Ventnor Winter Gardens: A detailed analysis of where we’re at

We work through the paperwork and seek answers to questions raised by OnTheWight readers in relation to the sale of the Ventnor Winter Gardens.

Winter Gardens:

Since former Cabinet member Cllr George Brown made the announcement in September 2010 that The Hambrough Group had been chosen as the preferred bidder for the purchase of the Ventnor Winter Gardens, there has been much debate about the future of the iconic cliff-top venue.

The Hambrough Group beat off competition from another commercial bid as well as a community bid, both of which intended to ensure the venue would be open and functioning the following summer.

As OnTheWight has previously reported, over two years after venue was closed by the council, it still remains unused, now subject to further lack of maintenance and vandalism.

Hambrough: “Concentrate on progressing with redevelopment”
On 5th June, a spokesperson for The Hambrough Group said,

The Hambrough Group now feel that they are in a good position with strong teams in their existing restaurants and hotel to continue to offer exciting food in a very special part of the country and will allow the Group to concentrate on progressing with redevelopment of the Ventnor Winter Gardens Project, incorporating a 34-bedroom hotel, food and beverage outlets and a 400 seat auditorium.

Later that week, the Hambrough Group confirmed they had not yet appointed contractors for the development of the venue, but hoped to announce news shortly.

Seven weeks later, we’ve asked the question again, but were told by a spokesperson for The Hambrough Group,

“I am not in the position of commenting at the moment. The information that has been provided by the council will be what is available at the moment. Sorry I am unable to give anything else at this stage.”

An analysis of the paperwork
OnTheWight have recently been looking back through the Isle of Wight council paperwork associated with the sale of the Winter Gardens.

Readers will remember that the deal between the Isle of Wight council and The Hambrough Group saw the former public building being sold for just £1.

The sale of the building was on condition of approved planning permission which after some revisions to the original plans, The Hambrough Group received in November 2012.

The contracts were exchanged the same month and the sale completed in mid-January 2013.

Valuation
Paperwork at the beginning of the tender process stated that the building had been given a valuation figure of £200,00 to £250,000. This valuation was based on the state of the building in Jan 2010.

Following a question posed by an OnTheWight reader we asked whether a new valuation had been obtained prior to exchange of contracts in November 2012.

A spokesperson for the council said,

“A new valuation was not sought once the planning permission was granted. The property was offered to the market and a price agreed subject to planning permission being granted.

“The bid price reflected the conditions which the council imposed on the sale and the cost to the purchaser of developing the building and complying with these conditions.”

What is “a reasonable time frame”?
In the Cabinet paper produced for the sale of the property (embedded below for your convenience), paragraph 18 lays out terms agreed by the Hambrough Group.

These included:

Secure community access to the auditorium for a period of ten years, including the provision of a box office service;

Provide the Council with an option to repurchase the facility should the proposed investment not proceed within a reasonable time frame.

We were interested to understand what the council constitutes as ‘a reasonable time frame’.

A spokesperson for the council replied,

“The document which transfers the freehold to the Hambrough Group provides that it must, ‘commence and substantially complete the development insofar as it relates to the building within 18 months of the date of the transfer’.

“If the refurbishment and development of the Winter Gardens is not substantially completed within that time the council has an option agreement to buy the property back for the greater of £1 or an amount agreed reflecting the investment made by the purchaser.”

If you’re wondering how the council qualified the term “substantially complete the development” a spokesperson for the council explained this meant,

The development of the scheme as presented to, evaluated by and accepted by the council.

Cost of buying back the Winter Gardens
If the council were to take up the option to buy back the building (as mentioned in paragraph 42 of the Cabinet paper), as stated above, the cost to the council would not simply be the £1 the building was sold for.

It would include an “amount agreed reflecting the investment made”.

We asked the council what this meant, they replied,

“costs of works to the building and design fees.”

OnTheWight understands from Cllr Stubbings that these fees, which include ground work surveys, are currently in excess of £200,000.

