The weather was on the housebuilders’ side, but 40 demonstrators protested outside Redrow’s Ledsham Garden Village site on Saturday demanding an end to leasehold houses.
They were joined by local MP Justin Madders, ITV News, BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours consumer programme, some damp children, a number of unhappy looking dogs whose Saturday walk had been interrupted … and Sebastian O’Kelly, of LKP.
The event, which lasted two hours, was organised by Katie Kendrick and Cath Williams of the Facebook group the National Leasehold Campaign, who live locally.
Katie is a far-from-happy customer of Bellway, from whom she bought a leasehold house with ground rents escalating with RPI, while Cath Williams bought her property from Taylor Wimpey.
Armed with megaphone and a variety of witting and professionally produced placards, Katie marshalled the demonstration outside the Redrow sales suite.
Q: “What do we want?”
A: “The freehold!”
Q: “When do we want it?”
Leaflets were handed to passing cars, which sounded their horns in support.
Redrow’s defence of leasehold houses amounts to little more than: we are building leasehold houses in the North West because there are a large number of historic ones and we can get away with it.
ITV News asked Sebastian O’Kelly whether purchasers in the North West were at fault for buying these properties.
“No. Look at this site. Flags are flying. There is a nice marketing suite. A host of professional sales advisors.
“With a quick signing of contracts you will get lawyers and mortgage advisors, and – with many developers, perhaps including Redrow – you can trade-in your blameless and truly valuable freehold house for something far worse: a leasehold alternative.
“Utter rubbish terms such as ‘It’s virtually freehold’ crop up in the sales patter.
“And, worse, buyers report being pushed into these purchases, having to use the developers stooge solicitors in order to complete within a tight timescale supposedly to secure these turkeys, which developers pretend are bargain purchases.
“In short, housebuilders have made this sales process as hurried and as unscrutinised as they possibly can until it resembles an impulse buy at the end of a supermarket queue.
“In fact, what housebuilders are doing is cheating their customers who simply want a home by creating an investment asset – the freehold – at their expense. This is then sold on to investment companies that are so proud of themselves that they almost always hide their ultimate beneficial owners.
“The housebuilders are also having a laugh with us, the taxpayers, in palming off these flawed products which are sold to buyers on the Help To Buy scheme.
“Government, which should feel a fool for having been gulled, could stop that right now.
“No housebuilder should be surprised by these demonstrations. They are long overdue and I am delighted more are now being planned.”
Would-be buyers at Ledsham Garden Village were handed a slip of paper by Redrow with a statement:
“Everyone in the leasehold debate has a right to express their opinions. Along with the rest of the house building industry, we’re currently engaging with Government on leasehold and new build houses, as part of its Housing White Paper, which was issued in early February 2017. That consultation is ongoing and we’re playing an active role in the discussions.
“We sell new houses on a leasehold basis in pockets of the country where it is common-place and not unusual for land to be acquired on leasehold in the first place. The process is talked through with purchasers and customers have access to independently-regulated financial and legal advisers acting in their interests.
“In our leases, any third-party acquirers of freeholds are bound by standard ground rent review clauses, which generally allow a review every 10 years and only in accordance with RPI.”