Housing: “Problems that are building up”

Linden Homes (see flying freehold problems post below) – again:

In the race to build as many new homes as cheaply as possible, developers have been accused of slipping standards. A survey this year by housing charity Shelter found that 51% of respondents discovered major faults after legal requirements for construction work to be checked at various stages were relaxed.

Currently, residents have little recourse when things go wrong. The Property Ombudsman has no remit over new-build. Instead, residents who discover faults within the first two years are left to haggle with the developer; after that, liability passes to the warranty provider chosen by the developer and only covers major structural work.

Although there is a dispute resolution scheme, CCHBAS, for homes insured by the three main warranty providers, it costs £120 to lodge a complaint and its decisions are not legally binding. A parliamentary enquiry last year found that it did not offer adequate redress.

As well as a boundary fiasco, Clare Reeve suffered leaks when roof tiles began slipping. She discovered battens had not been fixed properly to the dormer windows in her row of houses. “Because I’d bought over two years ago, Linden Homes washed its hands of it and referred me to NHBC [one of the UK’s largest warranty providers],” says Reeve, whose house is also affected by the boundary dispute [see post below]. “NHBC said it could only cover repairs over £1,500. Luckily, with scaffolding factored in, it came to more than that.”

Phil Waller, a former construction manager, set up campaign and advice website


in response to declining standards. He is calling for a government-appointed ombudsman to investigate complaints. “We need as much pressure as we can generate to force government to wake up to the many scandals in this unregulated industry that is – quite frankly, in my opinion – defrauding its own customers.”


A new problem for new house buyers: flying freeholds

“Simon and Maggie Dancer were ready to exchange and complete on the sale of their house when the bombshell dropped. The conveyancing had uncovered the fact that Linden Homes, which had built the Buckinghamshire estate where they live, had miscalculated the boundaries of their home – and that meant their neighbour owned half their master bedroom. …

… Their neighbours, James and Katrina Inch, are unable to rejoice in their unexpectedly expanded floorspace, for the error makes their home also unsaleable. “We are astonished by how this mistake could have been overlooked by three separate solicitors – our own, our neighbours’ and Linden’s – when we bought the properties,” says James Inch, who was alerted to the issue by the Dancers.

… Extraordinarily, two more residents on the ironically named Exemplar Park estate in Aylesbury are in the same predicament. Ann and Terry Payne checked their deeds after the Dancers contacted them and discovered that their neighbour, Clare Reeve, effectively owns half of their main bedroom.

Like the Dancers and Inches, their homes are link-attached over a shared driveway to the parking area. The room above the gateway should belong to the Paynes, but an error bestows it on Reeve. Slipshod markings have also granted Reeve ownership of a large traffic island in front of the houses. “I am going through a divorce and am trying to sell, but I can’t while the boundaries are in dispute,” says Reeve. “You’d think Linden would have got in touch when it came to light, but I’ve had no word.”

The Paynes have been told by Linden Homes to get the original conveyancing solicitor to sort it out. And it appears unabashed by the fiasco, blaming the families and their solicitors for not noticing the mistakes when they bought. …

… Alarms ought to have been triggered by the very existence of a “flying freehold”. It is a legal grey area that can cause headaches because of potential problems with gaining access across the neighbour’s portion to carry out repairs or enforce covenants. Some mortgage lenders steer clear of such properties which can be difficult to sell on.

… A flying freehold caused an identical issue for Colchester homeowner Samantha Sweeney, who found herself unable to sell her link-attached house. She discovered that her neighbour owned 90 square feet of her 11-year-old property, including half her bedroom which overhangs a shared driveway between the two houses.

The estate had been built by Persimmon which told the Observer: “We worked closely with the resident and this has now been resolved.”

All the residents of Exemplar Park can lodge a formal complaint with their solicitors who missed the crucial anomalies and, if they don’t achieve a resolution, they can appeal to the Legal Ombudsman.

Linden Homes says that its legal team is working on a deed of rectification to correct and realign the development’s boundaries, but the delays have cost the Dancers dear. Their daughter starts school next year and they have to move by January in order to meet the deadline for school applications. They also want to be settled before their baby is born. “I’ve had to pay for new valuations and cancel my daughter’s place at the nursery where she was due to start in September after we’d relocated,” Simon Dancer says. “And Linden is moving in baby steps. As far as it’s concerned it sold the house four years ago and couldn’t care less. …”


Government and developers creating NIMBYs

“The biggest housebuilders are creating growing numbers of nimbys by trampling over communities and building ugly, unaffordable homes, the head of a homelessness charity has warned.

Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, said that developers were putting profits before people and ignoring concerns about the quality and price of new homes.

