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Betteshanger Park to be sold amid Hadlow College financial woes

ByEleanor Perkins

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.

The scheme had been set to transform the former mining community, with the £9.5 million museum said to be “85% finished” as part of the first stage of investment.

The site of Kent Mining Museum pictured in 2016 which is now 85% complete
The site of Kent Mining Museum pictured in 2016 which is now 85% complete

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.

How Kent Mining Museum was supposed to look once completed
How Kent Mining Museum was supposed to look once completed

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.

Richard Morsley of Betteshanger Parks and MP Charlie Elphicke
Richard Morsley of Betteshanger Parks and MP Charlie Elphicke

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.

Kent Mining Museum at Betteshanger Park was supposed to open in March but remains 85% complete
Kent Mining Museum at Betteshanger Park was supposed to open in March but remains 85% complete

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.

Hadlow College finance director Mark Lumsdon-Taylor has been suspended
Hadlow College finance director Mark Lumsdon-Taylor has been suspended

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.

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