Find out how council money is being spent at Ventnor Botanic Garden

OnTheWight asks about specific payments being made in relation to the refurbishment of Signal Point.

Signal Point in 2009

Following our report earlier in the year about the Ventnor Botanic Garden (VBG), we’ve had readers get in touch with concerns about how public money is being spent on the refurbishment of Signal Point, the Victorian property that sits within the Garden (pictured above in 2009).

Coincidentally, we’d contacted the Isle of Wight council at the end of last year to ask about payments made to the Ventnor Botanic Garden CIC in relation to Signal Point. We’d heard rumblings of expensive custom-made wallpaper and gold plated radiator fittings being commissioned and were keen to find out more.

£125,000 paid out so far
The council were able to confirm that between March 2012 and December 2013 a total of £125,856 had been passed to the CIC.

This was as part of the five year agreement that sees £200,000 being made available to the CIC from council coffers for the repair or restoration of specific buildings and structures. That deal also saw John Curtis committing to spend £800,000 over the first five years. It’s unclear how much he has invested so far.

We had asked for detail about payments specifically in relation to Signal Point, but the council provided figures for all payments made to the VBG CIC and weren’t willing to break down to specific invoices.

So we got in touch with John Curtis to see if he could help

Payments spread across three buildings
We set out 15 specific payments and asked for more detail. John failed to answer on the detail, but did say the £125,000 had been spent across Signal Point, the Glasshouse and the old Smugglers Museum.

He told OnTheWight,

“When the lease for the Garden was signed in July 2012 future repair liabilities became the responsibility of the lessee, the Ventnor Botanic Garden CIC. After years of near zero maintenance expenditure all the structures on the site required repair and some required complete rebuild and restoration.

“Signal Point was derelict as its poor roof had left the building exposed to the elements and rot had set into the roof timbers and the lath and plaster walls throughout had failed. All plumbing and fixtures had been removed.

“The Temperate House panels had failed due to UV damage. The glasshouse had slipped glass throughout. The Smugglers Museum and the Tractor shed had broken windows, leaking roofs, and broken guttering. The cold frames were no longer in use due broken glass and rotten sills. The repairing fund and the payments you reference have been applied to Signal Point, the Glasshouse, and the old Smugglers Museum.”

Holiday let in high season
He went on to say that Signal Point would be used as a holiday let in high season, adding,

“Signal Point has been restored to a standard consistent with its intended use as a holiday let in the high season and lodgings for lecturers, horticultural experts, researchers, or apprentices in the low season. And we still have a number of derelict buildings on site that need to be restored.

“It was, and it still is, clear that the repairing fund is not adequate in itself to bring the buildings up to the standard expected for a quality botanic garden and an important tourist destination for the island. For this reason we have also applied significant CIC funds to the repair and upgrade of the site and its facilities.

“Finally, the Garden represents public savings, not public expenditure. The annual subsidy by the Council was cut from £250,000 per annum to zero.”

Image: © Simon Perry 2009

Monday, 24th February, 2014 8:49pm

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Filed under: Isle of Wight News, Top story, Ventnor

Any views or opinions presented in the comments below are solely those of the author and do not represent those of OnTheWight.

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29 Comments on "Find out how council money is being spent at Ventnor Botanic Garden"

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tryme
Seems as though communication from John Curtis with staff needs a bit of sorting, as not long ago it seemed that some of them posting here thought Signal Point was to be a home for himself. That’s quite a misunderstanding, and entirely avoidable, one would have thought. Even if he has his own views on those people he could have made updates available on the VBG website… Read more »
Cynic

OTW might like to investigate to what degree the CIC’s expenditure on non-botanical items has been funded by raiding the reserves of the Friends of VBG.

dogpog
What I’m concerned about is council-ie-our , money being spent in unauthorised ways. I’m concerned about the lack of information -are they really so adrift they’re not keeping proper accounts-as far as I’m aware, there has been no public money spent on the glasshouses. -the visitor centre was built with lottery money for the benefit of the public-it’s shut down-does the awarding body know? -is the council… Read more »
dogpog

Absolute nonsense-what Curtis says simply does not make sense.Is he trying to convince us that he’s spent our money wisely?

Peter Whiteman
Once again it proves how incompetent the previous administration at County hall were. As we were told Mr Curtis would take it over at no cost to the taxpayer and he would refurbish it to a high standard like other Botanical gardens.What we have now is futher hidden costs to find, a garden which has not been greatly improved and you have to pay to enter.Thanks OTW… Read more »
A sad supporter
I wonder how many times. Mr Curtis has actually slept in this house himself? Maybe he would like to answer that question. It was also alleged that this house has not been built with the correct fire regulations to house students/lecturers/researchers does Mr Curtis have anything to add on this matter? The council money should have been spent upgrading the buildings that relate directly to the visitor… Read more »
Current employee (maybe ex after this)
The thing that upsets me with John is his insistence he is such a great businessman yet in meetings tells us how ex employees have lost him up to 100k. How would a businessman of the stature that he claims to be ever let this happen? If it has indeed happened then I can only assume incompetence upon the management, namely John Curtis or indeed that it… Read more »
Irene
Frankly, I’m tired of being belittled to Friends, ex colleages and random strangers-apparantly,I cost John Curtis lots of money to employ. Let’s remember, that’s part of the deal he signed up to. I have a very good reputation on the Island and many years’ experience in environmental education-in short,I’m not really the half wit I’m made out to be. I have a teaching qualification, a qualification in… Read more »
Irene

Sorry, there should be an extra zero on each of those figures.

