“I remember the first day the Colombians came to see us about setting up this grand affair,” says Jerry Mulholland, the MP for Minehead. “I distinctly recall saying what a bloody good idea it was. I supported this from the outset you know. Absolutely marvellous, first of its kind in the world, you know. I was always behind it, of course.”
I let him tell the BBC camera crew these bare-faced lies. I was in the room the day the Colombian delegation first pitched the idea to us and Mull-Holland was convinced the project would lose him his precious seat, even though his party have held this safe borough for about a century.
I fumble in my pocket for my cigarettes. Right now, I could really do with one, but I shouldn’t until later on, I am working after all.
Here we all are, only two years after that meeting, at the grand re-opening of our old holiday camp as an exclusive six star gated resort for rich Colombians.
Absolute genius idea. British tourism has been in decline ever since cheap flights to Spain were thought up. The British holiday resorts which saw a post-war boom in the mid 20th century have been slowly marching towards their demise since around 1990.
Colombians want to experience Europe, but in a safe and sedate way. They aren’t the most popular of people in Europe, or across the world, for one reason or another. So their Government dreamed up a scheme to offer the people what they wanted. Farmers across the UK have been forced to diversify to survive, so why not the tourism industry too?
The Colombians did their research, looked at Egypt – all the gated communities along the red Sea coast where Europeans fly to for a week or two of living in a small village of less than a mile square, only leaving for a day trip here or there.
Thousands do it. Bringing employment to the region and much money to all the businesses supplying the resorts.
The Colombians told us their research indicated £1.2 billion would come into the economy of West Somerset each year – after we crunched the figures we realised they were probably being conservative.
Mulholland was still not convinced. But, Colombians being Colombians, they found some means of persuading him, fair or foul.
I am Jim Davies, my job is to run the Media Relations Department of Minehead District Council. I am used to seeing politicians being creative with the truth. Happens almost everyday, usually when they open their mouths. My job used to be quite straightforward, that all changed when the Colombians came to town.
A Colombian tourist company, Senatex, offered the owners an obscene amount of cash to buy their old holiday camp for re-development. As a council, we had always secretly assumed the land would one day end up as a supermarket or housing. A new tourism use was more than we could ever have hoped for.
Planning permission was not a problem – that was virtually assured as soon as we heard the deal. Accommodation for 500 guests, restaurants, bars, cinema complex, pools, gyms, tennis courts, nightclub, giant glass dome to ensure the ‘outside’ facilities were always accessible at 30 ° C. Some quite amazing architecture.
The licensing on the other hand, was always going to be, shall we say, a little bit more tricky.
Alcohol license, no problem whatsoever.
Entertainment license, just rolling off the printer, won’t keep you a moment.
But, as I have learnt, being Colombians, there is always one more thing which is trickiest to handle, and always left till last.
Cocaine license – that was the real deal breaker.
I can remember the argument Senor Diego, the leader of the Colombian Government delegation, put forward at that first fateful meeting. In fact, it has been edia organizations from across the planet.
Senor Diego cleared his throat and spoke calmly, naturally and in perfect English: “Have you ever been to Dubai? Or Muscat? Or Cairo? You have, good. Did you enjoy a beer or two in the hotel bar? Of course you did. A brandy after dinner? Yes, yes. You know alcohol is an illegal drug in all of those cities? Oh, you did. So, you are aware the governments of these countries, and others in the Middle East, allow special dispensation enabling foreigners to enjoy their recreational drug of choice in controlled environments? Yes, you did, good. This is exactly what we seek, a controlled environment where our people can enjoy our national drug of choice without fear of breaking any local laws and receiving punishments in your country.”
Having lived and worked in Dubai for two years before coming back to the UK to take this job in Somerset, I knew exactly what Senor Diego was talking about. A dry country where I could get a drink whenever I wanted, no problem.
When we approached Central Government with this one, they took quite a pragmatic view. The treasury really led the way. Having worked out the potential for income from the whole project, the Chancellor rubbed his hands and made a taxing decision very simple indeed.
A 250 percent levy on the drug was introduced as part of the new Misuse of Drugs Act. Under a sub-section called “Non-resident alien recreational use of socially acceptable in own culture during short-term visits to the UK.”
Under the same law a Dutch holiday complex is being established in Cornwall with access to cannabis for all residents.
Assuming our project is successful, and we do have a five year exclusivity deal with the Colombian Government, they will then try to establish five more of these centres across the EU.
We claim the exclusivity deal is to ensure the ‘social experiment’ is given time to prove itself a success. The truth is, if we get it right, having taken all the risks, if somewhere in southern Spain decides to allow the next one, who is to say they will not do it better than us – or the climate will not be more appealing to the Colombians and none of them would then want to come to Minehead.
With five years before they can talk to anyone else and two years to get everything in place, we have seven years of monopoly. A great deal all round.
Jerry Mulholland moves along to the next camera crew. CNN this time. He begins to repeat the same rubbish to the Americans. The old buffoon cut the ribbon to officially open the place about 20 minutes ago. A few thousand locals turned out to see the event and the first 500 Colombian visitors were herded off their coach to bear witness to the momentous occasion. They are now shuffling off inside the dome to check-in to their all-inclusive two weeks of European holiday.
Various local councillors and Colombian Government Ministers are giving boisterous quotes to the assembled newspaper journalists from across the globe.
Staff from the re-developed holiday camp are handing out canapés and champagne to the assembled VIPs and media. I light a cigarette, drawing a deep inhale, and as a tray is taken past me by one of the waiters, I grab a flute of the bubbly concoction and sip the socially acceptable drug of my country.