Council hits back over claims of supressed Dreamland report highlight “risks” of theme park project
PUBLISHED: 17:53 25 January 2016 | UPDATED: 17:53 25 January 2016
Comes after firm running Margate park ran up debts of £2.9m last year
Thanet District Council (TDC) has hit back at claims it deliberately sat on a report which warned of the financial risks associated with re-opening Dreamland.
It comes after a former councillor leaked details of a report by commercial property advisors GVA, in February 2015, over the awarding of the contract to run the re-imagined theme park on the seafront.
In the report, it describes the project as having a “substantial risk profile”, that the “risk outweighs the benefits” and said “there is considerable risk associated with the viability of a scheme of this nature particularly in a secondary/ tertiary coastal location”.
It prompted former Labour and Green Party councillor Ian Driver, who lost his seat at the local elections last May, to accuse the council of burying the report.
It follows news at the end of last year that the firm operating Dreamland, Sands Heritage Ltd, had run up debts of £2.9m and had to strike a compulsory voluntary arrangement (CVA) with creditors.
Mr Driver said: “TDC bosses suppressed this important report and kept it secret from elected councillors. No mention of it was made by senior council and council leader Iris Johnston at the cross-party members briefing on the Dreamland project held on February 23 2015 at which I was present.
“No mention of it was made at the council’s governance and audit committee held on March 17 2015 at which councillors reviewed TDC’s corporate risk register. In fact, at that meeting councillors were advised that the risk of Dreamland project failing “would reduce significantly” to a medium to low classification because Sands Heritage had recently been appointed as the Dreamland park operator.
“What has happened here is utterly astounding.
“Top council bosses were in possession of, or knew about, a report from a large reputable firm of commercial property developers warning of the high risk of the Dreamland project failing. Instead of acting on the warnings and working to develop contingency plans to secure the project, the report was kept secret from councillors. “
But the council insists it has done nothing wrong.
In a statement, it said: “Thanet District Council quite rightly sought independent opinion on the selection process for the operator of the Dreamland amusement park.
“This is a standard process for the council.
“The recommendation from the report completed by GVA, commercial property consultants (received in February 2015) approved the council’s process and confirmed that the lease and concession represented best consideration for the council’s interest.
“The report was not published by the council as it is a commercially sensitive document.
“The extract released, which confirms the complexities and risks of a unique project of this scale, is something that has been acknowledged by the council and its partners throughout.
“The council is perfectly satisfied in following its due process and adopted the recommendations of the report. Extracting comments from a report and taking them out of context is inappropriate and misleading.
“The council is delighted that the first phase of this major regeneration project for Margate is helping to raise the profile of the district and bringing more visitors and business opportunities to Thanet.”