Former Raven's Ait leaseholder insists it is 'business as usual' after Middle East deal (From Surrey Comet)
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Former Raven's Ait leaseholder insists it is 'business as usual' after Middle East deal
12:29pm Thursday 19th September 2013 in News
The Olympic sailing medalist who sold the Raven’s Ait lease to a Middle Eastern businessman has insisted it will be “business as usual".
Ossie Stewart defended his decision to sell his company Stewart Marine Raven’s Ait to Marshal Gaspar, a United Arab Emirates-based businessman, in a seven-figure deal.
After suffering a stroke in October, Mr Stewart said he wanted to cut back on his workload– and that meant giving up the wedding and conference venue.
He said he had spent £700,000 on Raven’s Ait in the wake of the eco-squatter occupation in 2009 and was looking for an investment partner, but instead accepted Mr Gasper’s offer for 100 per cent of the business.
Mr Stewart said: “I wouldn’t say he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse but it was a very generous offer.”
He said he sold the business for less than the rumoured £1.9m – but declined to give a more accurate figure.
And he hit back at critics who claimed Kingston Council “backed the wrong horse” by handing him a 50-year-lease in 2010.
Having pledged to turn the island into a sailing school, Mr Stewart re-opened Raven’s Ait a year later as a wedding and conference venue after deciding his original plan was “uneconomical”.
Mr Stewart said: “I’ve invested every penny I had and spent every working minute to turn it from a derelict island into somewhere people want to hold the most important day of their life.
“It would have been great if I could have opened a sailing centre, but if you do the numbers there’s more profit in a wedding and conference venue than teaching young kids how to sail.
“I’ve definitely not taken it on, done nothing to it and then flogged it.
“We’ve run more than 100 events since we opened in June 2011. I don’t regret what I’ve done and I think we’ve done a bloody good job.”
Deputy Kingston Council leader Rolson Davies said: “It’s disappointing that he didn’t contact the council to advise us what he was doing.
“My understanding is they can’t do anything about the lease – Raven’s Ait belongs to the local authority and as far as I know we haven’t been approached to make any changes to that lease.
“That means the sea scouts’ position is secure and the community use for the island is still in place.
“Obviously we can’t stop him from selling his business, it’s a commercial decision, but we are disappointed he hasn’t contacted us about it.”
But council leader Liz Green went further, and said: “I think it’s a real shame he didn’t pick up the phone and tell us what was going on.
“If he had the conversation with us we wouldn’t be wasting officers’ time by running around investigating. It’s damn right rude.
“That said we will be arranging to meet the new owners to see what’s going to happen and make sure they meet the terms of the lease.
"Let’s hope the company has the money to spend on making it a landmark in the borough.”
Little is known about new owner Mr Gaspar, although Mr Stewart confirmed his family was behind India’s national lottery.
He said Mr Gaspar planned to continue running the island as a wedding venue, and wanted to build a small hotel.
Mr Stewart said: “I think it’s very important to make clear it will be business as usual.
“All the weddings and conferences that have been booked will be honoured and the positive outcome is there will be a lot more investment in the island.”
Mr Stewart will continue running his joinery and mooring business at Hart’s Boatyard, and wants to spend more time sailing.
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