Did Hoylake Golf Resort developer offer Wirral Council £300,000 if its planning application is approved?
Although this call in meeting about the Hoylake Golf Resort was last year, as Wirral Council have recently received the Funding Strategy from the developer (Nicklaus Joint Venture Group Limited), a decision by Wirral Council’s Cabinet on the next stage is expected in the couple of months.
Below is a transcript of the first fifteen minutes of that public meeting, you can watch video of the call in meeting about the Hoylake Golf Resort on Youtube if you wish.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): to order please.
Good afternoon and I welcome the members of the public. It’s spot on four o’clock. Errm, as everybody’s aware we’re here this afternoon for a call-in errm to discuss the merits and the demerits of Hoylake Golf Resort and I’d like to start the proceedings by calling errm Councillor Blakeley please. You’ve got five minutes Chris.
CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY: Thank you Chairman.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): Right I’ve got to go through the process I’ve just been informed, so sit down Chris.
CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY: OK.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): First of all have we got any apologies? No, thank you.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): Members Code of Conduct, has anybody, has any Member got any declarations of interest, pecuniary or otherwise? David?
CLLR DAVID ELDERTON: We’re both the same and bear with me. Personal, non pecuniary interest as I am a Council nominated trustee of the West Kirby Charity which owns two parcels of land in the area of the golf resort. It’s non-pecuniary in the sense that I have no financial involvement in it at all.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): Right, is that the same?
CLLR GEOFFREY WATT: The same for me Chair.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): OK, we’ve noted them, thank you very much. And can I just confirm from all parties that nobody’s subject to a party whip? Is that correct? Thank you then, so over to you Chris, you’ve got five minutes. Thank you.
CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY: Thank you Chairman. I’d just like to start at the outset by saying that this isn’t party political and it’s not one of opposition to the proposal. It’s about concerns about the financial implications and the effect on the environment and the consultation process surrounding it. The call in sets out to a degree the concerns of the signatories and I’m here today to try and expand on some of those concerns. However, with only five minutes, I will concentrate mainly on the financial issues and leave the witnesses to enlighten the Committee about the impact on the environment and the greenbelt.
I’d also just like to say at the outset, having read the exempt number sixty-one, that I believe the report on the Development Agreement, as well as the Development Agreement between the Council and the Nicklaus Joint Venture Group, both contain information that is in the public interest and the exemption should therefore be removed in order that all this documentation is placed in the public domain. I realise that any decision on that is within the gift of the Committee and I think that consideration will be given to that request. Now, I’m not an expert on golf resorts, I’m sure there are people who have a much greater depth of knowledge than me.
However like the other seventeen Members who signed the call-in, I have concerns about the risk that Cabinet wants council taxpayers to take with such a huge amount of their money. Cabinet has already spent £237,000, it now wants to spend a further £595,969 gambling on a scheme that may or may not come to fruition. Errm, if this was the Cabinet’s personal money, would they be prepared to gamble it? Well, perhaps the Leader of the Council will tell us, err when he sits in this chair. Well I very much doubt that you know nine Members of the Cabinet would want to put that sort of money in.
In the Cabinet decision details, the Cabinet Member for Transformation and Leisure said that the Cabinet was under no illusions about the financial situation the Council was in and let’s face it, Cabinet keeps telling us and the public repeatedly about the savings it has to make but it’s content to gamble with what will over, what will be over £830,000 of council taxpayers’ money. Surely that makes no sense?
The Cabinet report states that the err Nicklaus Joint Venture Group will contribute £300,000 out of the £595,969, leaving Council’s costs of £295,969. Plus of course the £237k that’s already been expended which is well over half a million. However that contribution is dependent on the Council granting planning permission. Now that alone puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the decision making of the Planning Committee knowing the refusal will cost the Council £300,000.
I think that’s the wrong way round, it’s better if that was reversed and it would be the Jack Nicklaus Venture Group that sorted it, put up this cash and shared the risk and in the event of planning permission being granted, it’s up to the Council to make a contribution towards that. Why should the council taxpayer take all the risk of this six, almost six hundred thousand pounds without the err, the preferred partner sharing that risk?
You know, it talks about errm, the Nicklaus Joint Venture Group, they’re listed at Companies House with an address that’s on a housing estate in South Wales. They’ve got five directors. Their annual return in October 2016 states they had a statement of capital of £1,000 which doesn’t seem very much, considering they’re to be funding a multi-million pound investment in the Golf Resort.
One of the directors that has a 75% shareholding in the company is also listed as being a director of eighteen
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): Chris, one minute left.
CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY: OK, eighteen previous companies many are now dissolved. One of them, Carms Construction went into liquidation and this is a company that built Pentre Nicklaus Luxury Homes.
So one has to ask Chair and with that sort of person, with that sort of listing at Companies House, with that sort of pedigree, should the Council really be getting into bed with a company that’s best on that description can be described as a little bit risky? You know, and I’m not going to go further than that, but having said it’s a little bit of a risk, if you read that and you’re making an investment and you read that at Companies House, wouldn’t you think twice about putting that sort of money in? Am I going to get value for money? Will it come out right? I don’t know.
Chairman, I’ll leave it at that point, because I don’t want to overstay my welcome on overrunning time, so I’ll happily leave it at that point and listen to what other people have to say because I do know I can sum up later on. Thank you.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): Thanks Chris and thanks for sticking within the five minutes, thank you.
CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY: It’s a pleasure Chair.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): Are there any Members of the Committee who would like to ask Chris,
CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY: Oh, sorry.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): just before you go?
CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY: Yeah.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): Are there any questions anybody would like to ask?
