Monday, 9 January 2017

What mistakes were made

With the fate of the building site still unresolved I thought a short history lesson might be appropriate. Many "mistakes" were made, some incompetent but some may have more perverse reasons. In 1998 the listed former station building burnt down. To date no one has been charged with arson but Ramsgate residents know who caused the fire.
After 3 years of wrangling with James "Jimmy" Godden he finally gave in and left leaving TDC to advertise the site for an alternative development. This was in 2002 and led to the release of a document called the Ramsgate Renaissance Commercial Development Opportunity. This document, whilst not ruling out housing, made it clear that the development should be a mixed leisure and retail development.
However after 6 initial inquiries were whittled down to just two the final winning bid emerged at a Full Council meeting in December 2002 which seemed to be residential in nature and proposed by a Broadstairs Estste Agent acting on behalf of (who we now now as Colin Hill) of an offshore comppany registered in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. This company was called SFP Venture Partners.

 I'll leave the reader to decide whether this offer meets the needs of the previous document and whether the money changing hands and the word Whitbread swung the vote.
Needless to say the Labour run Council chose SFP and whether the choice was right or wrong would only be known in the future. These are the original drawings submitted however this author believes this could have been stopped in its tracks with a simple phone call to Whitbread who, in early 2004, denied any involement in the development.
Note the use of Whitbread logo!!
You will also note it wasn't the Council or even an Officer that discovered this fact.

The next opportunity to stop this development was when the actual planning application was made however by this time Labour had lost control of the Council to the Tories under Ezekiel.
The actual application was made in November 2003 and validated 15th December 2003. Now this is where I believe something occurred which was extremely unusual. Planning a development of 107 flats with ancillary uses as per this planning application should have been scrutinised with a fine tooth comb seeing as how prominent the position of the flats however planning was granted on the 28th January 2004 with work to commence within 5 years.

Please note the name of the planning officer (Mr. B. White)

So why did this application not receive the proper investigation it deserved?

No work was actually done on the site within the 5 years stipulated however KCC did move a roundabout and build a storm drain and that has been used as the reason to allow the PP to stand in perpetuity. Whether this is legal is a moot point as TDC will not rescind the PP.

In 2006 a development agreement was signed but a stipulation was that SFP (now a Ltd Company run by Sean Keegan) obtain a £5.6M surety to reimburse the Council should the company fail.

By 2009 it becomes obvious that Sean Keegan had failed to obtain the requisite surety (cynics might believe they had no intention of getting it) and again TDC fail to remove them as developers. The Chief Accountant of TDC actually said to Ezekiel the due diligence was inadequate yet Ezekiel ignored this advice and on the promise of a local builder being bought in (Cardy Developments Ltd) he swung the Council to accept the continuing use of SFP.

In February 2014 this Development Agreement ran out and at this point the land should have been returned to TDC however the legal advice given to TDC was somewhat ambiguous and TDC bottled it and continued to negotiate with a developer who had failed to develop the site since 2003, over 10 years of procrastination.

Since the Freehold was sold for £3.915M to Colin Hill there is simply no legal way the site can be taken back except by paying Colin Hill the money he demands. This is likely to be in the region of £10M and will be similar to the way he ransomed Peterborough Council from 2003 to 2008.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Land Registry search

Since the freehold of the land was sold I have been waiting for Land Registry to catch up. All land tranfers will appear on the Land Registry portal eventually.

I blogged on this last month

and before that here

Now it seems that the site registry has completed. It throws up some interesting facts.

This is the area subject to the transfer

Price stated £3M which is at variance to the TDC press announcement of £3.515M, I wonder why?

The land cannot be sold or mortgaged without the written permission of Mintal Group Inc which as we know is Colin Hill and his son Robbie.

"(04.08.2016) Option to purchase in favour of Thanet District Council contained in a Option Agreement dated 20 July 2016 made between (1) SPF Ventures (UK) Limited (2) Thanet District Council and (3) Cardy Construction Limited upon the terms therein mentioned"

The above appears on the charges register however it is unclear why Cardy Construction are involved at the deal was made between Cardy Ramsgate Ltd not Cardy Construction. Has TDC's lawyers made a mistake?

Ian Driver blogged on this recently However I'm not sure if he is aware of the Land Registry documents. Neither am I aware whether he knows about the former roundabout which seems to have been removed from the Registry. "The Freehold land shown edged with red on the plan of the above title
filed at the Registry and being Land lying to the south of Wellington Crescent, Ramsgate.
NOTE: So much of the land tinted pink on the title plan as consists of highway maintainable at public expense is excluded from the registration.
So who owns this land?

