THE millionaire businessman who has taken over Castletown Golf Links says he’s on a collision course with the owners of the neighbouring hotel over redevelopment plans for what he believes is a national asset.
Matters came to a head last week when Heritage Homes – which holds a 50 per cent stake in the hotel owners Fort Island Developments – erected an unsightly two-metre high fence around the landmark.
This followed the failure of Fort Island Developments and golf club owner, South African businessman and Derbyhaven resident Philip Vermeulen, to reach agreement over a licence deal which would have allowed golfers to continue using facilities within the hotel.
Following further talks between the two parties, the fence was removed from the front of the hotel on Tuesday and replaced with kerbstones – in time for a visit to the golf links by a Chinese delegation in the island at the invitation of the Manx government.
Golf club members, however, will be left without changing facilities for the next three to four months until a revamp of the existing pro-shop is completed. They have also lost 12 parking bays at the rear of the hotel which remains fenced off.
Mr Vermeulen told iomtoday that he was not now going to lease any of the facilities in the hotel and explained that agreement had not been reached because of a dispute over certain conditions relating to planning, parking, the green manager’s flat and shared electricity meters.
He has written to golf club members apologising for the withdrawal of facilities and outlining alternative measures for parking and toilets pending the completion of the renovations to the pro-shop.
Mr Vermeulen accepted that the hotel’s owners were entitled to put a fence up around their property but said the dispute was a ‘sideshow’, insisting the real issue was the future development of the Golf Links Hotel.
He claimed that Fort Island Developments were determined to build flats on the hotel site which would require the land zoning to be changed from the current leisure use to residential.
‘We are investing in the golf course but our neighbours are not doing anything with their building,’ he said. ‘The real issue is people buying facilities with no intention of running them but to change the zoning so they can apply for a change of use. We are on a collision course.’
Club captain George Ferguson said: ‘It’s an extremely unfortunate situation that members find themselves embroiled in.
‘Fort Island Developments say they are prepared to lease the property – the bar, reception, toilets and changing facilities. But they have come to an impasse as the owners of Castletown Golf Club will not sign an agreement. For that reason, Dandara believe they would be compromised in terms of health and safety and insurance. The offer from Dandara is still on the table providing a lease agreement can be agreed. The two parties need to sit down and come up with a resolution.’
Seamus Nugent, managing director of Dandara, Heritage Homes’ parent company, insisted the issue over the fence, which he said had been erected as a temporary measure, had been resolved. He stressed that Fort Island Developments was an entirely separate company.
Mr Vermeulen said he had matched Fort Island Developments’ £2.5 million offer to buy the hotel, formerly owned by a company linked to Graham Ferguson Lacey, from the receiver but this had not been accepted.
The businessman said his own plans were to make good the building so at least half of it could be reopened to the public ahead of a larger redevelopment project that would see the construction of self-contained golf lodges together with a swimming pool, gym, restaurant, conference, wedding and leisure facilities – which would all be available to the community.
He said he had offered to carry out a joint investment in the scheme with Fort Island Developments but his offer had been refused.
‘I think it must remain as a public amenity,’ said Mr Vermeulen. ‘Once it becomes residential, it’s gone. This is a national asset. But they want to build apartments because that’s how they make money. They don’t want to make the hotel commercially viable because that won’t lead to a change of use. The Isle of Man needs to diversify the economy – it doesn’t need more apartments.’
Mr Vermeulen said he was aiming to build the golf course back up initially to be in the top 100 in the British Isles and then the top 50.
Plans to build a replacement three-storey clubhouse on the site of the pro-shop have been rejected by planners over concerns about the height of the building. Mr Vermeulen is appealing against the decision. In the meantime, work has begun on revamping the pro-shop which will be converted into offices and club house, with bar, toilets and changing facilities.
Work has also begun on constructing a shelter with toilet facilities next to the 13th tee-box.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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