There has been substantial comment and speculation over the past few years, in the newspapers and on social media, regarding Onchan District Commissioners' ("the Commissioners") commercial negotiations over one of their properties in Onchan Park. Although this was a matter that began in 2008, a recent statement by the Public Services Commission ("PSC") on 24th June 2016 prompted the Commissioners to reluctantly threaten the issue of legal proceedings against the PSC. This issue has now been resolved.
While the details have been fully recorded in the Board minutes, the Commissioners have agreed to publish a précis of the events.
On 17th December 2008 Angela Hamilton ("Mrs Hamilton"), having accepted an offer for the business, requested a transfer of her lease for the 'Onchan Squash Club and Kennedy Lounge' to Park Caterers Limited ("Park Caterers").
The Board ("Board") of the Commissioners, as owners of the property, agreed to the transfer and the property was taken over by Park Caterers. Six months later, at a special meeting on 7th July 2009, Park Caterers met with the Board to discuss their proposals for the refurbishment of the Kennedy Lounge and its reopening as 'Views Restaurant'.
Park Caterers were additionally concerned that the squash courts were not proving to be profitable and did not fit with their business plans for the future.
At the Board meeting of 3rd August 2009 it was resolved to approach the Squash Rackets Association ("the SRA") to determine whether they would be interested in taking on the lease for the squash courts. Advice and assistance to the SRA continued from this time until March 2010 including meetings with the Chairman of the Board and the Chief Executive of the Commissioners however eventually the SRA decided not to pursue the matter further.
Dean Wood estate agents and valuers were asked to value the properties as separate buildings.
In the meantime, arrangements were made to alter the leasing conditions for Park Caterers. On 14th December 2009, Callin Wild advocates were instructed to prepare the new leases.
At the end of January 2010 Park Caterers accepted the new lease for the Views Restaurant. It was agreed that Park Caterers new lease (minus the squash courts) would take effect from 1st March 2010.
The vacant lease for the squash courts was advertised in the local newspapers during the first week of February 2010 asking for expressions of interest.
Four letters were received. These were reported to the Board on 8th March 2010. It was a little surprising to the Board that other uses besides squash had been suggested. The Chief Executive of the Commissioners asked the Board to indicate whether they wished to maintain the property as squash courts.
A long debate ensued but, in conclusion, the Board felt that, for the benefit of the rate-payers, all possibilities should be explored and that they would like to see a more tangible plan from all those who had expressed an interest.
The four interested parties were asked to submit detailed business plans prior to 26th March 2010 for consideration by the Board at their meeting on 6th April 2010.
One of the interested parties, namely the IOM Squash Rackets Association, withdrew their bid.
After long consideration of the three remaining bids on 6th April 2010, the Board decided to make the Western School of Dance the 'preferred bidder', largely because they were the only applicant who had provided a comprehensive business plan. The Chief Executive of the Commissioners was asked to clarify some of the issues that had arisen within the discussion.
The Chairman of the Board advised the Board that there would be political ramifications by leasing to the Western School of Dance. The Chief Executive of the Commissioners agreed to provide the further information at the next meeting of the Board (12th April 2010). At the meeting on 12th April 2010 the outstanding issues were answered satisfactorily, but the Board were still concerned about the impending loss of the squash facility to the Island.
It was resolved that an urgent meeting be held with the Minister for the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure, along with the political representative of the Sports Council and Arts Council. The purpose of the meeting was to see what support might be available.
The proposed meeting took place on 15th April 2010 and included Minister D. Cretney, Geoff Karran the Chair of IOM Sports, and representatives of the Sports Council and Arts Council. When asked if the Government would financially support the retention of the squash facility there was no commitment forthcoming.
This representation was discussed and considered in full at the Board meeting on 19th April 2010. After significant debate it was resolved that, in the best interests of the ratepayers of Onchan, the lease for the commercial premises known as Onchan Squash Courts should be awarded to the Western School of Dance.
The proprietor of the Western School of Dance undertook to retain one of the squash courts for the use of squash players, however she too had difficulties in sustaining the facility and eventually this court also closed.
Sixteen months after Mrs Hamilton had sold the business to Park Caterers, Rae Hamilton ("Mr Hamilton"), although he had never been the tenant of the squash courts, claimed that he had suffered a loss through the closure of the squash courts as a result of 'maladministration' by the Commissioners. These claims were strongly and successfully rebutted by the Commissioners.
Mr Hamilton's allegations were unfounded but have continued for the past six years. Unfortunately, when these allegations were presented to the Government they were accepted without question, and damaging statements about the Commissioners were made by the Department of Infrastructure ("the Department") and the PSC without either the Department or the PSC making any attempt to discuss the unfounded allegations with the Commissioners in order to ascertain the correct position.
The Department have apologised to the Commissioners for the inaccurate statements they made and the PSC have published a statement clarifying the position and confirming they intended no criticism of the Board or the Commissioners.
The Board have accepted the public apology by the Department and the statement of clarification by the PSC and consider the matter closed.
Issued: 24th August 2016