Monday, 11 February 2013


The tranquil seaside town of Ramsgate is begining to stir. Mysterious graffiti is appearing. People are turning out in large numbers to public meetings on cold, dark evenings. Facebook groups, blogs and twitters are alive with speculation.  People are queuing on the High Street to sign petitions. I’ve heard whispers of marches, demonstrations and even occupations!

So what’s it all about? What’s turning normally peace loving Ramsgateonians into modern day Che Guevara’s fighting for People Power?  

Well it’s a long story, but in 2002 Thanet Council’s ruling Labour Group appointed a company called SFP Venture Partners Ltd to transform a derelict beachside wasteland into  a prestigious £22million seafront regeneration project.

SFP promised the Council that, by 2014, they would build a luxury hotel, business units and exclusive seafront  apartments. They claimed that the development would kick start Ramsgate’s ramshackle economy and create jobs by the bucketful. At the time, the Thanet Gazette was full of stories of first division footballers rushing to Ramsgate to handover large down payments for off plan penthouses, to a lucky local estate agent.

Well a decade later all the euphoria has evaporated. Instead of a bright beachside future all we have is a squalid eyesore of a building site with padlocked gates that haven’t been open for years,   forlorn rusting foundations, surrounded by a Berlin Wall covered in angry anti-development graffiti. There are no signs that work on this dreamland will ever begin again.

Not surprising really. Companies House records show the developer (now renamed SFP Ventures UK Ltd) to be struggling on the verge of insolvency. It’s net value is minus £3,500. Anyone you care to ask doesn’t think SFP will ever secure enough investment to plough ahead. But this isn’t a sad, hard luck story of over-stretched speculators during a recession. Far from it!

This is a story of alleged dodgy dealings, secretive Swiss Banks, impenetrable offshore companies, collapsing cliffs and biblical floods.  Even if you had taken lots of mind altering substances, you couldn’t possibly have made this stuff up!

So let me try to shed a little light on this incredibly complex, twisting and turning plot.  First who are the developers? Well they were originally called SFP Venture Partners Ltd, an offshore company registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). It was owned by a parent Company SFP Services Inc. which was also registered in the BVI. Both Companies banked with Swiss Bank SPB. Around  2006 SFP Venture Partners transformed itself into SPF Ventures UK Ltd which unlike the other SFPs is registered at Companies House.

So who owns these companies? Well SFP Ventures UK Ltd is owned by Mr Shaun Patrick Keegan who also owns a host of what appear to be dormant property related companies, and who is also a Director of Peterborough United Football Club – well I guess someone has to be!

But what about the other offshore SFP brothers and sisters? As a recent BBC Panorama investigation revealed  it’s virtually impossible to find out who actually owns offshore companies. But that does not stop people speculating. Some people "in the know" have suggested to me in whispered conversations in quite Thanet bars that these companies might well have links to prominent local business people, ex-council officers and Lord forbid maybe even the odd ex or serving local politician. The same people alleged to me that inside information and political influence may have been used to drive through the Pleasurama deal with a view to making a killing and splitting the profit.

The only fault with this plan was of course the banking collapse and world recession which put paid to the alleged conspirators ambitions of turning a quick buck at public expense. Now not wanting to be thrown into the debtors prison for losing a slander case, I must say that I am simply repeating the speculation of  others.  I don’t have one shred evidence to support this rather outlandish and improbable explanation.

But hold on!  There is some circumstantial evidence which suggests that this conspiracy theory might not be too far fetched. First, the  Government spending watchdog, the Audit Commission, was far from  with Thanet Council’s management of  the Pleasurama Project in its early days. This is what they had to say

The Audit Commission carried out an investigation in 2001/02 into issues relating to the Council’s handling of the disposal of the Pleasurama site in Ramsgate. During the course of the investigation, we identified a number of weaknesses in the Council’s arrangements which could have had serious repercussions”.

