Monday, 27 June 2016

Newington By-Election: Vote for David Green??

 I posted previously about David Green seeking to become  Labour’s election candidate in Newington because he wanted to “seek revenge” on the voters of the  ward for  rejecting  him in 2015.

I said at the time that portraying yourself as a “revenge seeking candidate”  was being disrespectful  towards voters and is not a healthy, or desirable, motivation for standing for  public office.  I still believe this to be true.

But today, instead of focusing on  David Green’s motivations, I want to examine his  previous record as a local  councillor so that  people can make up their minds about his suitability for office. To do this  I have drawn up a list of  David Green’s key political achievements when he was a member of Labour’s ruling administration at Thanet Council and a member of Thanet Councils Labour controlled Cabinet between 2011-15  .

Please bear in mind that this is my own analysis of, and opinion about, David Green’s political record between 2011-15. I would expect anyone interested in this matter to seek information elsewhere, including from David Green himself and the Labour Party,  in order to have a balanced picture. That said here is my list of what David did.

1.     Member of the Labour Administration/ Cabinet which approved the  secret fee deferral agreement with TansEuropa Ferries which cost council tax payers £3.4million. David Green did not publically criticise this arrangement when it became known.

2.     Member of the Labour Administration/ Cabinet which banned live animal exports from the  Port of Ramsgate, even though the council had legal advice saying that this would be unlawful – costing council tax payers £5million in compensation to date.  David Green has, to the best of my knowledge,   made no public statement distancing himself from this reckless and expensive decision backed by himself and his Labour colleagues.  

3.      Member of the Labour Administration/ Cabinet which invested between £7-8million of council taxpayers money into the Margate Dreamland Amusement Park project and who appointed the  park operator which has  failed to pay debts of more  than  £3million and is now in administration.  David Green has, to the best of my knowledge,   made no public statement criticising the massive mismanagement of the Dreamland project which may eventually cost tax payers dearly.

4.     Member of the Labour Administration/ Cabinet which decided to sell off  Thanet’s publically owned heritage  to the private sector  such as the Ramsgate Pleasurama site, Broadstairs and Ramsgate’s pavilions, Margate’s Theatre Royal  

5.     Member of the Labour Administration/ Cabinet which failed, over a 4 year period, to develop a Thanet Local Plan thus  allowing speculative developers to secure planning permission/  build housing on our rural green field sites at Manston Green, New Haine Road etc  instead of building on previously developed brown field sites.

6.     Member of the Labour Administration/ Cabinet which supported the development of an expensive (£26 million), unnecessary and environmentally damaging Parkway station.

7.     Member of the Labour Administration/ Cabinet which cynically exploited the Save Manston Airport campaign by pursuing a Compulsory Purchase Order many people knew was  extremely unlikely  to be unachievable in order to gain electoral advantage. I do not recall David Green making any public criticism of this manoeuvre.

8.      Member of the Labour Administration/ Cabinet which trashed via a dawn bull-dozer raid the Little Oasis Skate Park Margate which had been  paid for and constructed by young people and their parents. Not a word of public criticism  from David Green do I recall.

9.     Member of the Labour Administration/ Cabinet which failed to recover into council ownership the  Ramsgate Pleasurama site from developers who despoiled and blighted  the seafront for 20 years.


10.  Member of the Labour Administration/ Cabinet which disobeyed Government guidance to allow the public to film its meetings. Choosing instead to call the police to remove those who wished, through filming, to have councillors held to account. I do not recall David Green supporting proposals  to allow the public to film  of meetings until the council was forced to so  by law change.   

This is not, in my opinion, a very inspiring record of achievement for a wannabe “revenge seeking councillor”. Having looked at the list of candidates I would personally vote for the LibDems but even then, like David Green, they are also staunchly Pro-EU and I voted Brexit. But one thing for sure I would not be voting UKIP, Tory or Labour’s David Green

