The government said yesterday that it was going to haul in the agents for the Guernsey-based freeholders of Heysmoor Heights in Liverpool, which has Grenfell cladding, and demand to know who the freeholders are.
LKP has highlighted the issue of Heysmoor Heights several times. Yesterday it was raised in the Commons by local Labour MP Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside), who is furious that ordinary families face bills of £18,000 to remove cladding and pay for fire marshals.
The bills are imposed by landlord Abacus Land 4 Limited in Guernsey, where the beneficial ownership is hidden behind nominee directors.
It is one of the offshore entities managed by the Long Harbour ground rent fund, said to be worth £1.6 billion, set up by William Waldorf Astor, the heir to the viscountcy and Samantha Cameron’s half-brother. For six years he worked for ex-property tycoon Vincent Tchenguiz, who at one point claimed to own one per cent of all the residential freeholds in the country.
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At Heysmoor Heights the builder went bust in 2010 and there is an insurance claim to pay for the cladding removal. If that fails, the bill
Ms Ellman told the House: “The residents of Heysmoor Heights cannot wait for long and potentially protracted negotiations with the insurance company to be resolved. There is no guarantee that a satisfactory solution will be reached.
“A letter I received today from HomeGround confirms that, should the insurance route fail, costs will be recovered through increased service charges. That is simply not good enough.
“The Minister tells me that he will speak to the agent of the freeholder at Heysmoor Heights. Will he attempt to establish the identity of the owner—or owners—of the offshore Abacus Land 4 Ltd, an anonymous beneficial company?”
For the government, Jake Berry, Under Secretary of State at DHCLG, replied:
“The Minister for Housing has arranged to speak to the agents of Heysmoor Heights’ freeholder, and I will certainly ask him to ask the agent who the freeholders are, because she has highlighted a very serious issue.
“We cannot have a situation in which the residents simply do not know who their superior landlord is. That would not have been acceptable to me in my old job as a property lawyer. I shall make sure that the Housing Minister presses very hard on that issue, and that if an answer is received, it is passed on to the hon. Lady so that she can forward it to her constituents.”
LKP is appalled at the prospect of ordinary families losing their homes to an anonymous, offshore landlord to pay to remove Grenfell cladding for which they were not responsible.
Last month, Adrian Flook – a former Tory MP turned PR man for Will Astor’s residential property interests – sent Sebastian O’Kelly, trustee of LKP, an email claiming a report on a similar site, Sesame Apartments, Battersea, was: “Soooooo factually wrong.”
We have suggested that contrary to Long Harbour’s repeated claims not all its freehold investors are pension funds and similar institutions. Among its earlier directors is billionaire Frank Sixt, a telecommunications expert at Hutchison Whampoa in Hong Kong.
We believe private equity is a large part of the fund – a point we made at the Professionals in Property conference last wee.
Mr Flook was asked whether he wished to issue a statement to addressed the supposed inaccuracies, to which he replied that his client was “considering whether we do or we don’t respond”.
Sir Peter Bottomley then wrote to Mr Astor personally, suggesting “with due respect to dear Adrian, may I gently suggest that either he restricts messages to one’s he sends before noon or that he clears each with you before pressing Send?”
LKP applauds Mr Berry’s efforts to identify offshore ownership of residential freeholds.
Given the powers they have over leaseholders, including forfeiture in the event of non-payment of service charges or ground rents, it is simply unacceptable that these speculators in other people’s homes remain anonymous and offshore.
Regarding the £18,000 bills faced by leaseholders at Heysmoor Heights, Mr Berry repeated the line originated by Sajid Javid, the former Communities Secretary, in asking freeholders not to pass on costs to leaseholders.
He also repeated the line that additional resources have been given to the Leasehold Advisory Service – still without a chairman after the sector insider Roger Southam was ousted (after several years in situ) over “perceived conflicts of interest” that should have been evident from the outset.