CLLR DAVID BURGESS-JOYCE: Thank you Chair. Err, could I just ask errm whether in fact you were aware during your deliberations of that Company doing obviously the due diligence that you would expect the Council to have undertaken, were any of the people involved in this ever bankrupts, or err barred from it?
CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY: Sorry Chair, I couldn’t find that out on this at all. I’ll tell you what it boils down to find. There will be instances where you can pay for that sort of information, I’m sure there are you know, it’s just top that’s all you need to know.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): Anybody else? Geoff?
CLLR GEOFFREY WATT: Thank you Councillor Blakeley, errm in the first paragraph of your call in, errm, you refer to agreeing to the confidential Framework Development Agreement, the Council would effectively be committing to a done deal with no clear exit strategy should the proposal prove not to be viable or financially or environmentally sustainable. On what do you base your assertions that it’s a done deal?
CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY: Thanks Councillor Watt. I mean that basically is if you read the Financial Development Agreement, which I have read err clearly the public hasn’t, there’s a lot of stuff in there, that would lead me to believe that there is no exit strategy, that it is a done deal, err because of the way it’s all written out and typed up and the thirty pages of legal advice that’s given beforehand and then in the agreement. Clearly I can’t talk about the agreement because it is exempt, only if you guys can lift that exemption then we can go into greater detail.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): Thank you.
CLLR CHRIS BLAKELEY: Thank you very much.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): Could I now call Elizabeth Davey please, a concerned resident?
ELIZABETH DAVEY: Right, thank you very much for letting me speak even though I’m not on the list. Errm,..
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): Excuse me, I am sorry Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH DAVEY: That’s fine.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): I need to call the Leader of the Council next.
ELIZABETH DAVEY: That’s perfectly alright.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): OK.
ELIZABETH DAVEY: Thanks very much.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): So you’ve done a practice walk. (laughter) I’ll get it right next time, but thank you Elizabeth. Can I call Councillor Davies please? Five minutes then.
CLLR PHIL DAVIES: Okay, err thanks err Chair for this opportunity to explain the decision that Cabinet made on the 7th of November which was, which was to authorise the signing of the err Framework Development Agreement.
I want to start off by just kind of emphasising the potential benefits of this errm project. It’s a major high-profile development valued at around £190 million. It will provide somewhere in the region of 170 direct jobs. It will deliver an eighteen hole Jack Nicklaus signature golf course. It will deliver a new replacement Nicklaus municipal golf course, a quality up market hotel, spa with conference facilities, enhanced world-class practice facilities for the return of the Open, a Links Golf Academy to link into local schools, a new access link road and off site road improvements, quality housing as an enabling development and environmental enhancements and treatments of a former landfill site.
The, the developer is err Nicklaus Joint Venture Group, one of the world’s leading golf organisations and we recently Celtic Manor have also expressed an interest in being part of this project. Errm, the Cabinet report sought err approval to sign the Development Agreement, and the fees that have been referred to errm earlier on. This err is required err prior to a Funding Strategy being submitted to Cabinet in the new year.
If I can address myself, particularly to the errm reasons for the call in, err which has been signed by most of the Conservative Group but interestingly not the Leader of the Conservative Group so I’m not sure where he stands on this but anyway, nevertheless errm one of the first argument is that the signatories claim that err by agreeing to the Framework Development Agreement, the Council’s committing to a quotes “done deal”. Errm, I believe that’s not correct.
Paragraph 7.1 of the report makes it clear that Council will, “The Council retains at its absolute discretion, the ability to withdraw from the project should the Funding Strategy not prove to be acceptable to the Council.” so in other words Chair, this is a process, this is a journey, this is the first stage in the process. We’re not committing to err the whole, doing the whole project until we’re convinced that there is a funding plan in place, which is credible and that will come back to Cabinet, err probably in about March of next year and there will be another opportunity for Members to debate that.
The signatories err say that in the call in they’re disappointed the project has not been subject to formal debate by Council and so there are other issues such as traffic impact, wildlife, flora and fauna, et cetera that need to be explored and the impact on the greenbelt. All of these issues Chair will be err dealt with errm as part of the planning process, which we will, we will all be familiar with so I don’t believe that that is a errm a fundamental flaw.
Errm, the third err issue the signatories raised, is that they believe that the signing of the Framework Development Agreement renders any further consultation as meaningless.
I reject that as I said earlier on, this is the err first stage of the process. There has been some informal consultation with residents at the back-end of last year. There’ll be further consultation, errm both informally and then formally as part of the consultation process. The, a lot of the signatories then go on to obviously raise the issue of the £595,000 which the Cabinet report recommended.
I accept that this is a errm significant amount of money but my errm argument to the Committee is that the prize at stake is absolutely enormous and £595,000 actually represents only 0.3% of the total errm potential project costs of £190 million of benefits err of this project errm so I believe that I accept that there is an element of risk, but I think the risk at the moment from the err information I’ve been given is a calculated one errm in terms of the potential benefits, in terms of jobs, investment and creating errm a really world-class facility.
So in closing, errm Chair my argument is projects like this show our ambition for Wirral, errm we need don’t we? We know that we need to generate more council tax, we need receipts from housing, we need to generate more business rates from creating more businesses because we know that our main government grant is being completely withdrawn. So by 2020, we’ll only have those two sources of income, plus fees and charges to deliver the public services. My argument is, this project delivers the economic benefits, but it also delivers the vital funding for us to provide decent public services for this local authority going forward.
In conclusion, I believe we should be ambitious, I believe err we are in in a process, this is the first stage. There will be plenty of other opportunities particularly when the Funding err Strategy comes back in March for us to take a view but I believe as Leader of the Council we should be ambitious err for the Wirral and I think this is a errm project that is at this stage worthy of support. Thank you Chair.
CLLR MICHAEL SULLIVAN (CHAIR): Thank you Phil, can you just hang on…
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