Corbyn Crisis: New Politics New Opportunities

A  good leader or bad  is not the issue.  The real issue is that Corbyn represents, and continues to represent, a powerful  socialist   movement in UK politics as witnessed by the hundreds of thousands  of mainly young people he was able to mobilise through his unequivocal anti-austerity leadership campaign  last summer. Efforts to topple Corbyn  confirm  what we all knew already,  that the Blairite  right-wing of the Labour Party were never prepared to accept  a committed socialist, whoever it might be, as their leader and were simply waiting for the first half-decent opportunity to pounce. This makes the struggle to defend Corbyn and what he stands for  of critical importance to socialists within the Labour Party and,  more importantly than ever, to those of us outside the Labour Party who, until now,  have been bystanders watching an  increasingly bitter relationships breakdown.
None of us can imagine  the  horrendous  psychological  impact the orchestrated resignations  must be having  on Corbyn and his team and the massive operational disruption they are causing to the  Labour Party machine. This coup was clearly designed by extremely bitter individuals who appear to be revelling in the perverse pleasure of   humiliating, hurting, weakening  and destroying their opponent. But we must all  hope that, despite this incredible pressure, Corbyn  will stand firm and remain in post.
He has behind him the most powerful  mandate of any Labour Leader and if there is another leadership election Corbyn is very likely to be re-elected. If this is the case, then  I would urge Corbyn and his team to move quickly and decisively to remove from positions of influence all of those involved in, or supportive of,  the coup  including using the not inconsiderable influence of Momentum to ensure that none of these elitist carpetbaggers who have no genuine commitment to fundamental social change, are not selected or re-selected as MPs, councillors or party officials.   
Furthermore, should Corbyn be re-elected as leader he should prioritise the  development of  his “new politics” by announcing that the Labour Party will enter into discussions with the Green Party and other socially progressive  groups outside of the Labour Party,  about establishing  affiliation or federation arrangements.  Indeed, I would suggest  that, if they are not already  doing it,  the GP  leadership should be sounding  out Corbyn and his team about this possibility. I’ve said before and will say it again the future of modern politics, especially environmental and socialists politics  is not the old fashioned monolithic, top down, controlling party structures  invented more than 100 years ago, but alliances, federations and affiliations  of like-minded people and organisations. To enable this new politics to work Corbyn should of course commit Labour to seek a fairer voting system and reduce the voting age to sixteen!

Having said that, should Corbyn fail to be re-elected as the Labour leader, or should he decide to stand down, my advice  to him would be to demonstrate the leadership many claim  (myself included) he hasn’t thus far shown  and resign from the Labour Party immediately. There is no doubt that a properly planned Corbyn resignation would bring  with it a mass-defection of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of  Labour Party members, including MPs and councillors. A large group of former Labour Party members and politicians gathered around Corbyn could be the catalyst  for  a new  socialist/ environmentalist grouping   which could incorporate the Greens, other left of centre organisations and hopefully trade unions too, who would be a new and modern political force  determined to fight for fundamental and progressive social change. It’s happening in Spain and Greece and even in the USA with Bernie Sanders – and in a bizarre  but exciting twist  the EU referendum has opened up a once in generation opportunity to build  a new 21st century  socialist/ environmentalist force here.  

Friday, 24 June 2016

Margate Dreamland Creditors Get Just 20p in £

Former Thanet Councillor, Ian Driver, has revealed today that the operator of Margate Dreamland Amusement Park, Sands Heritage, issued a notice on 21 June terminating the Company Voluntary Arrangement {CVA} with its creditors, leaving them much worse off than expected.

The CVA was agreed on 23 December 2015 and required Sands Heritage to repay its creditors £3.7 million in full over a 5 year period.

The CVA had at its disposal the sum of £913,794 for immediate disbursement to its creditors. The £2.8 million balance was to be paid out of park operating profits over 5 years.

According to a High Court document passed on to Driver, which Driver will be publishing on his blogsite Ian Driver’s Green Thanet at
Sands Heritage was, earlier this year, hopeful of finding an investor to allow it to make a final settlement offer to its creditors, however the investor appears to have withdrawn its offer.

In the meantime a combination of bad weather, the failure of Thanet Council to provide operational and income generating facilities on time, and delays in certifying the safety of some of the rides meant that Sands Heritage’s income projection for 2016 were much lower than expected meaning that the company would struggle to pay its debts.

As a result Sands Heritage entered administration on 27 May, cancelled the CVA with its creditors and instead of paying the outstanding £3.7 million has distributed £734,012 of the £913,794 it was already holding as a final payment to those it owes money.

