Tonight at the Planning & Licensing Committee, Cllrs have to discuss and possibly make a decision on Planning Application Y16/1003/SH and it is not as straightforward as it appears.
Y16/1003/SH is about B&Q on Park Farm and we know this will close in January 2017. The planning application is for a change of floor space allowing other goods to be sold; which a prospective new retailer wishes to sell, as they wish to take over after B&Q have gone. The prospective new retailer is not named in the application. The application has been submitted by their agent Butler Mason. What is known is that the retailer will be new to Folkestone.
The current conditions restrict the sale of a number of categories of goods from the store and this is what the application wishes to amend; the amount of floor space on which certain types of goods can be sold within the property.
The application states in its Retail Statement at Para 6.12 that it will create 39 new full time employment positions at the site.
Two objections as far as we can see have been received. One of these objections is from Ellandi, joint owners of Bouverie Place (pictured) who state in their objection; received by SDC on the 15th November, that they Ellandi, along with Tristan Capital who acquired the site in June 2013, that it could impact on their business at Bouverie Place.
Now what is interesting is that the site (Bouverie Place) appears on Private Eye’s tax haven map of properties in England and Wales owned by offshore companies. The property is owned by CCP III Shopping Folkestone Sàrl in Luxembourg a well known centre for financial secrecy and low tax and was registered on the 22/07/13 with the Land Registry and the price paid was £19.7 million (exclusive of vat) and the Title No is K820582.
The registered address given by CCP III Shopping Folkestone S.A.R.L is 16 Avenue Pasteur L-2310 Luxembourg; appears in the Luxleak papers.
Ellandi in their objections state that a new store opening up at the B&Q site will affect their business within Bouverie Place, plus other retailers in Folkestone Town Centre. They state:
“Folkestone Town Centre as a whole remains fragile … A survey of Folkestone Town Centre undertaken in August 2016 confirmed that there are currently 63 vacant units … This equates to 13.1% of the total units ; which is above the national average.” The number of units empty in Cheriton was also above the national average.
So in effect what Ellandi (registered in Luxembourg) are saying, is that if the Cllrs potentially grant the application for the store to open on Park Farm and create 39 new jobs, it will have an impact on Folkestone Town Centre, as shoppers will go elsewhere potentially. The consequences of this could translate into lost jobs and more closures of shops on Folkestone High Street.
The agent [Butler Mason] of the new prospective retailer who wishes to take over the B&Q site are saying there are no vacant units or buildings on Folkestone or Cheriton High Street to accommodate them.
Now we do not know who the company moving in to the B&Q site are, nor do we wish to speculate. We do not know if they are onshore or offshore, all we know is that via their agent they say they will create 39 new full time jobs.
So here’s the dilemma. Put yourself in a Cllrs shoes at this committee meeting tonight and decide whether or not you would allow the development to go ahead. When you know on one hand it is 39 new jobs, but on the other hand you may well affect the town centre and drive business elsewhere.
SDC have recommended to Cllrs that the new prospective retailer should be allowed the changes applied for, albeit with conditions.
So if you were a Cllr having to make this decision, what would you do? Vote for Jobs or vote to potentially save jobs and money leaving a “fragile” town centre?
We personally believe that Cllrs do not have sufficient information to make a fully informed decision on the matter and would ask them to defer the matter, requesting SDC collect further information from the prospective new retailer or the agent, if possible. Then once they have the information, then vote, but we’ll find out later this evening what our Cllrs will do.
There are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts. We do not intend to suggest or imply that any persons, companies or entities included in this blog post have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.