British House Building Industry

Part of Uk Shared Prosperity Fund – in the House of Commons at 4:12 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley 4:12 pm, 5th September 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Mr Bacon, who made a typically thoughtful and interesting contribution to the debate on housing.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh on her survey of the state of the market and some of the negative aspects of it that we need to address. Anybody who reads her speech in Hansard tomorrow or at some later point will consider some of the companies that she named to be a roll call of disrepute.

On that theme, I wrote to the chief executive of Redrow, the developer, about a leasehold scandal following conversations with concerned residents of Summerhill Park in my constituency. Summerhill Park has over 455 houses and 70 flats. There is a two-tier system of ground rents in operation. Residents who purchased their properties early on in the development pay ground rents of £150 a year, while those who purchased homes in the later phases pay £250 a year. My constituents want to be enfranchised. They want to purchase their freeholds and are willing to pay a fair price. They believe—and I agree with them—that a fair price would be 10 times the annual ground rent, which they think is fair and reasonable and are willing to pay. Redrow, however, is asking for 26 times the annual ground rent, which I think, frankly, is unfair and unreasonable.

In the light of the Government’s reform proposals and the Law Commission’s ongoing work on leasehold reform, I approached Redrow to arrange a meeting to discuss the residents’ ideas further. Redrow contended in its response that the lease agreements are fair and transparent, which my constituents strongly disagree with, as do I. Its business model is considered by many—including, as I am sure the Minister will confirm, the Government—both unreasonable and unjustifiable. The offer of giving residents the opportunity to purchase the freehold at a fixed price of 26 times the annual ground rent is not, in my view—and, I hope, in the Government’s view—reasonable or fair.

In response to my letter, Redrow said:

“it would be inappropriate to move away from the practice that has been adopted over the last two years, with all Redrow households, including those [who] have already acquired their freehold at Summerhill Park.”

I wrote back to say that I did not agree and I would still like a meeting. Surprise, surprise, Redrow said, “There is little point in a meeting.” All Members of this House have a reasonable expectation that if they request a meeting with an organisation or company in the private or public sector to discuss an issue that is of concern in their constituency, they will get that meeting. Redrow arrogantly—not to me, but to the people I represent—declined to hold such a meeting. I deplore that, as I hope others do.

It is unjustified and unfair, and I fail to see how pressing on with that policy is either reasonable or acceptable. Redrow is doing this simply because it can and because it can continue to make money out of the residents I represent in this House. The leasehold scandal has caused a great deal of distress for homebuyers across England, particularly in the north-west, with many homebuyers trapped in their current properties, some unable to afford to purchase their freehold and others even unable to sell their property. Redrow is not unique in this. Other developers are just as involved in this scandal.