Monday, 20 June 2016

Dreamland lease assigned for charge to offshore company in Caymen Islands?

The Cayman Islands
There was good news from Dreamland over the weekend as it celebrated its first birthday. The park lifted the entrance fee a move met with widespread approval. But news has emerged today that an offshore company, Arrowgrass Masterfund Limited, based in the Cayman Islands has been assigned the lease to Dreamland from operators, Sands Heritage Limited on May 27th in return for the sum of £600,000. The charge document is available to download for free on the Companies House website.

The lease was signed on May 21st 2015 between Thanet District Council and Sands Heritage Limited for the Dreamland site.

Sands Heritage Limited recently went administration owing creditors just under £3m. The agreement states Arrowgrass Masterfund Limited loan is for £600,000. 

Who are Arrowgrass Masterfund Limited?Well, we don't know, because the company is registered off shore. But we have heard of Arrowgrass Capital Partners LLP and this is listed as their correspondence address in the UK.

Arrowgrass Capital Partners LLP is the hedgefund that Sands Heritage Limited boss, Nick Conington lists on his Linkedin  page as having worked for from 2008 to 2012. Arrowgrass Capital Partners grew out of the market leading convertible bond franchise at Deutsche Bank.
Source: Linkedin

Companies House records also show a further charge of £1m to Sands Heritage Limited from June 1st 2015 from a Christopher John Mahoney who is based in the Netherlands. Mahoney and Conington were both part of the winning Oxford University boat race crew in 1980.
Oxford Cambridge boat race crews 1980

Mahoney, is a retired director of agriculture trading of the world's largest commodities trading company, Glencore. A headline in the Independent stated:

"We'll make a killing out of food crisis, Glencore trading boss Chris Mahoney boasts" With Mahoney quoted:
"The environment is a good one. High prices, lots of volatility, a lot of dislocation, tightness, a lot of arbitrage opportunities."We will be able to provide the world with solutions... and that should also be good for Glencore."

Surely, questions now arise:

- What does the agreement between Arrowgrass Masterfund Limited and Sands Heritage Limited mean for the future of Dreamland as an amusement park? 
- Has the future operation of Dreamland been transferred to an offshore company? What role did freeholders and funders Thanet District Council play in the transfer? 
- What role do funding partners The Dreamland Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund play?

- Is Dreamland as an amusement park safe from being developed into anything other than an amusement park?

Post edit:
Ed Targett has also published a post 

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Save Dreamland...Again!

News broke over the weekend that Sands Heritage Limited (SHL) the company chosen by Thanet District Council in November 2014 as the preferred operator to run Dreamland, has gone into administration. The fact that SHL haven't made it through a full year since signing the lease agreement the night before Margate's historic amusement park opened on  June 19th 2015 is shocking. Sadly, however, unsurprising. 

“We signed the lease the night before we opened in June, after a year of negotiation,” he says. “It was a very complex deal." Nick Conington, Chairman of Sands Heritage Ltd, Property Week, November 6, 2015.
What's incredibly frustrating is how it's come to this. Dreamland is the historic Margate brand, internationally renowned the world over, over many generations of holidaymakers. The subject of a twelve year campaign of sheer will and hard graft by a dedicated group of die hard volunteers and many many supporters wider afield. It developed from a grass roots campaign into a charitable trust. Yet when SHL's marketing and sponsorship manager describes Dreamland as: "one of the South East’s best kept secrets, but as we approach our one-year anniversary, the time has come to grow awareness nationwide. " you know you might need to worry.

It's easy to forget that there wouldn't be a Dreamland for  SHL to sell brand partnerships with without this campaign. After all the hard work of legally securing the site from developers, Dreamland was handed into the care of officials who's job it was to take it forward to the finish line of opening to the public. The people who really cared for it as a vision aren't the people who decided to open it on June 19th 2015. This early date also raised eyebrows at the Heritage Lottery Fund, Dreamland's principle grant funder in an email to the Dreamland Trust on May 1st 2015, released by a Freedom of Information request stating that SHL should bear the full responsibility of this decision. 

Somewhere along the line, care hasn't been taken to keep this publicly funded project to the tune of millions on track (where is the heritage and education learning centre?), ensuring the best outcome for Margate and for the people who put in literally thousands of hours into ensuring Dreamland didn't become another lucrative residential and retail development site in the centre of town.

