Hadlow College sells Betteshanger Park for undisclosed sum

The first college to enter education administration has taken an “important step forward” after it sold its country and business park properties for an undisclosed sum.

Kent developers Quinn Estates have bought the 299-acre Betteshanger Park from Hadlow College and announced a planned mining museum and visitor centre at the site will go ahead.

A spokesperson for the college, which went into administration in May with £40 million debt amid multiple accusations of wrongdoing by its former senior leadership team, said the price it sold the land for was “not something that we’re prepared to divulge at this point”.

Interim principal Graham Morley called the sale “an important step forward in the resolution of the financial issues facing the college”.

“The parks’ new ownership provides a more appropriate basis for the delivery of the original vision of an important community asset and heritage site.”

As the price has not been disclosed, it is not known how much will be put towards paying off Hadlow’s debts.

A statement of proposals by college administrators BDO, which was leaked to FE Week ahead of publication, revealed the college owes the money to a total of 300 creditors, many of which are small, local businesses.

Two of its largest debts, however, are £10.8 million it owes to the Department for Education and £3.8 million it owes to sister college West Kent and Ashford College (WKAC), which entered administration in August.

Quinn Estates managing director Huw Evans said “significant investment” has already gone into purchasing Betteshanger Park, and further funds have been set aside to complete construction works and recruit additional staff.

“We are delighted to bring to a close the uncertainty and look forward to working with local community groups, Dover District Council and other stakeholders to deliver what has been promised,” he added.

“Our vision is to deliver a regional super hub of the highest standard with social, sporting, educational and cultural excellence at its core.”

The park, built on the site of a former colliery, was a passion project of the college’s former deputy principal Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, who has said in the past it was “personal” to him, as he grew up in Sunderland and saw the effect closing mines and shipyards had on the area.

The mining museum was being developed in conjunction with the Kent Mining Heritage Foundation, of which Lumsdon-Taylor was once chair.

It will be based inside the £9.5 million, 175 metre visitor centre and has received at least £1.8 million in charitable donations to fund its development, including a £1.3 million grant from the National Lottery.

FE Commissioner Richard Atkins previously told FE Week the park was one of a number of businesses Hadlow owned, along with a vineyard and cookery school, that seemed neither “financially successful, nor core business”.

The college had tried to sell the park in 2017 for £4 million to Corinthian Land, but this sale fell through.

And due to the challenges of building on a former colliery site, Hadlow had to spend an extra £1.2 million replacing the foundations of the visitor centre

During his intervention at Hadlow and West Kent and Ashford, Atkins found the boards both failed in their fiduciary duty and put the “sustainability of both colleges and learners at risk”.

Beforehand, both Lumsdon-Taylor, principal Paul Hannan and chair Theresa Bruton resigned from their roles.

BDO has been approach for comment.

Pictured: Betteshanger Park visitor centre