Plan for The Sail hotel and new sailing school at West Kirby promenade in Wirral set to be suspended

A MAJOR plank of Wirral’s tourism strategy - The Sail hotel project for West Kirby waterfront - will almost certainly be killed off this week, the Globe can reveal.

A secret report to go before Wirral Council’s ruling cabinet on Thursday recommends postponing any development for at least 18 months.

The dramatic u-turn - recommended to the borough by King Sturge, an independent international property consultancy firm who were paid to carry out a financial analysis - will come as a blow to developer Carpenter Investments, headed by West Kirby businessman Alan Beer.

But it has been greeted as “the absolutely correct decision - albeit quite a humbling one for the council” by local Conservative councillor Gerry Ellis.

“This was a stunningly stupid idea in the first place which people in West Kirby did not accept,” he said.

The Sail was originally planned as a £10m, 80-room “boutique” hotel to be run by the same operators of the popular and successful Hope Street Hotel in Liverpool.

After public consultation, Carpenter scaled down the size of the project to a £7.5m, 40-room hotel.

The hotel project was part of the council’s wide-ranging Hoylake and West Kirby regeneration scheme, with the developer agreeing to rebuild the latter’s sailing school on the Marine Lake - at a cost of £1.5m - in return for being able to build on the waterfront land.

Many residents and local councillors were opposed to the idea, although Carpenter insist they had also had many letters of support.

But the confidential King Sturge report - to be officially considered by the council’s cabinet on Thursday evening - recommends that the plan be postponed for at least 18 months because of the economic downturn.

The firm believes there are too many risks associated with such a project during the credit crisis and says that given the “uncertainties” associated with it, the scheme should be scrapped for now.

After supporting and pushing the project forward for over a year, the council’s cabinet is expected to rubber-stamp a recommendation to now end their current “lock in” agreement with Carpenter, which gave them “preferred developer” status.

The recommendation is that cabinet advises the developer that it feels unable to proceed with the project in the current climate but that the situation is to be reviewed in 18 months.

Carpenter - which has invested thousands of pounds of its own money in architects, surveyors and consultancy - will however be offered a “reasonable” period of three to six months to come back to the council with assurances of having the entire funding for the hotel and sailing school scheme secured.

Cllr Ellis said: “In my view this means The Sail is now dead, but there are many people who strongly believe it should never have been alive in the first place.

“This was yet another example of the council steamrolling ahead with an ill-advised plan without taking any notice whatsoever of the views of council tax payers or the councillors representing the area they want to vandalise.

“It’s better late than never, but we should never have been here in the first place. Lord only knows how much it has cost us to pay outside consultants to tell us what was staring us in the face in the first place.”

A spokesman for Carpenter Investments said of the leaked report: “We understand it contains a recommendation based in part upon an independent assessment by external consultants that we also haven’t seen.

“Our position, as it always has been, is to deliver what we promised. We have therefore submitted a scheme whose first phase is a fully funded, world class sailing school, deliverable next year, and at no expense to the council tax payer.

“We fully expect that the award-winning Hope Street Hotel and spa will follow in 2011 and be fully operational by the time The Open returns to Wirral in 2014.

“It would be a great shame if West Kirby were to lose what has been described as a ‘once in a lifetime’ regeneration opportunity, and Carpenter believe that the council will be keen to continue working upon a project that is so important to the future of the town and Wirral.”

Alan Beer said: “This is a complex process requiring considerable courage and patience by the council, developer and residents to ensure we get it right.

“Personally, I believe that the way out of recession is to carry on working now, rather than just waiting for it to stop.

“If you do that, you may find the world has moved on and you have been left behind.

“We continue to work to offer the council best value and we will wait for the cabinet’s decision.”

A spokeswoman for Wirral Council said: “Cabinet will consider a report which outlines the financial information regarding The Sail on Thursday, April 23. A decision will then be made at that time.”