The fact that we the public are still far from clear about the legal status of Sands Heritage Limited's now 100 years lease (negotiated up from 25 years during the tender process) tells us something. 

Quite simply, what most people want to know: is Dreamland safe? 

If a commercial operator like SHL fail to make a viable go of Dreamland, will SHL's conduct be assessed and Dreamland as a park come back to the Thanet Council for another potential operator to have a go at running the park in the model it was publicly funded for?

Because it seems to me that the people involved in Dreamland in the last 18 months aren't working on the Dreamland I'd envisaged through the campaign period. The other day, I came across Sands Heritage Limited appointed PR firm Kallaway claim to having "increased ticket sales by 500%' (that and raising house prices in the area by 24%!) for the same time period SHL were claiming at court poor ticket sales as the reason they'd amassed almost £3m of debts and laying the blame at the door of Thanet District Council for, among other aspects, not getting The Scenic Railway up and running in time for their June 19th 2015 launch.

SHL having signed the lease on the 18th of June and having had a number of regular meetings with the Council will no doubt have been aware of the status of the Scenic Railway. All available evidence so far released show it was SHL that pushed for that June 2015 opening date. I've yet to see a document of SHL complaining the Scenic not being open for June 19th was going to ruin their plans. If anyone has got this evidence, I'd love to see it.

After entering mediation, Thanet Council handed SHL a further £1,050,000 in December 2015 and rumour has it a further seven years rent free on top of the initial seven, bringing it to 14 years rent free.

Who knew that after the major campaign victory of the securing the site via a lengthy compulsory purchase legal battle that the Save Dreamland badges and posters might have to again come out of the cupboard to fight for the park's future? 

Well, perhaps those of us that questioned SHL's lack of experience in amusement parks compared to other bidders. And as Ed Targett has pointed out on his blog posts here and here even their CVA (company voluntary agreement) was fantastical in claiming they would bring in £7m in revenue between November 2015 and November 2016. Do cast your mind back to how many days Dreamland was actually open from December 2015 to now.

There are many questions to be answered. So many, that I think only a public inquiry will do. Dreamland is a big deal to Margate. It's a big deal to Thanet, a district that can ill afford to lose this amount of money and a valuable seafront leisure asset. We need to scrutiny of the figures and scrutiny of the management of this crucial 12 year project.

How much public money has actually been invested and how much have SHL invested?

According to a Thanet Council's presentation to the Corporate Review Working Party on September 30th 2015, SHL were listed as having invested only £200,000 with the vast share of investment picked up by the public purse.

Save Dreamland...Again! #SaveDreamlandAgain

Post edit: Do contact me if you can shed any light on any of the mysteries in this post. 

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Dreamland operators bring in brand partnership specialists, Brand and Deliver

An article in Event Magazine has reported that the operators of Dreamland Margate [Sands Heritage Limited] have brought in entertainment brand partnership specialists, Brand and Deliver to: 

"to devise and manage a promotional campaign based on seasonable sponsorship and awareness-driving brand partnerships for the amusement park."

At first, I thought it was a feature on Margate's hottest satirical blog, the brilliantly finger-on-the-pulse, The Daily Margz. But no, checking out Brand and Deliver's twitter feed, it's a for real thing.

From the list of brands, Brand and Deliver work for, it seems an interesting pairing for a brand like Dreamland.

Dreamland is the beating heart of Margate that re-launched in June last year after a 12-year grass roots campaign and a reported £30m of public funding, centred around heritage and education. Dreamland is one of the world's best loved and well known amusement parks. i.e. Dreamland is already a very well known international brand in its own right.

But the article then goes on to say:

"Katie Lipington, marketing and sponsorship manager at Dreamland Margate, said: "Dreamland is one of the South East’s best kept secrets, but as we approach our one-year anniversary, the time has come to grow awareness nationwide. We’re looking forward to working with brands that can help us spread the word about Dreamland’s unique seaside magic and make it a go-to destination for old-fashioned thrill seekers everywhere."

A brand partnership deal would surely be pairing corporate brands with the better known Dreamland brand? And in that sense, I can see that's lucrative. The question is, for whom? And is it a good thing?