Due diligence?
Readers have asked on several occasions whether comprehensive due diligence (ie. finding out whether the funds committed to be spent were available) was carried out prior to the exchange of contracts in November 2012?

It had been pointed out by one reader that although sufficient funds may’ve been available at the point of winning the bid in 2010, it would be useful to know whether had the council checked that funds were still available to the developer?

A spokesperson for the IWC told OnTheWight,

“The purchaser’s finances were checked.”

The council went on to confirm that documentary evidence of this remains on file.

Community use
Readers will remember that when the council invited bids for the purchase of the Winter Gardens, one of the conditions attached to the sale was that there should be continued public use of the auditorium.

The extract from the invitation to tender stated,

The council would expect any proposal to provide for some continued community use of the building as a theatre/hire venue.

Community use re-negotiated
The Hambrough Group were successful during negotiations with the council to have this reduced to just ten years rather than in perpetuity.

However, the council confirmed in May 2013 they are currently discussing an extension to the ten year period.

OnTheWight asked, “When does the clock start ticking on the ten years of community use?”

A spokesperson for the council said,

“The building currently has planning permission for use as a hotel, restaurant, bar and auditorium all of which will be available for public use indefinitely. Any change from these uses will require new planning permission.

“The ‘community use’ as defined in the lease relates to specific hire of the auditorium and the current stipulation remains in force until January 2023 (ten years after the deal was completed) though we are discussing an extension to this date.”

Hambrough Group bid
We did ask to see a copy of the bidding proposal presented by The Hambrough Group – you’ll remember we published bids by both the Winter Gardens Trust and the Winter Gardens Ltd with their permission.

The council replied,

“All bids were submitted on a confidential basis and we cannot release such information without first liaising with the purchaser. We will contact the purchaser and ask if it is happy for it to be released.”

We’re not sure whether the council contacted the purchaser, Kevin Sussmilch, to request permission to release his proposal, but we’ve been waiting since 22 May for an update.

What is the Isle of Wight council doing?
When we asked back in May 2013 what the Isle of Wight council are doing to ensure action is taken, Councillor Jonathan Gilbey, cabinet member for resources, said:

“We are keen to see the Winter Gardens brought back into use by the new owner as quickly as possible. I would like to reassure residents that we are monitoring the situation closely to ensure all the necessary steps are being taken by the owner to progress this important development in the heart of Ventnor.”

We have further posed questions to the senior council officer closely involved with the sale of the venue on the subject of penalties and are awaiting a response. We’ll post them here once we receive them.


Wednesday, 24th July, 2013 6:38pm

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ShortURL: http://wig.ht/2b1K

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

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41 Comments on "Ventnor Winter Gardens: A detailed analysis of where we’re at"

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Bystander

Apparently Kevin Sussmilch’s nickname is ‘sausage’, we should have anticipated the Worst was yet to come.

John Allen
It is interesting to see that the Council are suggesting that the buyback price includes a clause about the investment made, as the original Heads of Terms against which bids were submitted says: “An option will be entered into on completion to provide that if the Purchaser wishes to sell the building within 21 years of completion it will first offer it back to the Vendor at… Read more »
CB500

I think we should all just give up on this. Mr S clearly thinks us locals are moaning plebs and the ‘ new ‘ council will roll out the ‘ previous incumbents ‘ card. There is no desire amongst any of them to improve Ventnor. It just comes down to making some more cash. Where are they going to park all the cars by the way?

steve s

“No desire amongst any of them to improve Ventnor”?

Who on earth are you talking about?

I have to say I’ve been surprised by the shortness of our honeymoon.

Bystander

2 months isn’t a short honeymoon

CB500

Okay, how about this for a start? Put up some posters outside the Winter Gardens expressing the town council’s regret over the state of the site and apologising to tourists and locals alike. I could get these up by tomorrow pm so I’m sure you can.