This payment equates to approximately 20p in every £ owed to creditors Here is the breakdown the of payments

Trade and Expense Creditors owed £2,134,532 paid £431,775

Kent County Council owed £800,000 paid £172,000

HM Revenue & Customs PAYE/NIC owed £481,250 paid £82,973HM

Revenue & Customs VAT owed £295,939 paid £47,263

Said Driver “the cancellation of the CVA is incredibly bad news for those businesses who provided goods and services to Sands Heritage, instead of having their debts paid in full, as they were originally promised, they will be lucky to get back 20p in the £. This could place many companies in severe difficulties”.

He added “Thanet Council’s management of the Dreamland project has been an unmitigated disaster from start to finish , especially its appointment of an inexperienced amusement park operator who is now in administration with more than £3million in debts. Over £18million of public money has been invested in this project and there must now be an independent public enquiry into how well or otherwise Thanet Council has managed the spending of this money"

For more information contact Ian Driver on 07866588766 


Thursday, 23 June 2016

Margate Dreamland: Time For Independent Enquiry?

I’ve always supported  Dreamland. Planned, developed  and managed properly  it could, along with the Turner,  have  played a critical role in reviving Margate and Thanet’s fortunes by attracting more visitors, encouraging more investment in the area and creating more jobs and training opportunities. But it hasn’t. Instead its been an unmitigated fuck-up . Less than a year after opening  the park operator, Sands Heritage, is in administration and having to borrow £600,000  from an offshore investment fund to keep afloat. Should, as many believe it will,  Sands goes under then the leasehold of Margate’s Dreamland Amusement Park, will become the property of a Cayman Island registered company to dispose of as it wishes.

This appalling situation is, in my view, a direct result of the serious mismanagement by  senior council officers and politicians who over  the past 3-4 years,  have together messed -up  a project which had massive potential for success.

The fundamental fault was that senior Thanet Council officers and the then Labour cabinet agreed, despite several warnings,  on  a totally  unrealistic time table for the  Dreamland opening, resulting in the farcical situation whereby the  park’s major attraction, the iconic Scenic Railway,  was not operational  until 4 months after the opening. 

There was also a  culture of massive secrecy surrounding the management of the Dreamland project. Most councillors, myself included,  were excluded from any oversight of what was happening. We were  not provided with a full and accurate picture of how the project was progressing. We were misled by senior officers and Labour Cabinet members. We were  provided with only partial information or flatly refused information for no good reason.

Project management arrangements were chaotic. There was a high staff turnover and some  key team members  were alleged not to have the experience and skill sets necessary for running a project as complex and demanding as this. I’ve heard suggestions from several trusted sources  that because of a lack of experience, rapid staff turnover and absence  of robust  project management arrangements,   some Dreamland contractors and suppliers were able  to significantly overcharge for their services and get away with shoddy work.  

It was  also the case that relations between Thanet Council, the Dreamland Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)  were toxic. From some of the documents I have read and the “insiders” I have spoken to,  it appears  that Thanet Council deliberately cut  the Dreamland Trust out of most of the important project decision making processes, even though the Trust was the  recipient of, and  technically accountable for, the £millions of lottery  and other funding  intended for the project. Indeed I witnessed at first-hand how some councillors, with the consenting silence of top council bosses, rubbished and character assassinated the Trust.  If this wasn’t bad enough we now know that that Thanet Council totally failed, contrary to the terms of the HLF grant,  to keep the funder up to date on progress with the project. So arrogantly dismissive of HLF was TDC that it misapplied/ misappropriated almost £500,000 of the HLF  grant and it  forgot to tell the HLF that it  had selected  Sands Heritage as its park operator. So bad did the HLF/TDC relationship become that just a few months before the park was due to open HLF threatened to withhold any further grant payments!

Next we have the saga of the appointment of the Park operator. Many people have asked why TDC suddenly decided to move from its position of passing the management of park on to the not-for-profit Dreamland Trust and opting instead for a competitive procurement  process. I recall at the time that TDC kept referring to EU legislation as the reason why there had to be a  procurement process, but to my shame and regret I must fess up to not having asked  council officers for a full explanation of what EU regulations applied and  whether there were exceptions to it. Co-incidentally,  the bad mouthing of the Dreamland Trust began about the same time as the competitive procurement exercise was being talked about.

