New estate in Bristol could be (should be?) demolished

Developers UKS Group were given permission to build 13 three-bed houses and one two-bed house off the A38 in Highridge, Bristol. But locals say they have actually built 13 four-beds and one three-bed.”

Beware Taylor Wimpey leasehold compensation offers

“Taylor Wimpey last month offered £130m to buyers trapped in new-build homes with spiralling ground rent contracts. It was a move initially greeted with glee by victims of the leasehold scandal. But as details have emerged, some householders say they will still be left paying “frankly obscene” charges.

Jo Darbyshire bought her four-bed home in Bolton in 2010 from Taylor Wimpey without realising the full implications of the 999-year leasehold contract, which allowed the freeholder to double the £295 ground rent every 10 years. Only when a neighbour’s house sale fell through – because a mortgage company rejected the ground rent clause – did Darbyshire discover her home had been rendered potentially unsaleable.

When she inquired about buying the freehold, things went from bad to worse. Without her knowledge, Taylor Wimpey had sold the freehold to Adriatic Land at a price understood to be £7,375 for each of the 24 homes on the estate. Neighbours who have since tried to buy the freehold say they have been met with demands of £45,000-£50,000 – a huge amount compared to the £200,000 that some of the smaller homes on the estate currently fetch.

The ground rent company also demands £100 from householders who request a quote to buy the freehold. They also require that any householder wanting to make alterations – such as building a small extension – also pay a fee. “A neighbour wanted to build a small extension and was quoted £3,000 before a brick was laid,” says Darbyshire.

But Taylor Wimpey’s compensation offer has left her deeply frustrated. It offered a “deed of variation … specifically incorporating materially less expensive ground rent review terms”. It is understood the deal will involve the ground rent rising in line with inflation rather than doubling every decade.

Darbyshire says it still leaves her in the clutches of a ground rent company and what she alleges are its “exorbitant charges”. In an open letter to Taylor Wimpey chief executive, Peter Redfern, Darbyshire says: “You seem to believe the only wrongdoing is the introduction of doubling ground rents. The real scandal is the onward sale of ALL freeholds … to investment companies, and the consequences to us … Did you know that, once the freeholds were sold on, that Adriatic would introduce exorbitant charges for alterations and increase the cost of buying the freehold significantly?”

Darbyshire says Taylor Wimpey should be offering homebuyers the chance to buy the freehold at the price originally offered when the estate was built. Her letter adds: “The only acceptable way forwards is for you to reinstate me to the position I would have been in had your sales people, and the solicitor you recommend I use, informed me fully at the point of sale, when I would have purchased my freehold for £5,900.”

Darbyshire is not alone. Sean Greenwood, who Guardian Money featured last November when we first revealed the extent of the ground rent scandal, says the construction giant should refund the £101,000 cost of the apartment his wife bought in Gornal on the edge of Dudley. We highlighted how one apartment had received a “nil valuation” from a mortgage company because of the doubling ground rents.

Greenwood has also written to Redfern, saying: “My wife would still like a full refund. Unfortunately, your most recent offer to change the ground rent review to RPI is unacceptable. We are worried our freeholder maintains the position of power in all negotiations relating to our freehold.

“We are also not willing to wait for the time period it will take to complete the change in the deed. We have been trying to sell for over a year and a combination of the doubling ground rent lease and the collapse of the wall in our car park has meant we cannot sell.”

More than 4,000 people have joined a Facebook group, the National Leasehold Campaign, to protest over ground rent issues and excessive charges, with complaints directed not just at Taylor Wimpey but at other major developers, including Persimmon and Bellway.

Last week, Nationwide told the construction giants it would no longer offer mortgages on new-build properties with short leases or, crucially, where the ground rent is more than 0.1% of the value of the home.

In a statement, Redfern said: “This is about doing what we think is right. We recognise the concerns and difficulties that some of our customers have faced as a result of their doubling leases and we are sorry for the worry this has caused. Although we are under no legal obligation to take action, we want to help our customers.

“We are working hard with the freeholders to convert our customers’ doubling leases to ones that are significantly less expensive … and which resolve concerns around how easy it is to sell or get a mortgage. Taylor Wimpey will cover the cost of converting the leases.

“These leases were put in place between 2007 and 2011 at a time when economic conditions were very different. We stopped using them on sites commenced after 2011.”

