Bad weather and recession have been blamed for the collapse of one of Kent’s most popular tourist attractions.
Hop Farm Trading, a part of the Hop Farm Real Estate business based at Beltring, near Paddock Wood, and known as Hop Farm Country Park, sustained “significant losses” after a decline in visitor numbers and individual spend, and a music festival washout.
The decision is a blow to VisitKent, the public/private sector organisation that promotes the county as a great place for tourism and claimed major successes for the industry in recent years.
Hop Farm Trading has been propped up by the parent company for some time, with further investment by London-based turnaround specialists Bluebird Partners in 2011.
But after continued losses and a cutback in consumer spending, they decided that enough was enough and triggered the liquidation process.
The group company has pledged to honour bookings for weddings, functions or other events for which a deposit has been paid to Hop Farm Trading.
Insolvency experts at White Maund, based in Brighton, are sifting through the books and have called a meeting of creditors on March 15.
However, Tom D’Arcy of White Maund said that more than 96% of the debt was owed to the parent company and the main investor, thought to be Bluebird.
Asked about the extent of the debt, he said: “I can’t give you a definitive answer because we are still looking into the affairs of the business.
"But we will be presenting a statement to the creditors at the meeting at which time we should have a much better understanding of the assets and liabilities position.”
The land and buildings are owned by Hop Farm Real Estate, a company that was sold by former owner Simon Hume Kendall to Peter Bull in 2007.
Mr Hume Kendall bought it from Brent and Fiona Pollard before they emigrated to Australia.
Mr Bull is the single shareholder in Hop Farm Real Estate, which has assets of around £10 million and made a profit of nearly £1 million last year.
Several attractions are operated by third parties and not affected by the liquidation.
Before the Pollards bought it, The Hop Farm was owned by Whitbread, the former brewing business.
It boasts the world’s largest collection of iconic Victorian Oast houses and spans nearly five centuries from its origins as a working hop farm.
Meanwhile, efforts are being made to find a buyer for the trading business.
A spokesman for the Hop Farm said yesterday: "We are entering into a situation where basically the business side of the Hop Farm - Hop Farm Limited - is likely to cease trading shortly."
The spokesman couldn't confirm when that would be, but said it was "a matter of time".
He said the Hop Farm had contacted its suppliers, partners and clients to forewarn them of the situation.
He could not confirm how many staff were employed at the site, either full- or part-time, but he said the venue would honour all bookings.
The spokesman could not give assurances over the future of the Hop Farm Festival in July - which has been an annual event. He did not rule out the possibility of the event going ahead.
The Hop Farm has long been one of the county's top tourist attractions. It has a history which spans nearly five centuries from its origins as a working hop farm.
Now the venue sees more than half a million visitors through its doors each year.
Stetching over land the size of 100 football pitches, The Hop Farm Family Park attraction hosts the museum Yesterdays World, with more than 1,000 artefacts dating back to the 1900s.
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