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Thanet Council, Margate Seafront Development Steering Group and the proposed RNLI Lifeboat Station

The proposed RNLI Lifeboat Station

After reading in the Thanet Gazette in February this year about the Margate Seafront Development Steering Group (MSDSG) and it's involvement in the ongoing proposal for a hotel at the Rendezvous site behind Turner Contemporary, I was surprised.

I’d never heard of MSDSG or how it steered Margate's seafront development.

The Rendezvous site is currently occupied by the RNLI lifeboat station. The development of the site for a hotel requires the  life boat station to be relocated. 

The current proposal to put a new lifeboat station on the main sands has caused great controversy and we're told there's no better location. So I thought it worth looking into how the MSDSG had addressed the issue and when.

I tried to find information about the MSDSG on the TDC website. I've found no evidence of it reporting to Thanet District Council, stakeholder groups or Cabinet.
A Google search also revealed nothing.

So, I made two Freedom of Information requests. One to Thanet District Council and the other the Kent County Council

Thanet District Council initially responded by stating they held no information about the Margate Seafront Development Steering Group and suggested the Kent County Council might. This might lead you to believe that Thanet District Council had nothing to do with the group. I then requested an Internal Review of this decision. This takes extra time, beyond the initial 20-day limit. They then replied stating that they did in fact hold information on the MSDSG, but they were withholding the information under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) on the grounds of that it would be:
"(prejudicial to the conduct of public affairs)," presumably because release of further information "would, or would likely to, inhibit - (i) the free and frank provision of advice, or (ii) the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation, or (c) would otherwise prejudice, or would be likely otherwise to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs.”
 It is a little ironic that a local authority can first misinform a member of the public seeking information about the town in which they live, and then invoke an exemption to the FOI on the grounds that answering candidly would be “prejudicial to the conduct of public affairs.”

In terms of the public interest test there is a compellingn argument that discussions relating to public realm issues should be carried out in an open manner with the public having access to all the available information.

crutinise the MSDSG or how it has reported back to the authority, as there is no record. If I’d taken Thanet District Council at their first word, we wouldn't even know that the group has included  Chief Executive and the Leader over three administrations.

Current TDC members of MSDSG are:

Madeline Homer, Chief Executive
Councillor Chris Wells, Leader
Rob Kenyon, Director of Community Services

Kent County Council were more forthcoming. Firstly, they requested extra time to consider whether they were also considering applying a S36 exemption. They then released minutes from the MSDSG going back three years to January 2013. 

It turns out the group was formally set up in February 2013 and the membership outlined in their Terms and References as:

“There will be Member and senior officer representation from both local authorities. In recognition of their strategic role, the Steering Group will be chaired by the Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Customer and Communities. There will also be senior officer representation from the appropriate KCC directorates. The Vice Chairman of the group will be the Leader of Thanet District Council which will also provide appropriate senior officer participation. Turner Contemporary is invited to join the group either at Board Level or at Director/Deputy level.”

The group was to report to back as follows:

The local authority representatives will report back through their own authority Cabinets and Turner Contemporary through the Trust Board.”

Which we know there's no evidence of. 

The stated topics of interest for the MSDSG were two sites: the Rendezvous and Winter Gardens along with the ensuring the success of Turner Contemporary and Dreamland:

“The development of the key sites of the Rendezvous and Winter Gardens has long been seen to be vital to the long term regeneration of Margate. The tremendous success of the first phase which was the construction of Turner Contemporary, reinforces the urgency to build on this success and achieve the critical mass which the full development of both these sites will provide. It is this critical mass of visitor attractions which is needed for the regeneration of Margate.”

Yet, we see reported throughout the meeting minutes covering a three year period, that other key sites in Margate have been the topic of discussion and of interest for the group. Including the Cliftonville Lido, Theatre Royal and the RNLI’s move to the Main Sands.

The RNLI move from the Rendezvous site to the main sands and the proposed hotel on the Rendezvous site both involving planning applications to Thanet District Council and was discussed at the very first meeting in January 2013. The planning permission only being requested later in 2015.

There’s also discussion of how members of Thanet District Council’s Planning Committee might be in favour of a proposal, before the planning application was presented to members of the Planning Committee: in October 2015.