She blamed the builders for “a huge loss of public faith in our housebuilding system” and called for reforms to planning laws to put people’s needs before corporate profits. “Even when communities create detailed plans for housing developments, these developers brush them aside and build unattractive, unaffordable homes,” she said. “This means many [people] choose to oppose new homes rather than go through a long planning process, only to be ignored in the end.”

The three biggest housebuilders, Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Developments, completed more than 46,000 homes last year and shared revenues of more than £11 billion. They made profits of £2.2 billion.

“The government needs to bring in a new way of building homes which listens to local people to build the high quality and genuinely affordable homes they need, along with schools, parks and other amenities,” Ms Neate said. “We once had a proud tradition of housebuilding in this country, as seen in our popular postwar new towns and garden cities, and it is now critical this is revived for the 21st century.”

Her comments came after a survey of more than 3,500 people found that only 13 per cent felt that developers listened to them. Almost 60 per cent said that they would be more inclined to support the building of new homes if they were listened to more keenly. The southeast had the highest proportion of nimbys, at 38 per cent, while the West Midlands had the lowest at 23 per cent.

The Times revealed last month that a consortium of housebuilders behind a new garden town in Devon had watered down its strict design code. The Sherford development on the outskirts of Plymouth was designed by the Prince of Wales’s architects to prove that his model village of Poundbury in Dorset could work on a larger scale.

The Prince’s Foundation for Building Community said that the builders, Bovis Homes, Linden Homes and Taylor Wimpey, used arcane planning laws to renege on their commitments to quality. Ben Bolgar, the foundation’s director, said they were determined to build a “normal, rubbish housing estate” instead. The consortium said the quality of the homes would not be affected.

Stewart Baseley, chairman of the Home Builders Federation, an industry body, insisted that his members “work closely with councils and residents to ensure the homes being built are what communities need”.

“Housebuilders have dramatically increased output to provide desperately needed homes,” he added. “Constructive debate is needed to develop policies that allow more homes to be built as opposed to baseless claims.”

Source: The Times (pay wall)

Prince Charles gets his own (beautiful?) way with his new south-west town

Owl says: bet this wouldn’t happen in the Republic of East Devon! And wonders if a “zombie town” of which they speak might be on our own doorstep!

Jerome Starkey

“Three of Britain’s biggest housebuilders have lost an attempt to change the plans for a garden town designed by Prince Charles’s architects, amid claims that the builders’ proposals would have created a “zombie town”.

The Sherford Valley, on the outskirts of Plymouth, had been earmarked for 5,500 new homes and was designed by the Prince’s Foundation to create an eco-friendly pedestrian community like Poundbury in Dorset.

Bovis Homes, Linden Homes and Taylor Wimpey, which bought the site in 2014, had applied to Plymouth council to water down the design rules and change Prince Charles’s plan so that they could build cheaper homes more quickly.
Councillors said that the move would have created a “zombie town” with “years of planning thrown out of the window” and rejected their application.
The builders had built fewer than 300 of the homes when they applied to amend the town code and master plan.

“Instead of having the highest standard of new homes, we will instead have a rather large housing estate,” Vivien Pengelly, a councillor, said.
The housebuilders said that they were asking for minor changes that would not have affected the quality of homes. However, Ben Bolgar, a director of the Prince’s Foundation, said that they were trying to strip out commitments to quality.

He said that Sherford was designed to prove that Prince Charles’s model village of Poundbury, near Dorchester, could work on a larger scale but that the builders were determined to “build their normal boxes”.

The design code meant that the builders had to produce a range of houses, built from local materials, which were not more than 500m from the shops. Cars had to be parked in hidden courtyards rather than on the street to encourage people to walk.

Mr Bolgar said that the builders’ plans would have transformed Sherford into a “rubbish housing estate”.

Jonny Morris, a councillor, said that he did not want Sherford to end up like the sort of place you would see “in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse”.

Housing companies applied to ditch a town code drawn up 13 years ago and replace it with a set of “fundamental principles” which they said allowed them greater flexibility over materials and construction methods.

“This is simply far too premature to take such a radical act, disregarding all those measures that allowed permission to be granted in the first place,” Nick Kelly, the deputy lord mayor, said. “We want development but everybody thinks, ‘This is what we’re going to get’, and at the stroke of a pen years of planning and assurances go out of the window.”

Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, who wrote a report in 2015 calling for dozens of new garden villages, said that Sherford had an excellent town plan and was “overwhelmingly supported by the local community” because of its commitment to quality. “The housebuilders knew what they were signing up to. There should really be no question about what will be delivered,” he said.”

Times (paywall)