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