MSDSG is made up of the bosses from the two decision-making authorities: Kent County Council and Thanet District Council. There are apparently no records of how these members reported back to Cabinet or officers at the Council.
It is baffling that one of these decision-making authorities first denied the existence of the Steering Group and then sought to withhold information about its deliberations. Margate needs to discuss its future in an open and transparent way. At the moment time and public resources are being used to develop plans in isolation and then foist them on the public.

You can still give your objections or support for the RNLI proposal to build on Margate Main Sands. The deadline is today, Wednesday April 20th. You can do this on the Planning Portal with the reference F/TH/15/1239.

There have been an unprecedented number of objections to the proposal. Perhaps if TDC and KCC bosses had actually reported back to their respective authorities in an open and transparent manner from 2013, two years before the planning permission was submitted, the public could have expressed their opinions at an earlier stage alerting the authorities to how much they treasure the main sands.  

There's also the petition on against the proposal from Save Our Sands.

Save Our Sands Facebook Group:

Here’s excerpts from the MSDSG Minutes over the three years from 2013 on the RNLI Lifeboat Station move:

January 9th 2013:

CH [Clive Hart, Leader TDC] also expressed concern that the Lifeboat Organisation is unable to stay at the site due to the size of the new lifeboat and wish to move further down the coast. MH [Mike Hill, KCC] will obtain an update on this but all stakeholders have been consulted and this will be factored into the master plan. CH felt that a public viewing platform would be a good idea as this area would provide excellent views which would draw people in.

March 20th 2013
The RNLI are submitting a planning application to relocate onto the beach front (to the same position they had when Turner Contemporary was being built). No funding is available for this at the moment. It is hoped to have the facility open for when the new lifeboat arrives (2016) as the new boat is too large for the current site.  Margate Yacht Club could possibly occupy the RNLI building which could be a cost effective solution. Property are discussing with RNLI to find out if planning approval has been received (Thanet District Council confirmed that the planning application had not yet been submitted). Other possibilities are being looked at by Guy Holloway. The proposals from Guy Holloway will need to be signed off by the Margate Steering Group before taking forward. Guy Holloway is due to make a presentation on 2 April when the plans will be updated from the comments made. Clive Hart (CH) expressed concern that local Councillors have not been consulted and it was suggested that once the master plan has been produced this should be shared with local Councillors. There may be opposition if the RNLI moved sites if views were obscured. There may also be issues with the volleyball facilities. 

Amanda Honey (AH) stressed the need to resolve the lifeboat site issue. It would be useful if Thanet District Council could check what position the RNLI are in. Guy Holloway needs to be informed to work on the status quo.

July 31st 2013
The RNLI would like to move away from the site but are unable to do this at present due to the financial implications.

March 12th 2015
The RNLI have contacted Thanet District Council regarding moving from the existing site. Positioning needs to be discussed and Mho [Madeline Homer, TDC] will pick-up this issue.

October 1st 2015
The RNLI will be moving from the site and this will open up wider possibilities. Mho confirmed the planning application has been submitted. It is hoped that the new site will be on the Margate sands. The general view is that planning will be granted. The existing building is owned by KCC. Margate Yacht Club is keen to take over the site of the RNLI but this is unlikely to be approved. KE to come back with the date for the RNLI exhibition of plans.

Monday, 25 January 2016

The BBC's 'exclusive' GVA Report on Dreamland February 2015

Tonight's BBC South East will run another feature on Dreamland. This time, they're running another 'exclusive' on a report by planning consultants GVA from February 2015. This report was again released as part of my Freedom of Information Request to the Heritage Lottery Fund. It was actually released to the public domain on June 10th 2015. This was before the lease to operate the park was signed by Sands Heritage Ltd on June 18th with the park opening the following day on the 19th.

 In the programme it seems the BBC will make quite a deal about GVA's description of Dreamland as a 'speculative' project. This reminds me of how Dreamland as a project was described as 'nebulous' at the High Court  during my Arlington case by the legal representatives for the Secretary of State and landlords Freshwater.

The facts of the matter are, that Dreamland, as a publicly funded project to the tune of millions was part of a process that spanned over a decade, and as such went through intense scrutiny. If you've ever seen a Heritage Lottery Funding application process for this amount of money, you would know what the very meaning of scrutiny is. It's eye watering. It was undertaken mainly by volunteers who dedicated literally thousands of hours to get this through many stages.