The company makes clear that the £130m should not be viewed as compensation, as the sale of the leases was legal, and that it has not been obliged to take action. It suggests that the aim of its Ground Rent Review Assistance Scheme is to address saleability and mortgageability rather than pay compensation.”

4,000 home planning application goes to judicial review because of air pollution effect

“A campaign group has gained permission to take a controversial planning decision in Canterbury to judicial review.

Sustainable Ways Integral to Canterbury’s Health (Switch) has objected to the 4,000 homes Mountfield Park development, which also includes 70,000 square metres of employment space, two schools and a reserve site for the Kent & Canterbury Hospital, together with a 1,000 spaces park and ride site.
Switch has argued that the application by developer Corinthian Land should on air pollution grounds have been rejected, or called in by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.

Campaigners said they sought to raise £25,000 but would be represented by Robert McCracken QC for “a cut-rate price because he cares about Canterbury”.

Switch said Canterbury had been in breach of air quality laws since 2010 and that 100 people a year died in the city due to air pollution, which would be worsened by the development adding some 28,000 extra vehicular journeys daily.

A Canterbury City Council statement said: “It is disappointing that the judicial review application challenging the secretary of state’s decision not to call the Mountfield Park planning approval in has been allowed to proceed.

“Any involvement we now have in this process will mean spending taxpayers’ cash, which we would far rather spend on services for residents.”

It said Mountfield Park was “crucial to the delivery of our local plan and our vision for providing the homes and jobs for people who want to live and work here”, and had been the subject of extensive consultation.”

Children injured in new- build homes due to dangerous and shoddy workmanship

“Children have been injured in shoddily built new homes, we can reveal.

The youngsters have suffered electric shocks and breathing problems, while one was even crushed by a radiator, after moving in to properties that had not been constructed properly.

The revelations are the latest uncovered by the Daily Mail as part of an investigation into the dire state of many of Britain’s new-build homes.
We have previously reported on leaks, water-logged gardens, missing windows, badly fitted doors, broken toilets and gaps in the guttering.

Many homebuyers have scrimped and saved for years to get on the property ladder.

Today we can reveal that poor workmanship by builders – some of whom are cutting corners in a rush to meet construction targets – is raising safety concerns.

Kate and Kevin Fever, from Tiverton, Devon, saved for years to buy a bigger home for their four children. When they moved to their new £265,000, four-bedroom property in December 2015, there were snagging issues with the downstairs flooring and drainage in the garden. These were fixed within a few weeks.

But, seven months later, a heavy double radiator fell off the wall as their eldest daughter Gemma, then aged ten, walked across the kitchen. Kate, 32, a student midwife, says: ‘When I rushed over and pulled off her sock, I expected just a graze, but it was a bloodbath. I grabbed a tea towel to wrap around her foot and we went straight to A&E.’ Gemma, now 11, needed stitches and a cast on her leg for a ruptured Achilles tendon. Kate and Kevin, 40, reported the incident to their builder Taylor Wimpey.

They claim the firm admitted wrong fixings were used on a number of radiators, which meant they weren’t secured properly to the walls.

The radiators were repaired and the firm contacted other customers they thought could be affected. Gemma also received toys, a £50 Toys R Us gift card and £150.

A spokeswoman for the builder says: ‘Taylor Wimpey has apologised to the Fever family for the distress caused. The health and safety of our customers and their families is our number one priority.’

Paul and Lisa Holland, from Leyland, Lancashire, also bought a four-bedroom property from Taylor Wimpey, which they have lived in since 2010. In November last year, Lisa, 43, and youngest son Kyle, 11, suffered electric shocks after touching a lightswitch.

Paul, 45, an HGV driver, says: ‘It happened when we changed the bulb to an energy saver. The bulb started flashing. My son went to the switch, but he jumped back crying. My wife then tried it and jumped back after also suffering a shock.’ When Paul’s brother tested the plastic switch with a volt meter he found live current leaking. The switch had to be replaced, along with the light. ‘My wife and son are very, very lucky they did not each suffer more serious shocks,’ says Paul.

A Taylor Wimpey spokesman says: ‘The vast majority of our customers tell us they are very satisfied with the quality of their home. ‘However, we recognise that we do sometimes get things wrong, and in those cases we are committed to putting them right as quickly as possible.’

Figures show a staggering 98 per cent of new-build buyers report problems to their builders, according to a new home survey by the National House Building Council and the Home Builders Federation.