Interesting that Mike Stannard's Cardy Construction has been granted outline planning on the site of the former Brooke Marine now owned by Flight Services SA which is another Colin Hill company.
The story of how Hill acquired the land is blogged here

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

FOI or bust

Back on the 28th July I asked TDC about the £1M they received in September 2009 as follows:
Dear Thanet District Council,
In or around September 2009 SFP Ventures (UK) Ltd paid to TDC the sum of £1M which was to be held as surety against the said company defaulting on the building on the former Pleasurama site in Ramsgate.
Now the site has been sold to Cardy Ramsgate Ltd can you explain where the £1M surety has gone. Is it still in Escrow with TDC and can you confirm whether you still have any control of this money and further who received the interest?

Yours faithfully,
Barry James

Their reply

 Dear Mr James
Thank you for your correspondence of 28/07/2016 requesting information
about SFP Ventures (UK) Ltd paying Thanet District Council £1 million
Your request is being dealt with under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 and will be answered within 20 working days. 
If you have any queries about this request, please contact me quoting the
reference number above.
Yours sincerely,

20 days is  25th August

Further reply received 7th September

f No:   91901/3546716
Subject:        SFP Ventures
Dear Mr James
Thank you for your communication received on 28/07/2016  where you made
the following request:
In or around September 2009 SFP Ventures (UK) Ltd paid to TDC the sum of
£1M which was to be held as surety against the said company defaulting on
the building on the former Pleasurama site in Ramsgate.
Now the site has been sold to Cardy Ramsgate Ltd can you explain where the
£1M surety has gone. Is it still in Escrow with TDC and can you confirm
whether you still have any control of this money and further who received
the interest?
I can confirm that Thanet District Council holds the information you are
seeking. Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act exempts this
information. This is because the information is intended for publication
at a future date. Thanet District Council's Statement of Accounts are
published on its website on an annual basis and the information you seek
will be published in due course. Here is the link that will take you
straight to the correct page of the website.
Having considered the public interest, the Council's decision is therefore
to withhold the information at this time.

This is a silly response seeing as an official announcement had already been made about the sale of the Freehold to Cardy Ramsgate ltd

I asked for an internal review as follows:

I am requesting an internal review. The information has been disseminated via councillors recently so I am bemused by your very tardy response.
Clearly you have no intention of providing this information as you do not provide any timescale and clearly hope I will go away and forget I asked

Yours sincerely,

Finally today I get a proper response apologising for  their obvious fob off response.

Ref No:91901 / 3546716
Subject:Sfp Ventures
Dear Mr James
Thank you for your communication received on 7 September 2016  where you
requested an internal review of a previous decision regarding disclosure
of information about SFP Ventures.
Thanet District Council has now conducted the review and the decision is
In reviewing the case, the council had regard for the use of the Section
22 Exemption and the supply of a link to the council's 2015/16 statement
of accounts.  It is found that Section 22 was not applicable in this case
as it was unlikely that the statement of accounts would have given you
sufficient detail to answer the original enquiry.
The council would like to give you the following information which is
hoped will satisfy your request:
The council received £3.515m for the site. This was made up as follows: a
sum of £550k was paid in 2009 by SFP Ventures Ltd in 2009 (under the 2006
agreement); a sum of £1m was paid as a deposit by SFP Ventures limited in
2009 (this deposit together with accrued interest formed part of the
purchase price); the balance of £1.96m was paid by Cardy Ramsgate Limited
in 2016.
Following completion, the deposit passed to the council and is no longer
in escrow.  The council, therefore has complete control over it. It was
the purchaser who received the benefit of the interest on the deposit.
If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have
the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a
decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information
Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9
Yours sincerely,
Information Governance and Equality Team 

 Now I have it confirmed that TDC received £1M in 2009 from a shell company set up as a single issue development company. It is now incumbent upon TDC to show that they identified the source of this £1M. because this money has been past into general funds it has effectively been cleaned.

