Light at end of tunnel? College sells off site of mining museum

Light at end of tunnel? College sells off site of mining museum
The Hadlow College Betteshanger site

The college became the first in the country to go into education adminstration in May, and in November the administrators BDO revealed that the site had been valued at £12.3million.

The Hadlow Group, which runs the agricultural college and also West Kent & Ashford College [WKAC], said the sale price was ‘not something that we’re prepared to divulge at this point’.

It was hoping to sell the 299 acres of land in East Kent, consisting of a business park and a country park, for £40million.

It currently owes £40.3million, including £35.1million to 317 unsecured creditors, many local businesses among them.

But BDO told the Times: “There is no requirement in educational administration for any particular debts to be settled.”

However, it has said that despite listing a £9million pension benefit scheme deficit, ‘the college has paid all contributions due to pension schemes and will continue to pay the required level’.

Both Hadlow and West Kent Colleges are also in the process of being sold, to North Kent College, as recommended by the Further Education Commissioner, Richard Atkins.

BDO are overseeing the transaction but were not able to comment on what happens to the debt ‘due to its commercially sensitive nature’.

The statement of proposals regarding West Kent’s debt is expected shortly.

Hadlow College owes it £4million, with the two being classified as separate legal corporations.

Mr Atkins has identified Betteshanger as one of the strands of the group’s assets that were not ‘financially successful, nor core business’.

Another part of the business included in that assessment was Rosemary Shrager’s Cookery School in Tunbridge Wells, which closed down in September.

The third site was a 30-acre vineyard near Ashford planted by Hadlow College patron and WKAC Governor George Jessel ‘to make a success of Brexit’.

According to the Hadlow Group, ‘the vineyard was a joint venture between Mr Jessel and ourselves and both parties came to a mutual agreement over the summer not to take the venture forward any further’.

Graham Morley, Interim Principal at Hadlow College, said: “The sale of Betteshanger is an important step forward in the resolution of the financial issues facing the college. The parks’ new ownership provides a more appropriate basis for the delivery of the original vision of the parks, as both an important community asset and heritage site.”

The two sites near Deal have been sold to Quinn Estates, a mixed-use developer based in Canterbury.

The vision of the Hadlow Group’s former deputy principal, Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, was to transform the old colliery site into a heritage mining theme park. He has previously said that the project was ‘personal’, having grown up in Sunderland and witnessed the fallout from the mines being closed down.

Mr Lumsdon-Taylor was suspended in February, along with the principal Paul Hannan, amid allegations of financial irregularities.

The museum was being developed in partnership with the Kent Mining Heritage Foundation, which Lumsdon-Taylor has previously chaired, and has received £1.3million from the Lottery.

A 3,500-seater amphitheatre has already been built and residential accommodation was due to be constructed this year before the project was put ‘on hold’, according to Mr Atkins, who added: “It is unclear whether any of the grant is repayable.”

The college tried to sell the site for £4million in 2017, and had to spend £1.2million on replacing the foundations of the £9.5million visitor centre where the museum will be based because of problems with the mine.

Quinn Estates have said they plan to pursue the project at the largest of the four colliery sites in the Kent coalfield. Managing Director Huw Evans said: “We are delighted to bring to a close the uncertainty and look forward to working with local community groups, Dover District Council and other stakeholders to deliver what has been promised. 

“Our vision is to deliver a regional super-hub of the highest standard with social, sporting, educational and cultural excellence at its core.”

Betteshanger Sustainable Parks, which was temporarily closed in November after an incursion by travellers, has become a popular venue for outdoor activities including a military style assault course.


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