Information is courtesy of Julie Brandon.
The situation is tricky because whilst Torbay Council take responsibility for the Pavilion on the one hand as the owners, they will then in the same sentence state that the building technically belongs to MDL because it is they who have the long lease.
Only if this scheme is refused will they (MDL and Torbay Council) maybe then be obliged to talk to others and consider other ideas, but currently they refuse to have that dialogue whilst this scheme is on the table.
What is dishonest is to say that it is this scheme or nothing. There should always be a plan B!
- The Pavilion was leased to MDL in 1985
- The Marina car park leased to MDL in 1987
So, MDL took on a lease in 1985 which we are told is a full repairing lease, but at some point they discovered that there were inherent defects in the structure of the building which they have refused to attend to.
It’s tricky to know whose responsibility this is – did MDL have a full survey done before signing the lease? You would think so. When were these defects pointed out? Before or after signing the lease?
What we have been told at successive meetings is that MDL and Torbay Council would end up in a costly legal battle to resolve this issue and that there is no telling who would win. So instead nothing was done!
MDL have therefore not maintained the building as one would have hoped and the building has suffered as a consequence. We have also been told repeatedly that there is little point going over this old ground as we are where we are, but of course doing nothing has significantly impacted on Torbay Council’s options with this building and, some would argue, played to the advantage of MDL.
Torbay Council has not fulfilled its obligations as landlord of the Pavilion by either attending to the inherent defects within the building or taking enforcement action to ensure that the current leaseholder, MDL, did so. This has restricted interest in the site and will have impacted on the valuation of the Pavilion and the other pieces of land that have also now been leased toMDL and their joint venture partner Nicholas James Group. In short, MDL, by failing to maintain the Pavilion under the terms of their lease, have created a building that is unattractive to private investors unless it is effectively given away along with adjacent prime commercial land.
A development opportunity
So, around 2010/2011 the Torbay Development Agency, presumably with the agreement of leaseholders MDL, advertised the Pavilion and Marina Car Park (most likely not Cary Green at this stage) as a development opportunity. This was a time when we were in deep recession, so not surprisingly few came forward and, of those that did, the Nicholas James Group were the only ones to come forward with a suggestion. They came forward as joint venture partners with MDL and this may have put other potential developers off, ie having to deal with another private company and Torbay Council.
Maybe if Torbay Council had taken back the lease at this stage they may have been able to get more interest and more options but, at this stage with the repair bill on the Pavilion growing ever larger that Torbay Council simply wanted shot of this building.
Torbay Development Agency’s stance
TDA have always stressed that this scheme is about securing a viable future for the Pavilion. However, what happens if the hotel goes bust and decides to convert entirely to residential? Is there going to be a clause in the new lease that ensures against this and, bearing in mind the difficulties with the current lease, can any lease be trusted to fully protect the Pavilion?
At one of the first presentations given by NJG, Nick Roach stated, ‘If the people of Torbay don’t like or want what we are proposing then we won’t do it’. In the first presentations, the scheme included building two residential apartments, of 4 and 6 storey, on Princess Gardens between the war memorial and theatre. The then Mayor Nick Bye supported this but it received wide scale opposition and was eventually shelved when we had a change of Mayor.
Opposition to the current scheme
There has been opposition to this scheme from the start and when Cary Green was added to the mix that opposition has grown. For the TDA and Torbay Council to say that there are no other options is somewhat disingenuous as surely it is their job to go out and find other solutions, especially in the face of such opposition. That said, others outside of the TDA and Council have come up with alternatives, which will be referenced later.
One of the other concerns is with the valuation that has been placed on the Pavilion and Cary Green. This valuation was carried out for the TDA and TC by Bettesworths, yet an employee and family member of that company was also Chief Commercial Officer of MDL UK until February 2014 and is also an Honorary President of MDL Italia and a Director in MDL France: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mickbettesworth.
Even though he had resigned his position prior to the valuation being undertaken he would surely have been involved in negotiations leading up to this.
The TDA knew of the connection but determined that there was no conflict of interest – many people disagree.
The valuation placed on the Pavilion is minus £2m and Cary Green has been given a zero value; yet this is stated in the FAQs on the TDA website:
- Is Torbay Council funding the development?
‘No, it is funded by MDL and their joint venture partners the Nicholas James Group. The Nicholas James Group develop and own waterside hotels which they operate as Harbour Hotels. It is an entirely private sector proposal.’