So a new request has been made

Thank you for confirming what I already knew; that is the original request was correct and the response incorrect.
There is a further request whilst the files are in your possession. If you would prefer I restart the FOI process I will do so. In case you are amenable to carrying on with this as it a continuation of the original request.
The £1M surety was paid in September 2009 from a shell company SFP Ventures (UK) ltd. a device used by money launderers to pass funds to public companies which will be returned after a period of time in a clean state, which is why the Money Laundering Regulations 2007 Act was enacted.
With regard to the above act and the fact that SFP Ventures (UK) Ltd was only set up in 2006, and is a single purpose shell company, did Thanet Council make any attempt to discover the original source of the £1M passed to yourselves and placed in escrow.

Let's see what they do now.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Why didn't Labour follow through with terminating SFP's involvement

There has been much speculation and political hand wringing over the reasons why Labour, under the previous administration, didn't terminate Shaun Keegan's (SFP Ventures (UK) ltd) attempted landbanking scheme on the Pleasurama site.

The brief details are a Development Agreement (under Ezekiel & the Tories) in September 2006 and its variation in September 2009. The variations meant that the building had to be completed on the 28th February 2014, Something that was apparent was never going to happen and pressure was applied to Labour and TDC in Winter 2013 to serve notice of default and take back the land.

There were members of the local community that attended the Overview and Scrutiny that requested advice from Pinsent Mason LLP as to the correct procedure. When February came and went we all assumed the default notice had been served it came as a kick in the teeth when discussions resumed with Keegan and Cardy and to date no reason has ever been given as to why the advice from the lawyers changed.

The purpose of this blog is to speculate as to why from December 2013 when the legal adice seemed to be "serve notice" to March 2014 "we have changed our minds"

One area that has always been clear is that the DA's didn't have a "Long Stop Date" incorporated within them. Could this have been incompetence by TDC lawyers (Eversheds LLP) or were they asked not to incorporate such a date (It would have meant that failure to complete would have meant an easier job of removing SFP). It should have led to TDC having set dates to manage the project against, something they had been heavily castigated for not doing in the District Auditors report in 2001/2
I repeat "Effective project management procedures should be adopted for all projects as early as possible in the life cycle of a development scheme"
In the summary of the 2004 report the auditor is satisfied this is being addressed

Now you would have thought that this was a priority especially in view of the "materiel defect" of failing to incorporate a "long stop date".
At many of the O&S meetings we attended we asked whether there was one officer tasked with overseeing the project and the answer was always NO.

Could it be that TDC's failure to keep on top of the project influenced Pinsent Mason's advice and that when engaged TDC didn't fully brief Pinsent Mason.

I wonder what else TDC might have not told them?

It was said at the time that SFP had complained that they wouldn't be able to use Marina Drive because of the weight limit (personally they had 9 years to discover this fact) but maybe they decided to use this materiel fact as an excuse. It was certainly cited by O&S as an excuse given by Keegan.

There was also much speculation that Keegan was prepared to cite an ex-councillor for attempting to sabotage the negotiations whilst he was a serving Councillor.

In the end Labour TDC didn't follow through with trying to remove Keegan an act that has upset many in Ramsgate and possibly led to their failure in the May 2015 elections.

Labour (in my opinion) need to come clean with why they took the way out they did and totally screwed over those who had campaigned to remove Keegan & Hill from interfering with Ramsgate Seafront.

BUT nothing will excuse the failures within TDC to manage this project whether it be deliberate actions or just plain incompetence but what it really shows is Hill and Keegan are so much cleverer at levering money out of Thanet District Council. I really wonder if this is the real reason TDC do not want the Pinsent Mason report made public. No one wants to be seen as an easy mark.

I know which view I prefer

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Post freehold purchase

If you cast your mind back to a previous blog

"What is abundantly clear is TDC complete on the sale of the Freehold thereby absolving themselves from any further interest in the ownership of the site. Now all they have to do is hope the Development Agreement to build is watertight and that Mike Stannard can actually build out the site because if he cannot the ball is firmly back in TDC's hands assuming they have a watertight Development Agreement. (Something they have a poor track record of enforcing)"

Well further information has arrived in my mailbox and a quick check on Companies House has given up the following information.

 Seems that Stannard has resigned from SFP and Colin Hill's tame accountant has taken over. The Company has changed name and the registered address has gone back to where it started from. So what happened to Cardy Ramsgate Ltd the real owner of the freehold
Well Colin Hill has finally stuffed TDC, Stannard has gone and it's all in Colin Hill's hands so how will TDC enforce the built.

Q 4. What provisions are in place to ensure that the site will be developed? 

