Published: 00:01, 12 January 2019
| Updated: 08:29, 12 January 2019
Striking plans to convert Red Sands sea forts into a billionaires' playground have hit a stumbling block after a £100 million deal with Middle Eastern investors fell through, says the businessman behind the scheme.
David Cooper had hoped to convert the rusting Second World War defences off the coast of Whitstable and Herne Bay into a £1,000-per-night luxury hotel equipped with a helipad.
After unveiling the plans more than three years ago, the 75-year-old had been on the hunt for someone to fund the project.
He says he thought he achieved this when he was contacted in May by a man acting on behalf of a potential investor from Qatar, who said his client was prepared to pay between £50m and £100m to convert the forts.
Mr Cooper explained: “On July 20 I had a phone call from the agent saying they had a meeting in Qatar, where they decided to go ahead with it.
“They wanted me to be the project manager, even though they’d never met me - they wanted to offer me a £100,000-per-year salary, plus a car and expenses.”
Mr Cooper says a meeting with the investor had been scheduled to take place in London in October to finalise the deal for the 44-room hotel.
But it was later cancelled and Mr Cooper was told they were no longer interested in the project.
“I wasn’t given a reason; I was just told it wasn’t going to happen,” Mr Cooper said.
“I believed the person who contacted me. He was straight upfront with it, and he actually gave me the names of the people in Qatar who were interested in taking it forward.
“I had no doubt it wasn’t fake.
“I had no doubts about the agent at all – I thought he was a genuine guy.”
For now, it is not clear what the future holds for the forts.
“At the moment, the plans are dead in the water,” Mr Cooper said.
“Everything was set up; it was just a question of getting someone to put the money up.
“I was pretty upset because I thought after three and a half years – when I was first asked to do something – I’d got somebody who had the money to do it.
“It wasn’t going to be straightforward, but I thought over the next three years we’d get this hotel up and running.”
Instantly recognisable, the forts, which were built in 1943 and designed by Guy Maunsell, feature prominently on the horizon off the Kent coast.
Decommissioned in the 1950s, they are not technically owned by anyone – but they are on the Crown Estate’s land.
"They wanted me to be the project manager, even though they'd never met me - they wanted to offer me a £100,000-per-year salary, plus a car and expenses" - David Cooper
Mr Cooper says that any development of the historic iron structure would need its consent, as well as that of the Maritime Marine Organisation and the Port of London Authority.
He claims the three of them had signified preliminary consent for the hotel project on the condition a suitable developer could be found to deliver a scheme that was sustainable for the next 100 years.
Despite the deal falling through, Mr Cooper hopes the investor will reconsider.
“There wouldn’t have been anything like this anywhere in the world,” he added.
“It would have been a huge feather in the caps of the investors because they could promote something like nowhere else in the world.”
'It's a viable project - we just need someone to stump up the cash'
David Cooper had been working with branding company Next Big Thing to help him draw investors for the project.
Its creative director, Glenn Harrison, says he helped orchestrate talks between Mr Cooper and the Qatari investors.
“Next Big Thing had worked with Battersea Power Station and that was all funded with Malaysian money,” he said.
“I had a chance meeting with a London-based guy, who asked something along the lines of ‘you don’t have anything else like that up your sleeve, do you?’
“I got him to contact David, but I didn’t know anything more than he had a potential Middle Eastern investor who had a particular interest in unusual projects.”
Viability studies had been drawn up detailing how the Red Sands sea forts could be transformed, while meetings had also been held with a number of architects and structural engineers.
“We know there is a viable project,” Mr Harrison added.
“It’s just about getting someone to stump up the cash. We were interested in the Middle Eastern money because they are quite happy to not turn a profit if the project’s a great story.
“The forts have some very unique selling points. It’s a short helicopter ride from the O2, for instance, which is well known for getting in A-list celebrities.”