£27m cricket hotel at the Ageas Bowl faces uncertain future

Work has stopped at the hotel site.

Work has stopped at the hotel site.

First published in Hampshire Business
Last updated
Andover Advertiser: Photograph of the Author by , Eastleigh Chief Reporter

THE building site is locked up, the wind is whistling through the gaps in the giant shell and one of the most controversial taxpayer- backed projects in the south of England has been left untouched since the beginning of October.

Surrounded by scaffolding and segments of white tarpaulin, the sight of the unfinished Hilton hotel is in sharp contrast to the sparkling new stadiums and facilities surrounding the lush outfield of the Ageas Bowl.

Progress on a taxpayer-funded luxury hotel overlooking Hampshire’s international cricket ground came to a grinding halt three months ago – and there are no guarantees about when it will start again or how much the project will eventually cost.

Work stopped when the firm building the four-star facility, Denizen, collapsed into administration prompting contractors to down tools and turn off their machinery at the West End site.

At the same time, Co-op, the bank providing the upfront costs, is in turmoil after a £1.5 billion black hole was discovered in its finances in 2013.

The bank has also faced embarrassment after one of its bosses, former Hampshire vicar Rev Paul Flowers, was arrested over allegedly buying hard drugs.

Critics have described the situation as a “nightmare scenario” and there are even fears the cost of the scheme is spiralling behind the scenes.

It is a far cry from the jubilant scenes last April when a “golden bolt” was hammered in to place to mark the completion of the first phase of the development.

At the time, there were high hopes the project, which includes stunning conference and media facilities and a Marco Pierre White restaurant, would be completed by this March – well in time for what will be an eagerly anticipated Test match involving an England team reeling from a devastating 5-0 whitewash against Australia.

Underpinning the entire project – and possibly the single most important factor keeping it on track – is the promise that Eastleigh Borough Council will buy the 175-bed hotel once it is finished, by borrowing £27m.

The project is going ahead after the Liberal Democrat-controlled council also controversially agreed to buy the lease of the 167-acre Rose Bowl site for £6.5m – as revealed by the Daily Echo.

The taxpayer-funded investments still split opinion – long after they were agreed at council level.

When the hotel idea was in its infancy in 2010, three rival local companies launched a bid for a judicial review into plans to use taxpayers’ money to secure the development.

Meridian Leisure, Shire Hotels and MacDonald Hotels had called for an investigation, but it was thrown out by a top judge before the trio of firms withdrew their appeal to that decision. There are still those, including opposition Tory councillors at the authority, who believe the venture is risky.

Conservative group boss Godfrey Olson is concerned the taxpayer will be asked to hand over more cash – despite constant reassurance from council leader Keith House that the originally agreed fee is set.

And Cllr Olson says he “very much doubts” the hotel will be completed by the time England play India in a Test match at the ground in July.

“I’m quite worried about the present position. I think the delay will continue for some time.

“Somebody has got to see to it that it is completed and somebody has got to meet the increases in costs – but who is going to do it? My concern is that it should not be Eastleigh Borough Council.”

A website has already been set up to market the hotel itself, saying it will be taking bookings in 2014 while a Twitter account for the destination has not been updated since September last year.

But despite the uncertainty surrounding the ambitious project, council chiefs are confident it will be completed with no extra cost to the tax payer and maintain the project will create hundreds of jobs for locals.

Behind the scenes, finance bosses at the authority are adamant that not a penny more than the agreed fee will be transferred on completion – even if it results in the scheme hitting yet more lengthy delays.

They have even travelled to Manchester for high-level talks with bank bosses to ensure their position is clear – and that tax payers’ cash will be protected.

It is understood that Co-op has told civic chiefs they are equally committed to completing the project and have taken on consultants Deloitte to help find new builders.

But the bank has not yet revealed to the council how much more it will cost to get builders back on site – or when this may happen.

A number of “well known”

firms are currently vying to finish the job, which is – tantalisingly – around 75 per cent complete.

