Published: 15:35, 17 May 2019
| Updated: 16:32, 17 May 2019
Plans to turn a former colliery into a sustainable energy park and mining museum appear to be in tatters after it emerged the college group behind the £40 million scheme has put the site up for sale.
Urgent talks have been held over the future of Kent Mining Museum – after it emerged Betteshanger Park will be sold.
Yet it was all left hanging in the balance whenl the owner of the site, Hadlow Group, was plunged into chaos earlier this year.
Its chief executive Paul Hannan and his deputy Mark Lumsdon-Taylor were both suspended after the Further Eductation Commissioner launched an investigation into the group's activities.
The Education Skills Funding Agency said the group is in "inadequate financial health" yesterday and it emerged today that Hadlow College has become the first in the UK to be placed into educational administration.
Work on the Betteshanger Park stopped as the investigation into Hadlow Group got underway while plans to dispose of the site by the end of July have been expressed.
This week, Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke organised a series of talks to discuss the future of the museum which was originally forecast to open in March 2019.
Several Kent MPs attended the meeting he arranged with Further Education Commissioner Richard Atkins.
The Government’s position has been that the Betteshanger site cannot be considered educational provision – and would therefore not be funded to completion.
Mr Elphicke argued that other parties should be allowed to purchase the site on a solvent basis – without debt.
Yesterday, he met with interested parties, as well as trustees from Kent Mining Heritage Foundation which has donated funds to the project.
He said: “It’s vital that we get this project back on track because it would be great for our community, celebrating its mining heritage alongside a range of activities for families to enjoy.
“I’m doing everything I can to ensure it’s completed.
"I think we’re making good progress.”
Betteshanger Park has been approached for comment.
The Hadlow Group owns around 300 acres of land and runs Hadlow College and West Kent and Ashford College, which together house about 10,000 students.
The group made headlines in February when it suspended both its chief executive Paul Hannan and deputy chief executive Mark Lumsdon-Taylor of staff amidst an investigation into its finances.
It is has today been announced that Hadlow College is the the first into the country to go into educational administration.
Education secretary Damian Hinds has written to the minister responsible, Anne Milton, to ask that students come first.
Work at the 121-hectare derelict colliery first stopped after problems building on a spoil heap, before restarting in September 2017.
The Sandwich Road building is set to be as long as London’s iconic Gherkin tower is tall.
Set among the 250-acre country park, it is meant to become home to Kent Mining Museum, a green energy centre, cycle hire and change facilities, learning and conference spaces, a shop, a café and outside seating and decking.