… and Bob Bessell wants an end to ‘feudal’ ground rents, too!
Bob Bessell, founder of housebuilder Retirement Security, yesterday pledged to leave his freehold portfolio – worth £7 million – in a trust controlled by the pensioner residents at his sites.
The undertaking was made at a Westminster roundtable organised by LKP for MPs, and hosted by MPs Jim Fitzpatrick and Sir Peter Bottomley, attended by civil servants, property managers and other prominent figures in the retirement leasehold sector.
“Not less than once a fortnight I get requests to know whether the company is for sale,” Mr Bessell told the meeting. “In some ways, this is quite flattering.
“But when you go into it, the only reason that people want to buy the company is so that they can make money out of the leaseholders.
“I don’t think that that is what it was set up for.”
Mr Bessell, who headed Warwickshire social services before setting up as a retirement housebuilder, has created a unique business model in retirement housing.
All Retirement Security sites have a fully functioning residents’ management company, controlled by the leaseholders, who can hire and fire the management.
Indeed, Mr Bessell said that his own management has been given its marching orders on a couple of occasions, although subsequently asked to come back.
“This set-up has had its ups and downs, usually to do with personalities, but I’ve never seen a reason to want to change the arrangement that residents control their sites.
“Happy leaseholders fully involved in decision-making will keep the sites fresh and modernised. I think that is the basis of a very good business.
“But what I do find interesting is that absolutely nobody has wanted to copy this model.”
Mr Bessell continued:
“At the age of 82 even I have got the message that it is time I retired,” Mr Bessell told the meeting.
“The problem is that between my wife and myself we own the controlling interest in Retirement Security.
“We have discussed this with our children and the end result is that we are in the process of establishing a trust that will own a controlling interest in the shares for the benefit of the leaseholders.”
Retirement Securities sites across the country, which total around 1,600 flats, have elected leaseholder representatives.
“I was always of the view that the leaseholders must have the benefit of this, but I was concerned whether they would be able to manage the administrative problems that go with the sites.
“My doubts were totally unfounded. I had no idea that there was such a wealth of talent amongst the people living at our developments.
“Those who stood for election had to produce manifestos, as it were, and they canvassed for election.
“The average age of those elected is a mere 81, but they run rings around me.
“Their experience and knowledge and day-to-day awareness of what is going on at the sites makes me realise that they are perfectly capable of dealing with this.
“Their sorrow at my demise will be ameliorated by the fact that they have got their hands on the wheels of power.
“The value of the company so far as we can ascertain is about £7 million pounds.
“There is a real question in people’s minds: why would anybody want to give away all that?
“The answer is that is what is needed in order that the principles that lay behind the foundation of Retirement Security are protected and developed.”
Mr Bessell concluded his persuasive and moving speech with another blasphemy that will infuriate the leasehold monetisers:
“What on earth is the justification for ground rent?
“The first degree I ever did was in mediaeval history, and I realise that they were all sorts of practices but most have now gone.
“But ground rents are still there as a lonely relic of the feudal system.
“I see no reason why our legislators should allow that to continue.”