come to the council seeking a variation. This was because the developer was unable to obtain the stipulated £6m performance bond and sought to proceed with a reduced security of £1m.

      Officer recommendation to the cabinet was to pull out of the development because of inadequate financial guarantees. I had also communicated with Conservative group members trying to get them to use this opportunity to negotiate better safety and financial protection.

      Despite all of this the Conservative cabinet decided to go against the officers advice and proceed with the development with only a £1m guarantee, no flood risk assessment and so on.

      Now we appear to have a very similar situation with the Labour cabinet, once again I have contacted them asking them to use the developer coming to them for financial concessions as an opportunity to negotiate basic safety and financial conditions to the development.

      While I am grateful for the Conservatives now supporting this position, which is after all only common sense, I do wish that they had had the sense to do something about the problems they highlight when it was in their power to.

    3. Just because someone makes a decision on facts available four years ago does that mean you have to stick to that forever? If a one decision was made 4 years ago after which time a lot happens can a different approach really be called a u turn? Surely it's just reflecting different times and different circumstances? Seems very sensible to me.

  2. So have the tories done a U turn ? Yes.

    Apart from ad hominem fallacy and that appears to be Thanet tory business as usual.

    Plus ce change

  3. Oh Anon 10.02. Always raises a smile when I read a comment beginning "Just because".

    1. Well you must be a stand up comics delight if you smile that easily. I suppose by the time you have read the whole sentence you are laughing hysterically. Takes all sorts I guess.

  4. Sorry I haven’t been able to reply to comments today, it was my day off and my mobile went a bit brasic.

    I don’t want any one to think that this is a particularly anti Tory post, I emailed Clive Hart yesterday to try and find out what is going on and haven’t had any response, so I don’t yet know what to say about the way the Labour group are handling this issue.

    If you follow the bottom link in the post you can read the Audit Commission report on the initial disposal, pretty damming I would have thought.

    After a number of further phone calls to the council I had a phone call from an officer responding to my enquiries, but he didn’t know what was going on either. My main points being did the cabinet decide to go ahead without a satisfactory due diligence report?

    Pleasurama has been a non development since the plans were passed in November 2003 for most of that time TDC was under Conservative control, passing plans for a building that was higher than the cliff, not very clever was it?

  5. There are already buildings in Ramsgate, just a few yards further on, that are higher than the cliffs. Whether such is pleasing to the eye of those promenading is debatable, but I don't think clever comes into it unless you simply seek another whip with which to thrash the dreaded Tories. In any event, these plans were revised following public protest and consultation so no harm done. The real boo-boo was way back in previous Labour days on the choice of developer.


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