Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Feet

Before we get completely carried away, in the earlier comment thread, dancing around the head of a pin, over who may or may not have implied, suggested, requested or even offered what to whom in the often convoluted world of local politics, I need to remind people of the planned visit to Hartsdown Park by the Labour Cabinet tomorrow.

I'm sure that everyone agrees with me that the football club represents an important part of the town's history. The fact however remains that the club is a commercial entity, which operates on public land / public open space and has enjoyed a short and renewable lease on the ground for a great many years.

The lease, has been an issue under discussion for over twelve months now with the club, which insists that if it is to continue, then it requires a 125 year lease on the hotel area, so it can, in principle, release the value of the land as a viable hotel development, in order to build a Travelodge, for which revised plans were approved by the council in the spring.

Council policy on Hartsdown Park is that no new leases of or beyond 25 years can be granted without public consultation, because it is public land.

In simple terms, if the club simply owned the park then I could see no issue but essentially what the club is proposing, is that the council make an exceptional condition and treat the hotel footprint like an asset disposal, under a 125 year lease, much like a freehold investment, so that the development value can be leveraged. The council is also obliged to consider the long-term future of the club; what happens if ten years down the line, for some reason and with a 125 year lease granted, the game of football falls out of popularity locally and it closes its doors? Unlikely, I'm sure but then what? So all possibilities and potential outcomes need to be considered.

Local opinion is highly polarised and while the council might be prepared to explore a lease of just under 25 years as a solution, the club have stated on several occasions that this is firmly out of the question, it's 125 years or nothing.

So that's the dilemma now facing a new cabinet when they go walkabout at Hartsdown Park on Thursday to meet the people. Whether to support the new leases application for the hotel and surrounding areas such as the 3G pitch or risk the potential local economic loss of the hotel development, through not granting a long lease, outside of the restrictive policy already established by the Conservative administration for the park.

I have taken 'considerable stick' over the last year by insisting on a fair, proper and absolutely transparent process and with a change of administration the decision-making now falls elsewhere. I plan to be there tomorrow, should anyone wish to ask questions.


Readit said...

Simon, The clearest explanation on any subject I have heard from you to date, opposition becomes you

Michael Child said...

Simon many thanks for an excellent, post I had completely missed the financial implications i.e. the council financing the development with a public asset.

It also begs the questions:

Is the council financing MFC or Travelodge?

Is any of the advice to cabinet from the council’s financial officers in the public domain?

You wouldn’t have imagined that gambling would lose its popularity, however most of the seafront arcades have closed and in Ramsgate the Casino was a long council lease.

This is pure old style Thanet Life at its best, long may it continue.

DrM. said...

At long last the penny drops he says....

Quite possibly my fault but then when I'm in Cabinet I have to be far more restrained and careful when writing on my blog.

No Michael, let's be clear, this is nothing to do with the council per se. TDC is not financing anything at Hartsdown, it is simply the landlord (TDC) being approached with a revised planning application (2007) and with it an application for a bundle of new leases to cover different parts of the park for different purposes. This was clearly explained in some detail in the public consultation and is quite transparent.

Subsequent advice to Cabinet Members would be in the Cabinet papers, which I am sure will be published after the meeting which will address the matter, postponed from earlier this month.

John Holyer said...

I understand now, Simon, it's not as easy as it appears on the surface.

1 o'clock Rob said...

At last people see what is actually being proposed!

Give up a large chunk of PUBLIC LAND for 125 years to enable a commercial entity to leverage WHAT THAT LAND IS WORTH to be able to build a hotel.... and what exactly is the PUBLIC getting from the deal that warrants handing over for 125 years that piece of land?

DrM. said...


This was never a secret and may go some way in explaining why the matter has been dealt with so cautiously and with such an emphasis on proper process and transparency.

It's not a question of amy money changing hands but one of long term return on investment for Travelodge to build the hotel.

Now this is not unusual or in any way improper as after all there is a strong argument on the part of the club that its further development and a hotel, could be of real potential benefit in terms of jobs, tourism, education and sport.

However, a balance of interests is required which is why a public consultation was required and the council refused to be rushed into making a decision on a matter of such important local interest

Michael Child said...

Simon as you know this one is off my turf and so doesn’t really concern me that much but there is an aspect of the thing that niggles at me and that is the astropitches.

My understanding is that the five a side ones haven’t been successful at £40ish an hour there haven’t been many takers. So having failed with them the club wants to try a full size one, but instead of using the land the five asides are on, perhaps for a full sized pitch that could be split into five asides, they want to bung the full sized pitch on the end of the five asides, effectively cutting the park in half.

It suggests to me a sort of blind arrogance to the use of the parkland, that just looks like a bad pr exercise. I guess I probably missed something here and you will be able to put me straight.

DrM. said...


It is not for me to comment on the commercial success of MFC's business.

They received planning permission for the artificial pitch over a year ago but that again is subject to the granting of a lease.

Best thing is imagine the areas involved in the consultation process / diagram packaged and divided in tick boxes with new requested lease lengths against each of them.

The council, with the results of the consultation process available can balance the public interest and the potential economic benefits and, can tick or cross-out each one, granting or denying what the club is asking for or making a counter-suggestion in regard to lengths of time.

However, I am no longer in overall charge of this process of oversight etc and it's Cllr Alan Poole, so enjoy!

Anonymous said...

population of thanet-136,000.
margate fc average gate-52
good value there then!!!

DrM. said...

Before I forget, can someone on the 'other side' please explain all of this to the new Cabinet Member for Planning before tomorrow...

Tim Clark said...

Thyank you Simon. A clear explanation, free from the hysteria which surrounded the whole affair previously. I now understand why the 125 year lease is such an important issue.

John Holyer said...

Sir Gus O'Donell has said in the Daily Telegraph, “It is not enough now for the civil service simply to respond to a dampened economic climate; it needs to become a central part of its recovery and growth.
”He suggests that MPs are too keen to make new laws to deal with problems, increasing the burden of red tape. Instead, he encourages ministers and civil servants to take more risks, so that officials can “learn from failure”. “We must be more creative and innovative in the way we solve problems without always resorting to the creation of new rules,” he says.

I am sure that this applies just as much to local government and TDC. What do you think, Simom.

DrM. said...

I couldn't agree more John and bear in mind the public sector has been slimmed down dramatically of late. For example, Thanet doesn't have a smoking cessation officer or many of the other popular Guardian jobs.

The challenge lies in cutting-back on 15 years of red tape, much of it European, which has been imposed on local government and is law. It suffocates initiative and action and costs far too much money which we don't have.

John Holyer said...

Morning Simon,

I agree.

You are quite right about the welcomed absence of Guardian non-jobs in TDC. TDC is admirable in this respect.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10.15 must be thinking of Ramsgate FC or he is acting mischeivously This season Margate are averaging just over 300 per game.
Bearing in mind they arent doing that well it has to be congratulated. There are many out there that will go back if a new stadium is built.2000 is easibly achievable.It wont require good results to do that though that obviously it would increase attedances further.Just look at Dartford they are flourishing & have been since getting their new place. Maidstone too, are now seeing a build take They will reap the rewards this can bring,not only for the club but for the community.