Otterpool Park update: Borrowing, hidden soft market testing and a Dodgy man in charge

To purchase Folkestone racecourse site from the Reuben Brothers for £25 million; which included Monk’s private fishing lake, the council borrowed the money, but they’ve never said who from, nor set out the terms and conditions.

Folkestone & Hythe District Council undertook borrowing away from the public eye to purchase the racecourse. Some district Cllrs repeatedly asked questions about, who the council were  borrowing money from? – at what rate? – and how long?  However, Council Officers believe it is better for a Cllr not to know, even if the borrowing amounts to £30 – 40 million.

Otterpool Park is moving on at a significant pace. Since it’s phase 1 consultation, which wasn’t a consultation, Otterpool Park LLP has hung out three job vacancy cards on its web window. They require a:

Finance Manager –  c.£55,000 – £60,000

Community Services Delivery Manager – c.£45,000 – £50,000

Programme Quantity Surveyor – Competitive package

Back in Nov 2019, the Cabinet and full council gave themselves permission to draw down a maximum of £40 million, from the £100 million, in either 2019/20 or 2020/21. This was clearly set out in Cabinet report  Report Number C/19/23, which on page 2 states:

  • This report makes the case that cabinet should recommend to Council that additional capital funding of one hundred million pounds (£100M) be made available to enable the project, namely the development of Otterpool Park as a garden town to be delivered. However it should be appreciated that this money we will drawn down over a period of up to five years. A rough estimate is that a maximum of £40 million will be required in this or the next financial year, ~(2019/20 or 2020/21) with the remainder over the next four or five years. The amount actually drawn down may change and be dependent, amongst other factors, on contributions from third parties.

On Jan 11, 2020, we informed you the Council had made an offer to the Reuben Brothers of £25 million to the Reuben Brothers for the racecourse.

It was Cllr Ian Meyers (UKIP), then Cabinet Member for Information & Customer Service, who released the confidential information to the world.

Only days after the 11 Jan, Cllrs began asking questions about where the money to buy the racecourse was coming from. All questions asked did not receive a straight answer from Council officers. As we said, perhaps Council officers believe it is better for a Cllr not to know, even if the borrowing amounts to £30 – 40 million.

On the 14th Jan The Ministry for Homes, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) pledged an additional £580,000 of funding to the Otterpool Park project.

On the 4 Feb, Cllr Meyers steps down from his £16,000 cabinet position. The council cited it was “to allow him more time to care for family members.No mention he’d let the cat out the bag and was reprimanded for by the loss of cabinet seat.

On the 6th Feb 2020 Folkestone & Hythe Council and Cozumel Estates agreed deal for land purchase. On the 27 February, 2020, the Council paid the Reuben Brothers £25 million for the racecourse, according to the deed lodged with the land registry

So where did the £25 million come from to buy the racecourse?

It came from four councils via inter authority lending. This is short-term lending between councils. It is primarily used for short-term finance to help council manage day-to-day cash flows.

The question one might ask is how are these councils in a position to lend so much money after a decade of austerity?

Moving on, on the 27 May, 2020, Folkestone & Hythe District Council’s Cabinet resolved in minute 6, report C/20/02- (amongst other matters) to enter into the Members Agreement for OtterpoolPark LLP; and that the Leader of the Council (David Monk (Con), should appoint two Councillors to the board of the limited liability partnership. Furthermore, the minute stated that the six-month appointments of Andy Jarrett (right below), Chief Strategic Development Officer and John Bunnett, Director of Development would be subject to reappointment on the formation of the full Board.

On the 24 July 2020, Otterpool Park LLP brought £1,250,000 worth of shares in the Council owned company Oportunitas Ltd.

On the 13th Nov 2020 it was agreed that Otterpool Park LLP receive its first tranche of funding on the 1st of April 2021, to the tune of £5 million.

The Council has borrowed money from four council to pay for the racecourse, and a further five million in long term borrowing from another council. More likely than not, this money will be used by the LLP to pay wages, consultants, et al.