Then of course we have the question of why a company with no previous experience of managing an amusement park was selected as the park operator. Why, following the first abortive procurement exercise, the operator agreement was   massively changed  to include a 100 year lease with a long rent  free period and a rent payment kick in clause which meant in effect that no rent would  ever be likely to be paid to  the Council. Most mysterious of all is why, during the second park operator  procurement exercise, was Sands Heritage’s application rejected on legal advice and why was the selection panel told it could only  consider the application put forward by Sands during the first operator procurement exercise?

Although this is only a brief, non-detailed, account of some of the major issues surrounding Dreamland it’s clear that there are some very serious  matters which need to be looked at. If it wasn’t for the brave actions of a growing a number of thoroughly  pissed-off people close to the Dreamland project, we would not know about these things. Also if wasn’t for the tenacious and determined actions of Louise Oldfield in holding TDC and HLF to account through Freedom of Information requests, we would not be able to see some of the key documents which clearly establish mismanagement and incompetence and unacceptable secrecy in the management of the Dreamland Project.
To date about £18 million of public money has spent on opening Dreamland. £8million of this has been paid by  the people of Thanet – that’s about £60 per man, woman and child. So serious is the mis-management of this project;  so damaging the incompetence, secrecy and misinformation which were, and still are, a feature of Dreamland project;   that there should be a independent public enquiry into how it was run. Those responsible must be named and shamed and lessons for the future learned.

Perhaps a petition calling for an enquiry should be launched?  Please contact me if you think this is a good idea and want to help. Also if you have any Dreamland related information you wish to pass in anonymity please contact me at or  07866588766  strictest confidence guaranteed

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Ramsgate Pleasurama: Works Delayed Till 2017 (If Ever!)

Former Thanet District Councillor, Ian Driver, has said that “it’s highly unlikely” that the construction of  107 flats and a 70 bedroom luxury hotel  at the controversial Ramsgate seafront Pleasurama site will begin until the spring of  2017.

The large derelict site which overlooks Ramsgate’s main sands has according to Driver “blighted the town’s  seafront for over 14 years and served to deter inward  investment because it looks like a massive bomb site and generates a feeling neglect and deprivation  around the seafront area ”.

SFP Ventures Ltd  were selected by  Thanet Council in 2002 to be the councils development partner for what was supposed to be a prestigious seafront regeneration project, but apart from the construction of foundations in 2010, precious  little progress was made on completing what has been estimated to be £30million worth  of construction works.

In 2013 local people organised themselves into the Friends of Ramsgate Seafront, a pressure group which  drew up alternative, leisure focused plans, for the site and which  forced  Thanet Council to  launch an investigation into its management of the Pleasurama project and its badly performing developers, SFP Ventures.

In 2015 Canterbury based building company Cardy’s   bought out  SFP Ventures Ltd  and became the new site developer. Cardy’s agreed to pay Thanet Council a reported £3million to buy the freehold of the site once repairs to the cliff face overlooking the site had been completed. They also undertook to  begin building the  flats and hotel once the sale had been completed.  Works to repair the cliff face commenced in July 2015 but completion was delayed until April 2016. Since then, to the astonishment of local people, nothing appears to have happened.

It has  emerged today , in reply to a Freedom of Information request submitted by Driver that  The sale (of the Pleasurama site)  has not been completed and  the capital receipt has not been received by the council. The reason for the delay in payment and commencement of building works “relates to the 'stopping up' of the highway which is being dealt with by Kent County Council and which will incur a significant delay in completing the disposal. This further delay is expected to be at least three months”.

Said Driver “allowing for delays in securing  the  highway stopping-up order and adverse winter weather I think it would be totally unrealistic to expect the sale of the land to be completed  and building work to commence until spring 2017. That’s an astonishing 15 years after Thanet Council first gave the green light to build the project”.

He added “Surely both Cardy and Thanet Council must have known all-along that roads would have to be closed to allow contractors, equipment and supplies  access to the Pleasurama site so why have they waited until now to request a highway stopping-up order. Any sensible developer would have submitted an application for a  stopping-up ages ago so that it was ready and waiting on the day the cliff face repairs had been completed. I can only assume that this poor timing was a deliberate decision aimed at  delaying the project perhaps because Cardy might be struggling to raise enough money to fund the building works  or maybe to allow time for Thanet Council and Cardy to re-negotiate the terms of the development agreement. Either way I am extremely doubtful the project will ever be completed. Less than a quarter of a mile along the seafront is the Beach Retreat development of 7 luxury £500,000 seafront flats. This development was completed 18 months ago and despite extensive marketing efforts only 2 flats have been sold. If its proving difficult to sell 7, nearby,  seafront flats then what chance is there of selling 107? Especially when the 107 are going to be built on a site designated by the Environment Agency as a high risk flood zone ".