In the agreement, there is a long-stop date of three and a half years with measurable milestones, by which the site must be developed. If it is not developed then the council has an option to buy it back. The first milestone relates to the completion of piling (and certified practical completion of that piling) for the hotel within two years. The second milestone relates to completion of the building works so they are ready to be fitted out within three and a half years. If those milestones are not met, the council has an option to purchase the site back from Cardy Ramsgate Limited. 

 Note the agreement signed by the previous Labour administration forces TDC to buy their own site back if it isn't developed. Now remind me isn't that what happened to Peterborough Council in 2010. It cost them £8M to get their land back and it cost Hill nowt. Nice little earner.

From this

To this

A prediction Hill will not build and he will hold out for the next 3 and a half years and force TDC to pay him circa £10M to get the site back.

I would like to say a belated well done (sarcasm) to Iris Johnson, David Green and Rick Everitt for selling TDC and the people of Ramsgate down the river. For what? circa £3.5M over 7 years. what will it cost in lost revenue? who bloody knows.
For Stephanie, this is the conservation area. Pleasurama is outside of it

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The gift that keeps on Giving

Today the latest on Companies House shows a charge secured on the recently acquired Freehold (Land Registry ref K838703) by a company registered in Panama. Another well known tax haven but also infamous for hiding the details of ownership from us lesser mortals. In this case however they may have made an error because all charges are now available for download from Companies House. And guess what? Who owns Mintal none other than the moneyman Colin Hill first identified as behind this lash up in June 2013 

 So it seems that promises made by Cabinet members verbally have been wiped out by people far cleverer than the TDC officers tasked with ensuring everything is above board. Now it seems there are two stories doing the rounds firstly that Colin Hill has stumped up the £3M so the freehold can be purchased and along with the £5M already invested has increased his stake to £8M. The Second story, which I favour, is that far from actually buying out Keegan/Hill Mike Stannard has done a deal with Colin Hill and still owes Hill £5M which had already been invested into SFP Ventures (UK) Ltd and that sum is what Hill wants to protect hence the charge on Cardy Ramsgate Ltd.

What is abundantly clear is TDC complete on the sale of the Freehold thereby absolving themselves from any further interest in the ownership of the site. Now all they have to do is hope the Development Agreement to build is watertight and that Mike Stannard can actually build out the site because if he cannot the ball is firmly back in TDC's hands assuming they have a watertight Development Agreement. (Something they have a poor track record of enforcing)

Interesting choice of lawyer to witness especially to those that followed the Ezekiel trial.

Details of the last unaudited accounts by Keegan's accountants no less

Here is a link to Ian Driver's Blog 

 Any further news I will add to this later
Council Statement
Thanet District Council can confirm that the sale of the former Pleasurama site on Ramsgate seafront completed on Wednesday 20 July 2016 with Cardy Ramsgate Ltd.
The council has received the monies from this sale.
The site has transferred to the south-east based firm who will be responsible for delivery of the scheme.
Once complete, the development is set to include a hotel, residential apartments, leisure/retail facilities, cafes, shops and a playground. This is in line with the existing planning consent.
The scheme is expected to employ up to 200 people. This would include opportunities during construction and jobs in the hotel trade, commercial units and in the servicing of the residential areas.
The council understands separately that Cardy Construction Ltd. has filed a notice of intent to appoint an administrator. The council does not have any further information in relation to this process at this stage.
The Sale Agreement for the site was completed on 13 March 2015. This marked the exchange of contracts binding the council to complete the transfer of the land.
As with the original development agreement, the council retains ownership of the cliff wall and completed works here in April 2016."

Last May this is what an FOI asked
Dear Thanet District Council,
Please provide details of any payments the developer(s)/buyer(s) of the Royal Sands Development, Ramsgate is/are contractually bound to pay Thanet District Council as per any legally extant planning permission, development agreement, contract of sale, memorandum of understanding OR any other document which might contain this information.
Where payments have or will be made please provide the following information for each amount:
(a) Name of organisation providing the payment
(b) Purpose of payment
(c) Date funds paid/will be paid to the council
(d) Details of any conditions attached to payment
Yours faithfully,

and the response

Thank you for your communication received on 15/04/2015 where you
requested information about contractual payments regarding the Royal Sands
I apologise for the delay in responding to your request, it is the
councils intention to publish this information once the legal process
concludes so this information is exempt under section 22 of the Freedom of
Information Act and is therefore being withheld.

Whether anyone believes the current statement from TDC or not it hasn't gone nearly far enough to answer the above FOI.