The council plays no part in the finances at the construction stage and finding a builder is the responsibility of the bank, who will informcivic chiefs once they are ready to strike up a deal with new contractors.

Co-op has remained tight-lipped about the project, telling the Daily Echo only that it is “currently working with all the key stakeholders involved in this project with the aim of finding a solution as soon as possible.”

Similar messages have come from Ageas Bowl bosses as they seek to finalise their dream of creating a model Test match venue that they hope will be the envy of cricket clubs across the nation. They expect the project to be back up and running sooner rather than later – but with no date earmarked.

Another private funder, Downing, is still believed to be committed to providing the cash for a proposed upmarket spa at the site while a manager has already been appointed to take the reins at the hotel once it is complete.

The US-based hotel operator Interstate Hotels and Resorts, has been lined up to run the Hilton. The firm, which operates around the world, said it had nobody available for comment about the situation.

Hilton Worldwide confirmed it was “fully committed” to the hotel project having signed a franchise agreement with Rose Bowl plc in 2012.

A spokesman added: “We will continue to support the property owners, along with all relevant stakeholders, who we understand are working to appoint a new contractor for the property.”

Civic chiefs say the cheap loan they are securing for the purchase will mean taxpayers will see a healthy return for the investment, both through rental payments and through profits from the hotel.

They say their backing of the Ageas Bowl project will create 500 jobs and pump up to £55m a year into the local economy.

And they have pointed to the successes already unfolding at the stunning ground.

The Hampshire Cricket Community Trust, set up at the Ageas Bowl, has already boosted the on-site Poseidon Boxing Club, where numbers have swollen to more than 100.

Hampshire is still performing well out on the field – especially in the limited-over formats of the game – while international fixtures involving England have been lined up over the next three years.

India, New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the teams meeting the national side over the next three years.

Work is also under way on an 18-hole golf course adjacent to the hotel.

But while progress is gathering pace on and off the pitch, the giant unfinished shell of a luxury hotel – possibly the most glamorous piece in the Ageas Bowl redevelopment jigsaw – still looms large over the ground.

And the questions remain – when will work get under way again and can tax payers be reassured they will not have to foot an even bigger bill just to see the hotel completed?

Comments (16)

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11:24am Mon 13 Jan 14

Big Mac says...

Turn it into an open park and ride – help solve some of the traffic issues in Southampton at the expense of Eastleigh tax payers!
Turn it into an open park and ride – help solve some of the traffic issues in Southampton at the expense of Eastleigh tax payers! Big Mac
  • Score: -6

11:32am Mon 13 Jan 14

chapelsaint says...

Congratulations to Cllr House-a wonderful use of Council tax money.
Congratulations to Cllr House-a wonderful use of Council tax money. chapelsaint
  • Score: 8

11:36am Mon 13 Jan 14

griffon says...

This is what happens when local polticos start playing property developers
This is what happens when local polticos start playing property developers griffon
  • Score: 16

12:23pm Mon 13 Jan 14

befriendly says...

When a bank doesn't know what to do and has to hire consultants you know there's trouble and real expense at the end of it. Some one has to pay at the end of it and the longer they wait to start work again the more it will cost because of deterioration to unprotected parts. It appears to me that the lib dems are trying to show just how clever they are with tax payers money and proving the opposite.
When a bank doesn't know what to do and has to hire consultants you know there's trouble and real expense at the end of it. Some one has to pay at the end of it and the longer they wait to start work again the more it will cost because of deterioration to unprotected parts. It appears to me that the lib dems are trying to show just how clever they are with tax payers money and proving the opposite. befriendly
  • Score: 3

12:56pm Mon 13 Jan 14

georgemg says...

The India Test match will not go ahead unless the new media centre is completed. It is apparently almost done, but that may not be enough for the ECB inspectors. Interesting there was no comment on this in the report.
The India Test match will not go ahead unless the new media centre is completed. It is apparently almost done, but that may not be enough for the ECB inspectors. Interesting there was no comment on this in the report. georgemg
  • Score: -1

1:00pm Mon 13 Jan 14

Brock_and_Roll says...