After years of saving, Colin and Jessica Nickless bought their first home in September 2015. But since moving into the three-bedroom, terraced new-build in Rainham, near London, the couple and their two children have been plagued by damp and mould. Ellie, five, and Freddie, three, have both been in hospital with breathing difficulties and chest infections.

The couple particularly worry about Ellie as she suffers from cystic fibrosis, which makes her vulnerable to respiratory infections. Colin, 41, a full-time carer for Ellie, says: ‘Our new-build home is making us all ill.
‘We’ve had problems with leaking pipes, damp carpets, water dripping through electrical sockets and light fittings, waste pipes not being connected properly and pouring filthy water into my son’s bedroom.’

A spokeswoman for Circle Housing refused to comment on the case due to an ongoing legal claim.

Philip Waller, a retired construction manager who runs advice website, says: ‘When children are being injured by defective new homes, the Government simply cannot stand on the sidelines.'”

New build housing figures pathetic

“House building under the Tories has fallen to its lowest peacetime levels since the 1920s, Huff Post UK reveals today.

An analysis of house building going back more than a century shows the most recent years of Conservative rule has seen the lowest average house build rate since Stanley Baldwin was in Downing Street in 1923.

According to figures compiled by the House of Commons Library, an average of 127,000 homes a year have been built in England and Wales since the Tories took office in 2010.

This is the lowest level since Baldwin’s first stint as Prime Minister in 1923, when just 86,000 homes were built. …

… Alongside the figures, Labour also released a dossier of broken election pledges from the Tories’ 2015 manifesto. This included the promise to “build 200,000 Starter Homes” by 2020.

The target was dropped from the Government’s flagship Housing white paper published in February.

The manifesto also pledged to build “more affordable housing”, but the number of affordable homes built last year fell to the lowest level in 24 years.” …”

Nationwide refuses to grant mortgages on new leasehold houses and flats in ground rent scandal

Overnight, Nationwide building society has made hundreds, and possibly thousands, of new-build flats and houses almost unsaleable – and they should be roundly applauded for doing so.

In a surprise intervention into the scandal of leasehold flats and houses sold with spiralling ground rents, the society said that from this Thursday it will stop lending against any new-build leasehold flat or house where the ground rent is more than 0.1% of the value of the property. It will also refuse loans on new flats with lease lengths of less than 125 years or new houses with less than 250 years. Developers will now be forced, if other lenders adopt the same policy, to slash the absurd ground rents or find that they simply can’t get any buyers.

Take, for example, Berkeley’s 60-acre development south of Reading called Kennet Island. Prices for the remaining leasehold flats start at £249,950, but when we rang the sales office it told us the ground rent was £350 and would increase with RPI. That’s more than 0.1% of the value of the property – which means buyers won’t now qualify for a Nationwide mortgage. Either Berkeley cuts the ground rent or finds that buyers will melt away, unable to find a loan.

Coming so soon after Taylor Wimpey said it had set aside £130m to compensate buyers caught in the ground rent trap, it’s another small victory in the battle against leasehold abuse.

Robert Stevens of Nationwide said: “As a mutual building society that looks to protect its members, we have decided to make changes to the way we value new-build properties on a leasehold basis. We are doing this to address the practice of using leasehold tenure where this is unnecessary, particularly for new-build houses, and to ensure that onerous leasehold terms, including ground rents, are properly considered and controlled in order to safeguard our mortgage members.

“Nationwide is taking a proactive, leading position on this issue to address a significant risk facing our members and to challenge what we believe to be poor practice in the new-build market.”

The society is one of the biggest lenders in the UK, and hopefully this will now set a benchmark for other providers to follow.

Remember, we are not talking about service charges here. When leaseholders pay a service charge, at least they get something in return – such as the maintenance of the common parts of the building. When leaseholders pay a ground rent they receive absolutely nothing in return. It is little more than a medieval tax and should have been outlawed decades if not centuries ago. An ugly industry has built up among financiers who snap up leaseholds with ground rents, because in an era of a 0.25% base rate a stream of income guaranteed to go up by RPI – or double every 10 years in some cases – is an extremely valuable commodity.

The big developers reassure unsuspecting young buyers that the 999-year lease is “almost the same as freehold”, but then they sell it on, typically for 15-20 times the ground rent. It’s a lovely little earner for the developers but spells misery for the flat dwellers.