I’m trying to find out from the Audit Commission exactly what these issues were and what  the “serious repercussions” might have been. Clearly something major was amiss, but what? 

Second, it is claimed in Pleasurama advertising literature that SFP had lots of previous experience in managing similar multi £million developments in the UK and abroad. This claim has been repeated by SFP spokesman and Thanet  Estate Agent, Terence Painter on several occasions.

I have spent hours researching this claim and can tell you that as far I can see SFP Ventures UK Ltd  do not appear to have developed any significant building projects   in the UK or anywhere else. I have publicly challenged Mr Painter on more than one occasion to produce the evidence on SFP Ventures UK Ltd track record as a developer. He has not done so yet!

Third, a serving Thanet councillor and recent Leader of the Council is facing charges in the Crown Court related to alleged fraudulent property dealings. This councillor led Thanet Council's Cabinet when it made some key decisions about the Pleasurama Project, including a decision in 2009 to keep SFP as the developer, despite senior Council officials strongly recommending that the SFP be sacked for non-compliance with the development agreement.

So there you have it folks! A company linked to secretive offshores outfits, which appears to have no previous experience, is appointed to manage  a £22million prestige project in circumstances which led to an Audit Commission investigation. When Council officials later expressed their concerns about the performance of this company and proposed that they be sacked, this was overruled by a Cabinet led by a councillor now facing very serious charges of misconduct relating to property deals.

All this smells rather fishy to me. I can perfectly understand why people are highly suspicious and developing conspiracy theories which might or might not be true.

But wait there’s more!

Over a year ago SFP approached the Council to ask for its development agreement to be re-negotiated. They said they were having difficulty raising investment to move the project forward and it would be enormously helpful if the Council would sell them the freehold of the site for the knockdown price of £3.3.million BEFORE the building work is completed.

All very strange. Why would they need the freehold up front when they  already have a 199 year  leasehold and the promise of the freehold on completion of the project. Being a simple minded Councillor I can only see one reason for wanting a cheap freehold before you begin work.

In my opinion, the Council rather foolishly agreed to this proposal on the proviso that SFP provides verifiable evidence that it has sufficient investment to complete the flats and the hotel. Well 12 months down the road and SFP has still not provided any evidence to show it has the finance to complete the work it promised to do a decade ago.

I am a simple and straightforward man (something to do with coming from Yorkshire I fear) and as far as I am concerned conspiracy or no conspiracy, recession or no recession, 10 years is plenty long enough to have completed Pleasurama. Especially if SFP is the successful development company it claims to be.

With this mind it’s time for Thanet Council to seek expert legal advice on how it can terminate its agreement with SFP and take back this valuable plot of public land. And pleased and excited that hundreds of Ramsgate residents are now getting together to force the ruling Labour Group to sack SFP for a wasted decade of inaction.

(this is only part 1. I will write another post on the flood risk and  the cliff face issues)



  1. Slightly facetious, but is there any tie up between SFP and Euroferries ?? I don't see any bright shiny fast craft on the horizon.

  2. Well done Ian.

  3. You may like to look into the fact that one lady put a deposit down on one of the proposed flats which she has now lost and no chance of the property being built.

  4. Well said Councillor Driver and there's more to come!

  5. Bravo! A very good summary of the 'facts' and throws up many many questions - keep them coming!

  6. Yet more allegations you have no evidence for Driver, what a shame you never have the balls to try to prove the mud you sling has any substance.

  7. Ian you stated "but in 2002 Thanet Council’s ruling Labour Group appointed a company called SFP Venture Partners Ltd" that company in 2002 was Société Financière Privée S.A (SFP) registered in the British Virgin Islands. A Company that due diligence could not be completed on and a Tax Haven. The Company that the agreement was signed with was SFP Ventures (UK) Ltd, a company incorprated in the UK on 1st May 2006. To date nobody has identified the people behing the BVI registered SFP