Fatty Boom Boom

Hear Hear CB500.

We’ve been waiting a long time to see action with most people (wrongly) blaming the chefs along the way.

When is Kevin Sussmilc going to apologise to Ventnor residents for letting the building become an even bigger eyesore than it was before he bought it? Or it is true that he couldn’t give a fig about residents and those of us with businesses.

woodworker
Steve, who the hell told you that you get a honeymoon? I think VTC and the IOW Council should have begun to press the new owners of the Winter Gardens in June, if not before that. 6 months to sort out planning and start work seems a reasonable amount of time, especially given that planning was presumably sorted before the sale given that it was a condition… Read more »
Fatty Boom Boom

Thank you for taking the time to scrutinise the paperwork and ask questions on our behalf.

From seeing how contracts have been negotiated in the past, i get the sense that any private individual or company who wish to enter into a contract with the Isle of Wight Council must be rubbing their hands in glee.

CB500

Yes FBB, a heartfelt thanks to the On The Wight team for their hard work yet again. Steve, thanks for at least having the guts to stick your head above the parapet. I’m sure Ventnor has more than one councillor doesn’t it?

lardi

The problem was the daft sum of £1 for the building, representing absolutely no incentive from The IOWC or the Hamborough to push anything forward at speed.I very much doubt that the WG will ever be rebuilt. Yes, good journalism by OTW for keeping this important issue alive.

steephilljack

The other Ventnor County Councillor is Graham Perks (UKIP). He held the catering concession at the Winter Gardens but his appointment was later described by County auditors as “unlawful”. His subsequent re-negotiation of rent to a lower level was declared by them to be a “breach of contract”.

peaceful_life

Can we act in an unlawful way as we enforce the legal statutes, or is that a dead parrot?

Disclaimer.

No RoYaL *we* was harmed in this linguistically contorted exercise.

tryme

But possibly an inoffensive parrot was?

peaceful_life

Just as offensive as an inoffensive one, depending on what language you speak, perspective…I guess. Physics allows the luxury of such notions, but only for a while, it’s the atoms that make us matter as we chatter chatter chatter.

tryme

Not that I value the life of an offensive parrot any the less…

I fear that my own small-hours chatter, (but now beginning to nod off), is detracting from your serious points…

lardi

What on earth has this got to do with Sussmilch’s apparent loss of interest in the project. Keep to topic please.

bigj

a totally irrelevant point that you make

tryme
By ‘honeymoon’ I imagine Steve means no more than the usual sense of giving a new administration a chance to get to grips with the huge array of issues presented upon their election, and having some trust that they are doing their best by us unless proved otherwise. They certainly deserve this. To say “There is no desire amongst any of them to improve Ventnor” sounds like… Read more »
tryme

I hope people realise that VTC will not be able to lay all their cards on the table, OTW, for all to see. There must be tactics and negotiations to consider, the strength of which would be lost by being revealed at just any time, as posters here may wish…

peaceful_life

The sooner we re—-alise, that Machiavelli died in act 1 scene 1, the better.

steve s

Thank you, Tryme. Yes, that’s what I meant.

peaceful_life

I see no problem with an amicable return of the building to one of community trust.

steve s

There’s a huge problem, Peaceful. The community trust doesn’t have any money, and what this project needs more than anything else is a significant financial investment.