A further £70 million is to be made available over the subsequent 3-5 years( 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2025/26) as required for infrastructure and related investment.

According to the payment data released by Folkestone & Hythe District Council, Arcadis, who are leading the development of the Otterpool masterplan and planning application for bringing the new town of Otterpool Park to life, had received £6.3 million by the end of May 2021.

Add the £25 million for the racecourse, the £5 million champney land which kick started the Otterpool idea. Three million for a castle, and further £6 million for property. Let’s not forget the £5 million long term loan we reach in excess of £60 million spent without a sod turned. They inch forward with their plans hoping for a autumn pitch for the Otterpool outline planning permission. Then work to begin in 2022

It’s known that soft market testing amongst housebuilders who might want to buy up the plots the council intend to sell, all at from base level and with infrastructure, (water, gas, electric etc).

The LLP can receive FoIs and EiRs, as its major shareholder owns 99.9%; and that 99.9% is controlled by Folkestone & Hythe District Council. However at present it appears to be busy to look after the detail and respond to requests. We’d encourage you to discover any information you can, if interested.

Now given John Bunnett is the man in charge at the LLP, we must not forget John’s previous school reports are well blotted. These all happened while he was deputy, then acting Chief Exec at Thanet between 2005 and 2010.

Bought Barney a Mitisibishi Shogun 

Authorised £1.1 million in ficticious overtime claims 

And the man in charge, who heard nothing, saw nothing and has said nothing, while €160,282 mysteriously vanished.

After these efforts at Thanet, John jumps ship and steers his, and Ashford Borough Council fortunes down the regeneration/development route. While at the helm John made it clear to the John Wallis Academy, he was prepared to forgo the s106 contributions ABC receive, for the new primary school and committed ABC to pay for a masterplan, to inform a detailed planning application and would commit officer time to make it happen as quickly as possible.

Should we be concerned about John’s behaviour, given his known history in local government? And what’s holding up the Kent Police investigation into the  mysterious disappearance of that €160,282.

John at the helm of Otterpool Park LLP gives us significant concerns, these should not and cannot be sensibly ignored having regard to the fact Otterpool Park is a £2.9 billion pound project.

The LLPs involvement in the development plans of Otterpool Park, are so the Council and the Court’s hold, primarily to obtain an outcome in the public good. [Building houses]

From the Council and the Court perspective they argue that it seeks to achieve the regeneration of its area, to increase housing supply and to promote employment and economic growth; and the courts would agree and support them. This is the primary motivating factor. Building houses is a consequence of regeneration.

Although the LLP intends to generate a return of about 300 – 500,000,000 million back to the Council, initial figures suggested, this is only a side-effect of the development, and really just a consequence of the Council following its duty to act prudently and seek best value for its assets. Therefore, despite being set up as a profit-seeking LLP, who clearly are acting for a commercial purpose, the Court would hold the Council is not doing so. This is made clear in Peters v Haringey.

One wonders if the courts have got it right.

The Shepway Vox Team

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4 Comments on Otterpool Park update: Borrowing, hidden soft market testing and a Dodgy man in charge

  1. I remember a game we played at school when god was a boy..

    It was called Top Trumps quiite lot like this lot from the 80s

    Why not create a Top Trumps card set for SDC officials (and Councillors) with a Shepwayvox ratings for alleged dodginess, alleged incompetence, alleged lying or alleged ability to make money disappear etc etc?

    Nice idea for Christmas ehhhh.

    • Making money disappear is the key in this case. How long will it take for it to become apparent that several million pounds has gone missing? With the apparently poor accounting and oversight practices of the Council officials, will they notice it in the overall total?

  2. You say “not a sod has been turned”. You then contradict this statement throughout this article ……………….

  3. The quid pro quo for the inter authority loans will be that these Councils have first dibs on any social housing, where they can send their problem tenants.

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