Irene
John especially seems so full of spite. I’ve just heard that the Friends’ contribution to the AONB grant which benefitted so many local children is not going to happen for the school-St Francis-I wonder how that squares with their education and grant commitment? Doesn’t look good for future grant applications and the fact they had two teachers at their new education launch also doesn’t look too promising.… Read more »
tryme
I agree, Current employee, that JC does need to come on here to defend himself. I’m assuming he feels he has grounds to do this. I’ve often seen controversial people coming OTW who very quickly get the many reasonable and fair-minded posters here, on their side. People respect honest explanations and sympathise with accounts of adverse conditions. Also, JC really should understand that we do feel we… Read more »
Ronald regan
Well that just points out that Mr John t Curtis is the biggest failure of the place. Spent our money on a holiday let that will never generate that Money back in our life time. Spending the friends money until it runs out on paths. And pushing the last of the management out to save money come September . It’s in a dead end road now with… Read more »
The Sciolist

The clue is in the name, CIC? means a Community Interest Company and it should have several directors – to prevent one person from having control.

It seems this man has total control over the WG, or am I missing something? I don’t like the smell of it.

dogpog

There’s a clue there-COMMUNITY.Something Curtis seems to have forgotten to involve.

dogpog
I do find it very strange that a so called business man seems so lost.I wonder if he knew what he was taking on? I wonder if it was all about ego or simply thinking that the council made such a mess of it that he thought he could make it work? The thing is, when you look at reaL Botanic Gardens, one of which we used… Read more »
tryme

Charles and Camilla were shown round VBG not long before it was let go. (CP photos of the occasion are rather charming). I wonder if Charles, a huge appreciator of Gardens, would be interested to put some of his many contacts at the service of the CIC to give advice?

dogpog

Seems the man knows everything -why would he need advice.

Ronald Regan

The directors are from other leading gardens but have no say in the place and just do a phone meeting once a year. The man with the ideas is the former friends chairman who now works behind the scene so to speak.

A sad supporter
Ronald, what makes you think the management will no longer be there in September? I heard on the grapevine that the new Education programme was a roaring success, just two teachers attended and the volunteer running it is leaving for the mainland. Just incredible! They once had one of the most inspirational employees within education and now they cannot even get teachers to attend a talk about… Read more »
The Sciolist

I fail to see how one single person can apparently be exercising so much personal control over the WG. This should not be possible under a CIC.

If the IOW council gave and still gives the CIC funds, then this too should be public and easily available information, just as the CIC itself, if it has funds to invest must make its finances clear and public.

A sad supporter

Pop along to VBG and you will see it right in front of your very eyes.

dogpog

it’s the botanic gardens under discussion, not the WG- though a very similar comparison

A Sad Supporter
Interesting to note that from this:- http://www.botanic.co.uk/blog?bid=35 came this http://www.botanic.co.uk/pages/signalpoint.htm Interesting turn around and use of council money. One may be forgiven for thinking that the plan was always to essentially build John a luxury retreat, thinly veiled as holiday letting accommodation. I was also delighted to read this:- http://www.iwcp.co.uk/news/news/gardener-earns-place-on-prestigious-kew-course-56214.aspx Well done Luke, however dismayed to learn that Luke will not be replaced. I wonder who will… Read more »
Curious Friend

That’s very interesting. Do you think that any of the council money meant for building repair was used to create this luxurious holiday accommodation?

A sad supporter

I know for a fact that 100% of the refurbishment that was carried out was funded by council money.

Man in Black

I thought that one of the things that swinged John Curtis getting the lease was the education programme and the house being used to accommodate those students.

It doesn’t seem right that he is now able to change that into a commercial use when it was sold on the basis of educational, but it’s probably what many of us thought would happen anyway.

He’s proved our suspicions right.

Irene

Promises re-community engagement and schools are just being fulfillled.Very sad

Irene

Not-that should be!

Cynic
(Ventnor Botanic Gardens Proposed Draft Heads of Terms (Subject to Contract) “The Lessor will place £200,000 into a ring-fenced account for a fixed period of 5 years, and the Lessee will be able to draw down against this account towards the repair/restoration of specific buildings/structures including Signal Point House; the temperate house; the former smugglers museum and associated tunnels; the remaining Victorian foundations and subways relating to… Read more »