Linda Chester
Steve…you are right to say “the community trust do not have any money” BUT they did raise a significant amount in pledges that had great potential to be match funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The “huge problem” as I see it was that the panel were blinded by a “pot of gold” that had the potential to turn the Winter Gardens into a spectacular prestigious hotel.… Read more »
steve s
Fair point, Linda. That’s probably close to what happened, although I’d used influenced where you use blinded. Certainly as far as I’m concerned the ‘pot of gold’ was the clincher, since the most obvious thing about this project was that it required an initial investment running into 7 figures. I ask you to consider the scenario, though, in which the trust was unable to secure the significant… Read more »
Linda Chester
I hope you are right Steve and this project does progress for the benefit of the town and no doubt it will if and when it is up and running. You ask me to consider the scenario in which the Trust would have been should be have not been able to secure the funding. As, you know any investment in what ever business or project you are… Read more »
CB500
Steve, posters? Would you like me to make a start on some? If we at least offer passers by an explanation then they won’t have to draw their own conclusions. I’ll even start a whip round for some hoardings if Mr S is a bit strapped at the moment. Linda, spot on with the pot of gold I feel. I would have loved to see The Trust… Read more »
Anthony Wood
If he is ‘fully committed’, Steve, then why doesn’t he get on with the project? I cannot understand the lame excuse of his chefs leaving as a valid reason for the inexcusable delay. Chefs do not build hotels! I think you are all being led up the garden path. I am sure Linda is correct, the Community would have fully supported the Trust in the same way… Read more »
Wannabelieve
You’ve just said, “I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that it progresses for the benefit of the town.” Your comment on here on 17 July said that at the meeting you’ve just had with the owner of the Winter Gardens, you would be pressing for a schedule of works and that you believed an apology to Ventnor was needed. From what I… Read more »
peaceful_life
I wasn’t referring to the entity of community trust per se, rather the the integrity of the lawful notion and this need comprehended by people, especially those in positions of influence, lawful and legal are two entirely different things, the latter to interact with the corporate, however even within this situation there is no reason why the Ventnor community trust cannot get this building into reasonable fashion… Read more »
peaceful_life

If only they were my, interesting points, alas…sleep well ;-0)

tryme

Night-night..

bigj
Thank you for going to so much trouble to dig through the paperwork and ask questions on our behalf. I do hope it forces a rightful outcome. RIGHT FOR VENTNOR, ALL AND SUNDRY. Short honeymoon? – Valuation based on the state of the building in Jan 2010, prior to which it was running sucessfully. Community use is being eroded – dare I suggest removed. Enough is enough… Read more »
steve s
It wasn’t running successfully pre Jan 2010. It was being massively subsidised by the Isle of Wight Council and the people of Ventnor. In fact, I doubt that it has ever run successfully. The comparison with Shanklin Theatre is really not that good. I congratulate the Community Trust for their excellent work there, but Shanklin Theatre didn’t need a million pounds spent on it before it could… Read more »
CB500
Steve, you can’t just throw out ‘ a million pounds ‘ as a figure. That’s pure soundbite! If the ridiculous £350,000.00 that was wasted on an eco toilet ( correct me if I’m wrong) had been spent on the Winter Gardens we wouldn’t be where we are now. The harbour is subsidised to the tune of approximately £100,000 a year for the use of about a dozen… Read more »
steve s

it’s not a soundbite, CB, it’s the figure which is pretty much universally acknolwledged to be the investment needed to restore the building to a place to start from.
You’ll get no argument from me about the other two issues.
You tell me how many were using the Winter Gardens. Not enough, surely, otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are with it.

steve s

*acknowledged* :-$

bigj
ss – ‘wasn’t running successfully pre jan 2010’ ? I have never seen the building so well used since my youth. Subsidies could easily have been phased out with the will of the community behind the building and its obvious earning potential, and not a good enough reason to have it removed from community use. CB500 – you raise some very valid points which have massive relevance… Read more »
Debby Robinson
bigj ‘never seen the building so well used since my youth’ ‘subsidies could easily have been phased out’ Wish we’d had you on the Town Council at the time bigj. Us silly old councillors were obviously toiling away, enjoying untold sleepless nights, trying to save a Winter Gardens on another planet altogether. I was the Chair of the Town Council at the time and so totally involved… Read more »
CB500

Sorry to resurrect this but has anybody noticed any ‘ imminent action ‘ to sort the site yet? Any posters from the town council apologising to our paying tourist lifeblood for the mess?