Presumably the reason why the Co-Op have had to employ Delloites is that the situation is darn complicated. The council are committed to buying the hotel for £27m....but only once it is completed and no doubt subject to various other considerations such as spec and timings. So the Co-Op will be terrified that they will be left with a big write-off - selling off a 75% built hotel because there are in no position to required the Council to buy it. Presumably Deloittes job is to crunch the numbers and see a) for how much the hotel can be finished, and whether the orifginal deal can be enforced b) sell the debt in a stressed state c) cut some new deal somewhere.

As a banker, this mess explains perfectly why the Co-Op have pulled out of commercial lending - they don't know what they are doing!
Presumably the reason why the Co-Op have had to employ Delloites is that the situation is darn complicated. The council are committed to buying the hotel for £27m....but only once it is completed and no doubt subject to various other considerations such as spec and timings. So the Co-Op will be terrified that they will be left with a big write-off - selling off a 75% built hotel because there are in no position to required the Council to buy it. Presumably Deloittes job is to crunch the numbers and see a) for how much the hotel can be finished, and whether the orifginal deal can be enforced b) sell the debt in a stressed state c) cut some new deal somewhere. As a banker, this mess explains perfectly why the Co-Op have pulled out of commercial lending - they don't know what they are doing! Brock_and_Roll
  • Score: 2

1:51pm Mon 13 Jan 14

Saint Botley says...

Embarrassing. As per usual where Eastleigh Borough Council and Keith House are concerned. I'm surprised he hasn't tried to squeeze in a large scale residential development on the pitch.
Embarrassing. As per usual where Eastleigh Borough Council and Keith House are concerned. I'm surprised he hasn't tried to squeeze in a large scale residential development on the pitch. Saint Botley
  • Score: 13

2:28pm Mon 13 Jan 14

madmikeinhedgeend says...

A complete and utter shambles! Local authorities should NEVER EVER get involved in commercial projects. It is both morally and financially wrong.
In this case keith house and his cohorts were made fully aware of the stupidity of the project well before it started!.
They have NO CLUE about dealing with large and complicated projects, and are now is a desperate situation.
The job is nowhere near 75% complete.
The main structure 'may be' 75%, but the rest of it is probably well under 50% complete.
The real problem now is that they are dealing from a position of great weekness!
They say they will pay £27 million for the finished article - I DON'T THINK SO!! Double it and then some! It will be a massive job to sort out and complete the works.
Keith House should get on his bike, and NEVER be allowed to work in high office again. The council only took on the job because they thought they would gain a load of brownie points! They won't even get the wooden spoon now!
It would be much better if the council stuck to mending potholes in our roads around Hedge End!
A complete and utter shambles! Local authorities should NEVER EVER get involved in commercial projects. It is both morally and financially wrong. In this case keith house and his cohorts were made fully aware of the stupidity of the project well before it started!. They have NO CLUE about dealing with large and complicated projects, and are now is a desperate situation. The job is nowhere near 75% complete. The main structure 'may be' 75%, but the rest of it is probably well under 50% complete. The real problem now is that they are dealing from a position of great weekness! They say they will pay £27 million for the finished article - I DON'T THINK SO!! Double it and then some! It will be a massive job to sort out and complete the works. Keith House should get on his bike, and NEVER be allowed to work in high office again. The council only took on the job because they thought they would gain a load of brownie points! They won't even get the wooden spoon now! It would be much better if the council stuck to mending potholes in our roads around Hedge End! madmikeinhedgeend
  • Score: 13

2:51pm Mon 13 Jan 14

Chas O'Bursledon says...