MISTAKE  & APOLOGY TO READERS  Cllr Lin Fairbrass has alerted me to a error  in my explanation of the stopping-up order. This is what she said  "This has nothing to do with access to the site and is not the fault of TDC. A former roundabout which has already been removed and replaced within the Pleasurama site is still registered as highways land. Lawyers are currently working on the removal of this registration". 

Thanks to Lin for correcting me. I will be contacting KCC tomorrow to try to find out more.

In the meantime it is still is the case that building works on the site will l be delayed until  spring 2017 meaning that the people of  Ramsgate will have had to  endure 15 years of living with an  appalling  and massive eyesore at a prime seafront location .

I find it hard to believe that KCC has  failed to identify this problem and deal with it much sooner. It's inconceivable that TDC didn't know either as the hold all the plans and permissions for the site.

Whatever the reasons for the delay I  still stand by my comments about the possibility that Cardy  will try to re-negotiate the development contract with Thanet Council and that  building works on the site may never take  place at all. Beach Retreat is  powerful evidence of that  possibility.    

Monday, 20 June 2016

Dreamland Crisis Betting on Failure??

Arrowgrass Master Fund Ltd has lent Sands Heritage £600,000 to help to pay off its debts. It is registered in the Cayman Islands and does not pay UK Taxes. According to a document published in September 2015 Arrowgrass Master Fund is owned by  Arrowgrass Capital Partners LLP which is based in London

If Sands Heritage fails to repay  Arrowgrass it will take  control of the Dreamland Amusement Park’s  100 year lease agreement which was granted by Thanet Council to Sands in 2015. Arrowgrass Master Fund Ltd could then take over the running of Dreamland itself, seek another  operator for the park, or presumably sell the lease on. It can also dispose of all the assets at the amusement park which are owned by Sands Heritage which includes some of the rides.  

According to its website Arrowgrass Capital Partners  specialises in high risk investments including investing in companies facing administration, bankruptcy and liquidation. Here’s the official  warning from its website

Investment Risk
There are significant risks associated with investment in the products outlined in the site. Investment is intended for sophisticated investors who can accept the risks associated with such an investment including a substantial or complete loss of their investment and who have no need for immediate liquidity in their investment. Investments will be subject to strict limitations on transferability and withdrawal. There will be no secondary or public market.
The value of investments and any income derived from them can go down as well as up and the value of an investor's investment may be subject to sudden and substantial falls. The loss on realisation may be very high and could result in a substantial or complete loss of investment.Most if not all of the protections provided by the United Kingdom regulatory structure will not apply to investments. Investors should be fully aware of the restrictions on transfer of investments.

You can’t get much clearer than this – Arrowgrass, and its associated companies, operate in the high risk/ high return market which is very likely to mean that they are so called “aggressive investors” who aim to extract maximum returns in the shortest time. This is of course perfectly legal and does not suggest any impropriety by Arrowgrass or its related companies. In fact as far as  I have been able to ascertain Arrowrgass and its related companies are well run and successful.  However it does suggest to me that Sands Heritage is  in extremely serious financial  trouble and  that  Arrowgrass might be their lender of  last resort. But there is something else which worries me too.

I have heard from my colleagues Louise Oldfield and Ed Targett that Nick Connington,  who is a director of Sands Heritage, used to work as fund manager for Arrowgrass. I have also found another connection between Sands Heritage and Arrowgrass.

According to Companies House website Mr Nicholas Graham Neill is a director of Arrowgrass Capital Partners LLP. Arrowgrass documentation states that Mr Neil is  Arrowgrass’  Chief Investment Officer and  owns greater than 50% of Arrowgrass UK. Mr Neil  appears to be the same  Nicholas Graham Neill  who was until July 2010 a director of a company called Lifescan Limited and who  is described as being an investment manager. Also a Director of Lifescan Ltd at the same time as Mr Neill was Mr John Peter Anthony Adams who is  currently a director of Sands Heritage Limited along with Mr Nick Connington.

