My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Friday, 1 September 2017

Margate’s £1-A-Year Seaside Pier (continued)



I recently published an article in which I exposed the scandalous situation whereby Thanet Council was leasing the Margate Harbour Arm for just £1-a-year to businessman and property developer, Mr Graham Knight. In the article I estimated that Mr Knight may be making somewhere in the region of £100,000 a year profit from the rents and car parking income he receives from his £1-a-year seaside pier. I described this highly unusual arrangement as a “gold-plated” lease which provides an astronomic rate of return for what I believe to be a tiny investment.

The question has to be asked how on earth Thanet Council agreed such a stupidly generous lease with Mr Knight . A lease which will have lasted 13 years when it expires in 2021. And a lease which may be in breach of the Local Government Act 1972 which requires councils to secure the best possible terms for property disposals, including leasehold disposals.

Well thanks to colleague blogger Louise Oldfield I am now able to shine some light on how this totally unacceptable situation which has cost council tax-payers tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds, of lost income, came about.
The origins of this scandalous deal go back to 2007 and an organisation called the Margate Renewal Partnership (MRP). The MRP was established in 2005 and included representatives from Thanet District Council, Kent County Council, the now abolished South East England Development Agency and the Government Office of the South East (GOSE), the Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage. Their remit was to promote the regeneration of Margate and encourage investment into the town.

One of the regeneration projects identified by the MRP was to refurbish the Harbour Arm and breathe new life into the then dilapidated and run down historic structure. According to the Margate Renewal Partnership Board Minutes, of 13 June 2007 which were released and published under a Freedom of Information Act request by Louise Oldfield in 2014, under the heading Margate Harbour Project the organisation’s Director, Derek Harding, reported that “A planning application is expected within the next 2 weeks for change of use to café, arts studios, galleries etc. Could include Canterbury Christ Church Arts department. Developer is Pineapple Properties”.

There is no mention in the minutes of the process by why which Pineapple Property Kent was selected to be the developer of this important project. Nor is there any mention in the previous MRP minutes, which Louise shared with me, of a developer procurement exercise being carried out by the pier owner, Thanet Council, the MRP, or anyone else. So how did Pineapple Property Kent become the developer? Was there an open and transparent competitive tendering exercise carried out, as is required by local government rules, or was there not? Well the minutes appear to suggest that that there wasn’t an open and transparent developer selection process. Just to be certain and to avoid any misunderstandings I have submitted a freedom of information request to Thanet Council to find out and will let you know when I get an answer.

Soon after the MRP meeting of June 2007, Pineapple Property Kent began work on a planning application for the change of use of the Harbour Arm to allow for the development of artist studios and retail premises on the structure. The application was submitted to Thanet Council in November 2007 and approved in early 2008. In March 2008 Graham Knight, on behalf od Pineapple Property, signed the gold-plated lease agreement with Thanet Council for the Harbour Arm.

Work on the restoration of the Harbour Arm began about the same time and was completed towards the end of May 2008. In a letter to Graham Knight dated 16 November 2007, Derek Harding confirms that Mr Knight will receive a grant from the MRP of £120,000 to carry out the restoration works to the Harbour Arm. There is no mention in this letter, nor in the lease agreement, that Mr Knight was expected to invest any of his own money into the refurbishment of the Harbour Arm. I have submitted a freedom information request to find out from Thanet Council whether Mr Knight and Pineapple Property Kent did in fact make any investments into the refurbishment of the Harbour Arm. I’ll keep you posted.

The other interesting issue about the refurbishment of the Harbour Arm is the developer’s (Pineapple Property Kent) choice the choice of building contractor Margate based Design and Build Ltd. According to the company’s website, Design and Build is “proud to have helped refurbish Margate Harbour Arm into a bustling area of restaurants, bars and galleries in this stunning setting” . Design and Build is owned by Mr Stephen Groom, who was at the time of the Harbour Arm refurbishment and, according to the latest Companies House annual return, still remains, a shareholder of Pineapple Property Kent. 
Not that I am suggesting anything inappropriate, but for a development company, such as Pineapple Property, to appoint as a contractor one of it’s own shareholders, might be regarded by many people as creating a conflict of interest. I certainly think so. Also Thanet Council and/ or the MRP should have investigated this situation to ensure that the close financial links between the developer and the contractor would not adversely impact upon securing best value for the large investment of public money which was being made in the Harbour Arm. I have submitted a feedom of information request to Thanet Council to find out what checks they made into this matter. I emphasise however that I am not suggesting any wrongdoing by anyone.

Last but not least Thanet’s council taxpayers, who undoubtedly lost out because of this stupidly generous leasehold deal, need to know why when the lease was renewed in 2014 its terms were not altered in favour of the council to say £50,000-a-year instead of remaining fixed at a £1-a-year. Or why the lease was not competitively tendered to get the best possible return for the council? In charge of Thanet Council at the time of the lease renewal was Labour Party Council Leader Iris Johnston and coincidentally the Harbour Arm is situated in the middel of the ward she represents. For someone who constantly reminds anyone who chooses to listen, that she knows about everything which happens in her ward , why didn’t Johnston do something about a lease which most people would agree was outrageously bad value for Thanet Council and its taxpayers?

Apart from being the Council Leader Johnston was also the council’s portfolio holder for regeneration and economic development with political responsibility for the Dreamland Project and of course the Harbour Arm too. Once again the question must be asked why didn’t Johnston do something about a lease which most people would agree was appalling bad value for Thanet Council and its taxpayers? I have submitted a freedom of information request to Thanet Council about this matter and will let you know when I find out more.
Whilst I am not suggesting any wrong doing by anyone and whilst I think that the Harbour Arm has been well restored, I am suggesting that Thanet Council has significantly contributed to its own financial difficulties by failing to put out competitive tender, failing to revise, and agreeing such a stupidly generous gold plated lease for its one-pound-year-seaside-pier.

I would also appeal to Mr Knight to make a gesture of good will to the people of Thanet by terminating his lease of the Harbour Arm with immediate effect and in so doing allowing the people of Thanet to benefit directly from the income generated by this popular historic attraction.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for your tireless work in exposing these crimes against Thanet, Ian

    ReplyDelete
  2. Shouldn't you be appealing to all three persons who have control over the company. Why are you singling out Mr G. Knight? Surely, in the interest of fairness, you should at least mention Mr D. Hazell and R. Knight as well. https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/05417437/persons-with-significant-control

    ReplyDelete
  3. Seaside pier£1.00 Manston £1.00 anything else going for a pound note round there so I can rob the locals

    ReplyDelete