A common view is that the Council are indirectly helping to fund this. The valuation requested was based, not on the commercial value of what most would agree to be a prime location in Torquay, but set against the viability of a scheme weighted more in favour of providing a return to a private company than achieving much needed revenue for the Council who are facing significant financial restraints.
Here is the link which will take you to all of the FAQs that TDA have chosen to post: http://www.torbaydevelopmentagency.co.uk/projects/public-sector/pavilion-and-marina-car-park
The group behind the Save Cary Green and Torquay Pavilion Trust Facebook pages would like to acquire the Pavilion as a community asset at which point they could apply to any number of funding schemes.
Crucial to their plan is the acquisition of the Pavilion from MDL ( ie a transfer of the lease) and Torbay Council would also have to agree to that, along with any change in terms.
A letter of objection written by Cordelia Law, which is among objection letters on Torbay Council’s Planning portal, is well worth a read as she challenges a lot of the economic argument in support of this scheme. She was threatened with legal action at the end of last year which came to nothing but proved costly to her as she had pay for legal advice in order to defend herself.
The reason that proving the economic benefits is so important is because English Heritage/Historic England have stated that the the proposals will cause significant harm in the case of the taller and less significant harm in the case of the shorter proposal. It is only proof of a significant economic benefit that could allow this scheme to be approved, which is perhaps why they got so excited when Cordelia Law submitted her letter.
Move the Pavilion
First, to put it into context. The Torquay Neighbourhood Forum put together a draft document back in 2012 which it consulted on. It was a ‘where we are so far’ document for the Torquay Neighbourhood Plan and was entitled ‘Change is in your Hands’. At that time, they were being assisted by the Princes Foundation and one of the comments that they made in their feedback was that we had made a good start but that we needed more big and bold ideas.
The TNP and the people driving it are not responsible for delivering any of the aspirations that make it into the final document. The document is intended to give indicators to potential developers of what would and would not be accepted and if it is approved at the referendum stage developers will have to comply with the policies within it.
So in response and being aware already of opposition to the proposals for the Pavilion etc, the Torquay Town Centre Community Partnership (TTCCP) came up with the whole Island idea. It formed a simple paragraph within their submission.
What followed was that the then chair of the organisation decided to remove it without permission and agreed only to re-instate the paragraph if we could prove that what was proposed could be delivered. This was absolutely over and above what any group of volunteers should be asked to do, but we did and you can read the full report and presentation if you go to this page on the TNP website and scroll down until you find them (7th and 8th up from the bottom). A representative of a Company that moves large buildings, included listed ones, was appointed to come down and take a look at what we had proposed.
There are likely to be as many people out there who will not like this proposal as much as the one currently before us, but this one is in the TNP and therefore could carry some weight should the plan be approved. There has been a more recent consultation and the idea has been well received. Perhaps, when people take the time to read it in it’s entirety, to some it may start to make sense.
As a matter of interest, the principle of infilling part of the inner harbour has already been approved by full Council in another document. The same one that agreed to turning the inner harbour into the boat park that we now have (how long before that is handed over to MDL as a second marina for them?). So if not the Pavilion on an Island – there could still be an Island.
Statutory Consultation on the TNP will begin very soon.
So there are other ideas out there, but it is not for unpaid volunteers to find a developer or organisation to deliver them. The TDA are employed to do that and as they are part publicly funded if not entirely publicly funded, they have a duty of care to explore all options not just run with the first one that comes along.
There is concern about the Pavilion should this scheme not be approved but maybe the TDA will just have to work that little bit harder to come up with something more palatable that can also secure its future. The TTCCP are likely to object again, as are the TNF (TNP), as Cary Green was designated as a protected Green Space some time ago.
Ask yourself why the acquisition of Cary Green is so crucial when there are two car parks very nearby that could be used and many hotels these days provide valet parking. The concern is that this is nothing but a land grab, and a very nice one thank you costing the developer nothing. Perhaps, in years to come we are likely to see buildings along here too!
NJG have some very lovely hotels, the nearest to what is proposed here can be found in Southampton on an industrial dockside and not a harbour conservation area as would be the case here: Southampton
Many people have nothing against the design, but think that it is in the wrong place and, whether tall or shorter, the structure will cause significant harm to the Pavilion both visually and internally.