So what we have is a company, Sands Heritage, in a desperate financial  mess is borrowing money from an offshore investment trust with which the directors of Sands Heritage, Nick Connington and John Peter Anthony Adams have had very close links with. Now I’m not saying that there is anything wrong in this arrangement. It could just be a case of business pals helping each other out in hard times. But we need to be absolutely sure about this.

The people of Thanet have invested at least £8 million in Dreamland through their council tax payments to Thanet Council and Kent County Council. Another £10 Million has been invested in Dreamland by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Government’s  Coastal Community and Sea Change Grant Funds. That’s an astronomic £18million of  public funding  in Dreamland. I would argue that this huge level of public investment gives  the people of Thanet the right to know that the park operator has been acting honestly and properly in its management of Dreamland.

To establish this fact Nick Connington and  John Peter Anthony Adams need to make a public statement in answer to my simple question – do either of them (or their relatives or friends)  have any  financial interests (shares, loans or investments )  in Arrowgrass Master Fund Ltd or any of its associated companies?  I am sure that Messers  Connington and Adams have nothing to hide and will be happy  provide a truthful answer my question, which hopefully will be no.

 Most reasonable people, myself included,  hold the view that it is unethical for business owners to hold investments which will generate a profit for them if their business fails. This I believe is called betting against yourself or  profiting from your own failure which I would imagine is a massive conflict interest.  Not that I am suggesting that this is case;  indeed I think that it is very unlikely,  but I believe that the people of Thanet would be extremely angry if the operator  of the Dreamland Amusement Park was discovered to have made a profit out of a very difficult situation.

Margate Dreamland's New Owner? Some Questions Need Answering

Arrowgrass Master Fund Ltd has lent Sands Heritage £600,000 to help to pay off its debts.  If Sands Hertiage fails to repay the Arrowgrass loan  Arrowgrass will take over the 100 year lease of the Dreamland Amusement Park.

According to its documentation Arrowgrass specialises in high risk investments including investing in companies facing administration, bankruptcy and liquidation. – more later

Arrowgrass Master Fund is registered in the Cayman Islands tax haven and does not pay UK Taxes. According to a document published in September 2015 Arrowgrass Master Fund is owned by  Arrowgrass Capital Partners LLP which is based in London.  Arrowgrass Capital Partners LLP is   owned by Nicholas Graham Niell.  Mr Neill is  Arrowgrass’  Chief Investment Officer and  owns greater than 50% of Arrowgrass UK.

Mr Neil  appears to be the same the Nicholas Graham Neill  who was until July 2010 a director of a company called Lifescan Limited. Also a Director of Lifescan Lts at the same time as Mr Neill was Mr John Peter Anthony Adams who is also currently a director of Sands Heritage Limited along wth Mr Nick Connington.

The link between a director of Sands Heritage and a director Arrowgrass Capital Partners LLP, which  is  lending Sands £600,000, may be co-incidental, or perhaps its a case of business pals helping each other out. But whatever the relationship might be Mr Connington and Mr Adams of Sands Heritage should make an immediate statement about whether or not they have any financial interests in Arrowgrass Master Fund Ltd or any other related company as it would be highly improper to be investing a in  company which is rescuing your own struggling company. 

Most reasonable people would agree that making a profit by investing in a company which has come to your financial rescuer is not ethical   I think they call it a conflict of interest.

The people of Thanet, who have invested at least £7million in Dreamland,  have a right to know if the Dreamland operator, Sands Heritage, is behaving ethically in its business  dealings. A declaration about financial links with Arrowgrass would I am sure put this matter to rest? 

UPDATE my colleagues Ed Targett & Louise Oldfield have have advised my that me Nick Connington worked as fund manager for Arrowgrass!

We therefore have a situation whereby the 2 directors of Sands Heritage have very strong connections with the company who's Cayman Island based investment fund in  lending them £600,000 to pay off their debts. This is a very unusual situation which much be examined extremely carefully.

