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.