By Harry Scoffin
As central government stalls over leasehold reform, local government has begun registering its unease at the controversial practice of selling homes as tenancies.
Earlier this year, Liverpool’s mayor Joe Anderson made media shockwaves by banning Countryside Properties plc from developing in the city following the firm’s involvement in the leasehold houses scandal. It is understood that this “ban” applies to council land.
Cheshire West and Chester council on leasehold:
The snub was picked up by the Financial Times, which concluded that it would “subdue” the company’s pursuit of growth outside of London.
Despite being urged to extend the policy to Redrow by Liverpool leasehold victims – including Labour MP for West Lancashire Rosie Cooper, Mr Anderson – a happy Redrow customer – has refrained from doing so.
Last September also saw the Labour-held St Helens council in Merseyside pass a motion endorsing the proposals contained within “Ending the Leasehold Scandal: Labour’s New Deal for Leaseholders”, unveiled to much fanfare by shadow housing ministers John Healey and Sarah Jones in July.
The vote was passed unanimously, with a Liberal Democrat councillor describing the policies as much-needed “bold interventions” to restore fairness to the housing market.
One of St Helens’ three Tory councillors said the fact that the vote was a Labour party initiative could not take away from the strength and necessity of the policies.
In comments to the St Helens Reporter, the Conservative group leader Allan Jones said:
“Exploitation, being ripped-off – we don’t like that. Nobody likes that.
“We’ve looked at these and the only thing we don’t like about it means supporting a Labour Party campaign and I don’t like doing that.
“However, our feelings towards exploitation and being ripped off far outweigh those of supporting a Labour campaign.
“The only thing I would disagree with is with Cllr McCauley [cabinet member for economic regeneration and housing] when he says we need a Labour government – no we don’t.”
In addition to calling for Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick to implement the policies, the vote commits St Helen’s to undertake “an appropriate piece of scrutiny work to establish how the widespread the issue is in the Borough of St Helens.”
A motion calling for the government to back Labour reforms to the leasehold system has received cross-party support in St Helens. Unlike a freeholder, leaseholders do not own the land the property is built on and instead pay ground rent to the freeholder.
Just days later in Warrington, the National Leasehold Campaign’s co-founder Cath Williams spoke to borough councillors ahead of their own leasehold reform vote on November 4.
Ms Williams met with politicians including council leader Russ Bowden and the cabinet member for housing, Cllr Maureen McLaughin, to explain the issues and gauge their support.
Warrington council has already published a press release, committing “the council’s support for local residents who are trapped in leasehold properties”.
It has also promised a four-point “action plan”, consisting of the following:
- “Tabling a motion at Full Council, providing a statement of solidarity for residents trapped in leasehold properties”
- Developing plans to refuse to work in partnership with developers who continue to sell new-build properties on a leasehold basis
- Working and communicating with developers about the issue
- Asking local solicitors to stand in solidarity with the council and residents”
Cllr Russ Bowden said:
“This was a really valuable discussion, which gave us greater insight into the issues local people are facing. We heard stories from residents who have been trying to free themselves from leasehold contracts for many years and the misery it is causing them and their families. We learned about the huge impact being trapped in a leasehold property can have on people’s abilities to make plans or move house.
“It was also fantastic to meet with the National Leasehold Campaign, to find out more about their campaign and forge new links with them. We will continue to support them in the work they are doing.”
In Halton on Wednesday, councillors voted unanimously to recognise “that a significant number of houses and apartments in Halton are owned as leasehold” and “call for government to introduce wide-ranging proposals, giving new and fairer rights to leaseholders”.
Cheshire West & Chester, a council under no overall control, had leasehold reform on the agenda the following evening, with the National Leasehold Campaign’s Katie Kendrick speaking for the motion.
CHESHIRE west councillors have joined growing calls for the Government to tackle the leasehold scandal after hearing how it is turning dream homes into living nightmares. Many new homebuyers across Cheshire West – including at new developments in Ellesmere Port, Winnington and Winsford – have bought leaseholds rather than freeholds.
“Let me start by telling you my story which, I have to add, is rather tame compared to the nightmare stories I hear daily,” the campaign group’s co-founder said.
She spoke of how the onward sale of her freehold, from the developer to the third-party investor, led to a dramatic increase in the cost of buying the title, with permission fees also hiked:
“It was then that I had my penny drop – that something was seriously wrong – and my home was being used as a cash cow. I say my home, but it’s not mine. I am a mortgaged tenant with a landlord.”
Despite her dream of owning her own home becoming “a living nightmare”, Ms Kendrick said she “never realised I would spend the next three years leading a real life David and Goliath battle, fighting for the homes of millions.”
“Leasehold is an unequal balance of power. It’s a system rigged against leaseholders,” she added.
She said that leaseholders have reached out to her to say they want to commit suicide because they see no other way out of the exploitative contracts.
“I am firm believer that it’s time to abolish, not polish, leasehold.”
Councillors across the capital and the southeast will be approach to back similar motions, LKP understands.
It will be fascinating to see whether Westminster City and Tower Hamlets, the councils with the hardest addiction to leasehold, will be quite so keen to disappoint developer and landowner interests …