Breaking - Council Hands Dreamland to Offshore Investors

The troubled operator of Margate’s Dreamland Amusement Park, Sands Heritage, which went into administration last month, has been loaned £600,000 by an  offshore investment fund, Arrowgrass Master Fund Limited. According to a document posted on the Companies House website today, Arrowgrass will loan Sands Heritage £600,000 to help it  pay off its creditors (£2.9 million  is owed by Sands). In exchange Arrowgrass will  place a charge on the 100 year lease agreement for the Dreamland  Amusement Park. In the event that Sands defaults  on its repayment Arrowgrass  will own the Dreamland lease to dispose of as it likes.

Former Thanet Councillor, Ian Driver said "By agreeing the leasehold charging order with Arrowrgass Thanet Council is now swimming in the murky waters of international offshore finance which are well known to be full sharks. This was a very bad decision which could result in Thanet Council losing control of the  Dreamland  site to a secretive offshore investment company  motivated purely by maximising returns on its investments. Thanet  Council and its taxpayers are likely to have to pay a very heavy price for supporting this deal. It's now becoming clear that the Dreamland project whilst well intentioned was a mismanaged disaster which has cost council taxpayers at least £7million. There should be immediate independent investigation into what went wrong along with some overdue resignations"

It should be noted that the last time Thanet Council became involved with offshore investors was SFP Ventures who were based in the British Virgin Islands. They wanted to build  luxury flats and  a hotel on the Ramsgate Pleasurama site. 14 years later???


Sunday, 19 June 2016

Thanet Parkway P*ss Takers

A few days ago I revealed that the costs of building the proposed Thanet Parkway station at Cliffsend had soared from an estimated £11.2 million in 2014 to a staggering £26 million. Under normal circumstances I would have expected Thanet’s  self-serving  political establishment  to have commented on this  alarming and astronomic  136% increase in construction costs  but  not a word had been said until I raised the issue .
Information about the  spiralling construction costs  has  been  in the public domain from  the beginning of this year and it’s inconceivable that leading politicians  would  not have been briefed about the growing costs of this prestigious infrastructure project  before  that data  became publicly available.  But, as far I can establish, not a single  UKIP, Tory or  Labour politician has made a public utterance about this important matter.  Even our 8 Kent County Council  (KCC)  councillors, who are elected members of the council which  is building the station have been tight-lipped  about Parkway.
It’s not as though Parkway  is a small insignificant issue which politicians could be forgiven for forgetting  about. This is a major public transport infrastructure project for the Thanet area which some people have argued (wrongly I believe) will  be beneficial  for the  economic   fortunes of this part of Kent. This is a project which was also subject to a high profile public consultation exercise just over a year ago. A second round of public consultation which was supposed to have taken place this spring, has been postponed until the autumn.
Apart from the silence of Thanet’s political establishment  and the postponement of the  public consultation on the station plans, I’ve also discovered that there have been precious few meetings at which the huge Parkway cost increases have been discussed by our politicians. I’ve checked reports and minutes of all the relevant Kent County Council committees which have taken place during the period in which the cost escalation came to light and can find no references to any discussion or reports about Parkway. I have checked all the relevant TDC meetings over the same period and once again Parkway has not been discussed. Even Thanet Council’s Joint Transportation Committee (JTC) which includes  KCC and TDC councillors and  which was set up for the  purpose of  discussing  and monitoring  public transport plans and projects in the district,  has not considered Parkway once at any of its meetings over the past 8 months, even though it’s likely to become  one of the largest infrastructure projects in Thanet.
The only organisations to have discussed the escalating Parkway construction costs are the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership (KMEP) and the South East England Local Enterprise Partnership (SEELEP).  Enterprise partnerships were set up in 2011 to replace the old Regional Development Agencies, such as  the  South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) which were  abolished  by the Coalition Government. They are responsible for developing economic plans and strategies for  the areas they cover  and also distribute £millions in  regional growth and EU  grants.
These organisations are extremely secretive. Their meetings are held  behind closed doors with no public right of access. They are not subject to Freedom of Information rules, even though they are paid for by taxpayers money and administered and supported by council employees.  Their governing bodies  are dominated by the private sector  with business bosses, many from  property development and related  industries,  making up  50%  of their  board members (the rest from the public sector including councillors) . Its unclear what criteria are used to appoint the business bosses to the boards and  systems to register the interests  of board members seems to be rudimentary or non-existent.
I  am very concerned  about the probity  of  Enterprise Partnerships. To put business leaders, especially those with property development related interests or connections,  in charge of preparing regional economic plans,  allocating £millions in grant  funding,  and having  access to commercially sensitive local authority information,  is certain to lead to massive conflicts of interests, and to increase the risk of  out and out corruption.  And I’m not the only person to be worried about this. Last year the Government’s National Audit Office (NAO)  produced a report which said
Local Enterprise Partnerships are another area of potential risk (of corruption and conflicts of interest). There has been some media attention questioning the impartiality of funding decisions given the risk that some members have business interests and could benefit personally, for example in planning applications.