The ill-informed commenting on financial agreements that they do not understand is always a joy to behold. This article sinks to new depths even by the Echo's low standards.
The ill-informed commenting on financial agreements that they do not understand is always a joy to behold. This article sinks to new depths even by the Echo's low standards. Chas O'Bursledon
  • Score: -3

3:53pm Mon 13 Jan 14

jazzy54zz says...

The powers that be are slowly ruining the Rose Bowl site, the ground is far too big for 90% of the time and there is no atmosphere to the majority of games there now.
As for Eastleigh council getting involved, maybe councillor House should just concentrate on what he does best, agreeing to let housing be built on open countryside (how does he keep being re-elected) ??
The powers that be are slowly ruining the Rose Bowl site, the ground is far too big for 90% of the time and there is no atmosphere to the majority of games there now. As for Eastleigh council getting involved, maybe councillor House should just concentrate on what he does best, agreeing to let housing be built on open countryside (how does he keep being re-elected) ?? jazzy54zz
  • Score: 2

3:58pm Mon 13 Jan 14

Micle1974 says...

This is what happens when you buy cheap.
Cheap is not always best.
There's a few old sayings...
Pay peanuts - you get monkeys.
Buy cheap - you buy twice.

Same with quite a lot of things...for instance if you were to hire a "cheap" Marquee compared to an "expensive" Marquee you could kind of expect the "cheap" marquee to be old, dirty and not quite up to the job.
Where as the "expensive" marquee you would expect it to be nice and clean and well up to the job.
You get what you pay for!
This is what happens when you buy cheap. Cheap is not always best. There's a few old sayings... Pay peanuts - you get monkeys. Buy cheap - you buy twice. Same with quite a lot of things...for instance if you were to hire a "cheap" Marquee compared to an "expensive" Marquee you could kind of expect the "cheap" marquee to be old, dirty and not quite up to the job. Where as the "expensive" marquee you would expect it to be nice and clean and well up to the job. You get what you pay for! Micle1974
  • Score: -2

4:02pm Mon 13 Jan 14

Saint Botley says...

madmikeinhedgeend wrote:
A complete and utter shambles! Local authorities should NEVER EVER get involved in commercial projects. It is both morally and financially wrong.
In this case keith house and his cohorts were made fully aware of the stupidity of the project well before it started!.
They have NO CLUE about dealing with large and complicated projects, and are now is a desperate situation.
The job is nowhere near 75% complete.
The main structure 'may be' 75%, but the rest of it is probably well under 50% complete.
The real problem now is that they are dealing from a position of great weekness!
They say they will pay £27 million for the finished article - I DON'T THINK SO!! Double it and then some! It will be a massive job to sort out and complete the works.
Keith House should get on his bike, and NEVER be allowed to work in high office again. The council only took on the job because they thought they would gain a load of brownie points! They won't even get the wooden spoon now!
It would be much better if the council stuck to mending potholes in our roads around Hedge End!
Well said. Completely agree. Also, the paving in Hedge End village centre is an absolute disgrace. Some of the elderly community really struggle on it. Still, that' sort of stuff's evidently not a priority when there's a commercial venture to interfere with.
[quote][p][bold]madmikeinhedgeend[/bold] wrote: A complete and utter shambles! Local authorities should NEVER EVER get involved in commercial projects. It is both morally and financially wrong. In this case keith house and his cohorts were made fully aware of the stupidity of the project well before it started!. They have NO CLUE about dealing with large and complicated projects, and are now is a desperate situation. The job is nowhere near 75% complete. The main structure 'may be' 75%, but the rest of it is probably well under 50% complete. The real problem now is that they are dealing from a position of great weekness! They say they will pay £27 million for the finished article - I DON'T THINK SO!! Double it and then some! It will be a massive job to sort out and complete the works. Keith House should get on his bike, and NEVER be allowed to work in high office again. The council only took on the job because they thought they would gain a load of brownie points! They won't even get the wooden spoon now! It would be much better if the council stuck to mending potholes in our roads around Hedge End![/p][/quote]Well said. Completely agree. Also, the paving in Hedge End village centre is an absolute disgrace. Some of the elderly community really struggle on it. Still, that' sort of stuff's evidently not a priority when there's a commercial venture to interfere with. Saint Botley
  • Score: 11

4:15pm Mon 13 Jan 14

Dusty says...