It’s great that Nationwide has set a new benchmark, but we need to go further. There is no reason why a ground rent should be any more than a peppercorn – say £5 a year. That would kill off this grubby trade overnight. Developers who trapped buyers in ground rents that double every 10 years should be forced to buy them out in the way that Taylor Wimpey has agreed to compensate its buyers.

Amazingly, giant builders such as Persimmon are still knocking out new-build estates where houses are being sold as leasehold, for which there can be no justification. Meanwhile, apartments should only be sold on a commonhold, not leasehold, basis. The legal structure is already in place – it just needs political will to force it on the developers.”

Express and Echo names EDDC Vice-Chair Helen Parr as councillor under police investigation at Colyton

Councillor Parr is standing for the DCC Seaton and Colyton seat at elections tomorrow.

“The vice-chairman of East Devon District Council is under investigation over an allegation she influenced plans to develop her area while failing to declare an interest.

Councillor Helen Parr will be speaking to police officers on a voluntary basis, the Express & Echo understands.

The investigation into the councillor for Coly Valley regards late changes to the East Devon Villages plan made after she was among those who spoke at the meeting of the East Devon District Council strategic planning committee on February 20.

Cllr Parr is a director of a company which owns land next to the former Ceramtec factory site in Colyton. The factory was due to be slated for housing until Cllr Parr spoke at the planning meeting and it was decided to recommend that it remains for employment.

She told the committee: “The main concern and why people are not at all happy about what is proposed in the document is that the built up area boundary line now has suddenly, after the consultation, gone out round the built section of the Ceramtec site.

“It is a very large site and will accommodate, if it went only to houses, about 80 houses. It would be a large development for Colyton which nobody, until now, had any inkling of, in that the built-up area boundary excluded this site.

“There is concern because the bottom line for Colyton is that we lost 80 jobs when this factory closed and we would like to retained as much as possible for employment land.

“I would ask the committee to agree or to propose that the wording should make it clear that on the preamble to the plan that on page 20 it includes words that show that this is protected as an employment site and it should be retained for employment use.”

The East Devon Alliance – a group of independent district councillors – has raised concerns about Cllr Parr’s conduct with Devon & Cornwall Police.

Members say she should have declared and interest and not spoken on the issue.

Cllr Parr and her husband are directors of J & FJ Baker & Company Limited, which owns land at Turlings Farm, next to the Ceramtec site.

East Devon Alliance Councillor Cathy Gardner, at last week’s East Devon District Council meeting, revealed that there was an ongoing police investigation into the council’s handling of the matter.

A spokesperson for Devon & Cornwall Police said it could not confirm or deny the scope of the police investigation. Cllr Parr was asked for comment, but said that due to purdah – rules brought in before an election – she could not say anything.

Last year J & FJ Baker & Company Limited bought land on the south side of Turlings Farm which connects the Ceramtec site to the farm that the Parrs own. They paid £1 for the strip of property.

Cllr Gardner said at last week’s meeting of East Devon District Council: “It may be proven that undue influence has distorted the content of the plan. If that does turn out to be the case, do you agree that it is the responsibility of this council to rectify the result of this influence – in order to ensure the residents of Colyton are not adversely affected and to do so before the plan goes to the (Planning) Inspector?”

In response, Cllr Paul Diviani, the council’s leader, said: “In terms of the village plan, I can’t see a reason why we should be inclined to second guess what an inspector or other authority or otherwise is going to do and in that respect I will reserve judgement as to when we actually do take action.”

An East Devon Alliance source told the Echo: “She is the vice-chairman of the council and has been the chairman of the planning committee for years, so she knows what she is doing, so we have got to pursue this.”

An East Devon District Council spokesman said: “Only the three statutory officers at the council together with one other officer were aware that there was a police investigation prior to the meeting of council on Wednesday and these officers have kept the matter confidential.

“Given that there is an active police investigation, and the sensitivities around purdah for both the county and General Election, it would be wholly inappropriate for the council to comment on the investigation at this time. The council also cannot comment on how Cllr Gardner became aware of the police investigation, and the chief executive and monitoring officer were surprised that she raised this matter at a public meeting.

“The process that has been followed for the village plan and the representations made/considered by officers and reported to the strategic planning committee, can be found on the East Devon District Council website.”

The East Devon Villages Plan – a blueprint for development in the area – is currently out for consultation”.