So, let's be careful about viability assessments of Dreamland as a park in comparison to other so called comparable operations. What we should see is the same rigour applied to the procurement process of the park operator.

Let's be careful not to confuse Dreamland as it was proposed and funded to be as opposed to the park operator or land value.

Dreamland as a project has the backing of the public. It's crucial to Margate and the wider area. I've worked in PR and marketing all of my adult life. The decision to open the park early rests with those who signed the lease on June 18th 2015 and opened the park on June 19th.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The latest Dreamland Freedom of Information Release

This week the Heritage Lottery Fund released a series of previously withheld documents from a Freedom of Information Request I'd issued back on May 13th 2015. The request is in the public domain on the excellent What Do They Know website. The documents released reveal a worrying level of what I think can be honestly described as anger and concern from the main funder of the £28m publicly funded project in the weeks running up to the park opening on June 19th. In particular this letter.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing said someone somewhere. What we now know is that Sands Heritage Limited the chosen operator of Dreamland hit the financial skids six months in and sought legal action laying the blame at the door of Thanet District Council. Scroll down for the debt document of creditors on Ed Targett's blog here. The result of this action has local businesses having to agree to wait up to 5 years for payment for debts of £2.9m. I understand the detail of how these debts were accrued are subject to gagging orders.

Dreamland is a crucial project for Margate and £30m is a lot of public money. By comparison, Turner Contemporary came in at £18m. Thousands of hours of volunteer work went in from the public over a 12 year period to fight against the closure of the site as a working park and secured the said millions in funding. It's for this reason that the issue of who operates the park is of public interest and that the best people come out as being chosen.

I was interviewed today by BBC South East about the FOI and it will run tonight.

My hope, as I'm sure most of Margate share, is that everyone with the responsibility to steer the good ship Dreamland and its associated funding does just that. If you haven't read it already, Ed Targett's post earlier in the week is very good.

With all things that are public projects, openness and transparency is key.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

11 and 13 Marine Gardens

This week I notified Thanet Council's Planning Enforcement department regarding a couple of sites along the seafront at Marine Gardens that are really dragging the area down. Specifically, 11 Marine Gardens and Clock Tower News at 13 Marine Gardens.

Wouldn't it be great for the whole of the seafront to be improved now Dreamland is open?

11 Marine Gardens

Grade II Listed Georgian building that had until a few years ago stood empty for years with a commercial restaurant space at ground level. Sadly, it was granted permission to be converted into flats, including at the ground floor and basement levels. The resulting flat at ground floor on this busy road now has curtains pulled across the doors at all the time and have resulted in the loss of what would now be a viable commercial space. 

There is a very tiny window at ground floor level for the basement flat with a large Euro Bin that stands immediately in front of it. This surely isn't a good idea in front of a basement flat window.
This is adjacent to the busy seafront narrow stretch of pavement and the bin is often overflowing.

The reply I got from Planning Enforcement today stated:

"I have checked the planning history and can advise the reference number application ( listed building ) you provided is for a withdrawn application The associated planning application was refused. The last approved planning application for a conversion to flats , does not have any conditions relating to bin storage. There is therefore , nothing I can enforce. I would respectfully suggest , you contact the Councils waste area for assistance."

Surely, one avenue the Council could pursue is a Section 215 Notice? This is the legislation that authorities can utilise to deal with general eye sore problems. Guidance on Section 215 Notices.

"SCOPE OF POWERSection 215 can be used  effectively on large vacant industrial sites, town centre  street frontages, rural sites, derelict buildings, and semi-complete development as well as the more typical rundown residential properties and overgrown gardens.

The scope of works that can be required in s215 notices is wide and includes planting, clearance, tidying, enclosure, demolition, re-building, external repairs and repainting."

Clocktower News - 13 Marine Gardens

An empty ground floor shop in a Grade II Listed Georgian building situated at a busy seafront location. The frontage is very run down with lights hanging off. The tiled area in front of the shop is in poor condition and used by the public to walk on around the corner, yet it's privately owned. 

Planning Enforcement today stated:

"I have taken a look at the photo you have provided and am of the opinion , that it does not warrant any action yet , under the planning act."
 Again, I would have thought that a Section 215 Notice would be applicable here.