You keep voting them in, in the end they get complacent and think they can do what they want and will be there for ever. Show them how you feel at the ballot box
You keep voting them in, in the end they get complacent and think they can do what they want and will be there for ever. Show them how you feel at the ballot box Dusty
  • Score: 11

4:18pm Mon 13 Jan 14

Saint Botley says...

jazzy54zz wrote:
The powers that be are slowly ruining the Rose Bowl site, the ground is far too big for 90% of the time and there is no atmosphere to the majority of games there now.
As for Eastleigh council getting involved, maybe councillor House should just concentrate on what he does best, agreeing to let housing be built on open countryside (how does he keep being re-elected) ??
Agreed. They won't be re-elected next time. Hedge End has been a crucial area of support for the lib dems in the past but they've managed to infuriate vast swathes of the electorate and those in surrounding boroughs with the green belt development plans. It'll be a pleasure to see the back of them.
[quote][p][bold]jazzy54zz[/bold] wrote: The powers that be are slowly ruining the Rose Bowl site, the ground is far too big for 90% of the time and there is no atmosphere to the majority of games there now. As for Eastleigh council getting involved, maybe councillor House should just concentrate on what he does best, agreeing to let housing be built on open countryside (how does he keep being re-elected) ??[/p][/quote]Agreed. They won't be re-elected next time. Hedge End has been a crucial area of support for the lib dems in the past but they've managed to infuriate vast swathes of the electorate and those in surrounding boroughs with the green belt development plans. It'll be a pleasure to see the back of them. Saint Botley
  • Score: 18

5:18pm Mon 13 Jan 14

03alpe01 says...

I can only hope the people of Eastleigh finally realise what ar#ses Cllr House and his Lib-Dem cronies are. They took this on not thinking about the consequences and now they are paying for them. It is totally unfair on the Eastleigh taxpayer, but Cllr House and his cronies deserve every bit of bad publicity they get. Hopefully, soon he will be gone, but when 40 of Eastleigh's 44 Councillors are Lib Dems and the Lib Dems won the Eastleigh by-election it is going to take something to get rid of them.

Remember how Cllr House got when an ice rink was mentioned for Fleming Park? He seems a different guy when this and unwanted housing developments are put forward doesn't he?

Thankfully, Telegraph Woods has some protection over it I think. Or else I bet that would be subject to an extension to the cricket ground/another housing development wouldn't it?
I can only hope the people of Eastleigh finally realise what ar#ses Cllr House and his Lib-Dem cronies are. They took this on not thinking about the consequences and now they are paying for them. It is totally unfair on the Eastleigh taxpayer, but Cllr House and his cronies deserve every bit of bad publicity they get. Hopefully, soon he will be gone, but when 40 of Eastleigh's 44 Councillors are Lib Dems and the Lib Dems won the Eastleigh by-election it is going to take something to get rid of them. Remember how Cllr House got when an ice rink was mentioned for Fleming Park? He seems a different guy when this and unwanted housing developments are put forward doesn't he? Thankfully, Telegraph Woods has some protection over it I think. Or else I bet that would be subject to an extension to the cricket ground/another housing development wouldn't it? 03alpe01
  • Score: 11

6:19pm Mon 13 Jan 14

owen thesaints says...

...and talking about the golf course – any idea when this will be up and running? Yet more money down the drain from House and his cronies. And these are the same people who sleep easily in their beds when they grant permission for the building of 1400 on open countryside.
...and talking about the golf course – any idea when this will be up and running? Yet more money down the drain from House and his cronies. And these are the same people who sleep easily in their beds when they grant permission for the building of 1400 on open countryside. owen thesaints
  • Score: 7

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