The other thing which concerns me is that organisations like the LEPs are able to use their enormous financial leverage to bully and browbeat elected politicians into doing their bidding even though local people might be opposed to the LEPs plans. This  is exactly what, I believe, has happened in the case of  Parkway Station. KMEP and SEELEP set their minds on having a Parkway station in Thanet several years ago. But not, as they originally had us believe, to service the former airport, but for the purpose of  opening  up huge swathes of rural Thanet around the Cliffsend, Westwood and Manston area to the property development industry which is so strongly represented on the KMEP and SEELEP boards. A better, more lucrative, investment opportunity for property developers  would be hard to find anywhere else in Kent
Hundreds of acres of prime agricultural land ideal  for house building,  situated  close to a new station on a high speed rail line  which will soon have sub-1 hour journeys  to London. The profits from a development project on this scale  could be staggering.

I believe that Thanet’s political establishment  have allowed themselves to be  bribed and bullied by  KMEP and SEELEP (and Kent County Council) into to accepting this plan with the promise of massive increases in council tax revenues  from the thousands of new homes which are almost certain to be built around the Cliffsend and the Westwood area should planning permission for Parkway Station be granted. Take Thanet Labour Party – a one time-staunch opponent of Parkway Station. In less than a year of taking control of TDC its leader, Clive Hart,  was supporting Parkway ( I will be writing more  about this shortly) . Look at UKIP and the Tories - just last year they  stood for elections on a programme  of   opposing Labour’s proposals to build 12,000 new houses in Thanet, yet their councillors have failed to oppose one of the main driving forces behind such overdevelopment – Parkway Station.

The enormous power which KCC,  KMEP and SEELEP wields over Thanet Council and it so-called politicians  also explains why UKIP, Labour and the Tories have remained silent about Parkway Station and the massive cost increase. Why they have not held meetings to talk about this important issue and why they are content to let meetings in Purfleet and Maidstone decide what happens to our countryside and green fields. For fear of upsetting their masters at KCC, KMEP and SEELEP  they have stifled democratic debate in order to prevent  the already strong opposition to Parkway  becoming  stronger.  

I have said it  before and will say it again - the building of Parkway station is totally unnecessary. It will add to, not reduce, journey time to London. The capacity of our existing stations to cope with more passengers can easily be met by developing and improving safe cycling and walking routes, by introducing better bus services and expanding existing car parking facilities. There is already sufficient land available, especially brown field land at the former airport site and elsewhere, to build the extra housing required to meet Thanet’s future needs. The concreting over of hundreds, if not thousands,  of acres of  our precious green fields around Cliffsend and Westwood to build Parkway and all the houses which will inevitably go  with it  is  totally unnecessary and will cause massive environmental damage to Thanet.

Finally what about democracy and the wishes of local people? Almost every one of the hundreds of comments submitted to the first Parkway Station public consultation last year was opposed to it. Yet our politicians – Labour, UKIP and Tory have totally  failed to stand up for their constituents. They have shamefully refused to speak out about the project when it’s clear it faces huge cost increases. They have failed to hold meetings to discuss the spiralling costs of the project and to decide whether it is actually needed.  They also seem to be content to allow non-elected business leaders, some of who may possibly have significant conflicts of interest,  to make decisions about the future of Thanet at meetings held in Purfleet and Maidstone. And even before those meetings have been held the Thanet Gazette is reporting that KCC and TDC have decided (presumably with the approval of Chris Wells and Paul Carter)  to push ahead  with developing an unnecessary, expensive and massively polluting Parkway irrespective of what might think.   This is not local democracy it’s a dictatorship  which will only be ended by election of independent politicians who are prepared to  fight against the establishment and the constraints of the corrupt, old fashioned party political system, which lies to and deceives  the people.