Clause 11 - Implied terms: pitch fees

Mobile Homes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 27th November 2012.

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Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 3:00 pm, 27th November 2012

I beg to move amendment 15, in clause 11, page 24, line 45, after ‘land’, insert

‘which is occupied or controlled by the owner’.

Clause 11 would introduce a number of changes to the way pitch fee reviews are conducted and what can be taken into account in such a review. This is to make reviews more transparent and fairer. On fairness, proposed new sub-paragraphs (aa) and (ab), which clause 11 inserts into paragraph 18(1) of chapter 2 of part 1 of schedule 1 of the 1983 Act, make clearer what factors must be taken into account during pitch fee review, insofar as they relate to the condition of the site and the quality of services. A factor that will need to be considered is any decrease in the amenity or deterioration in the condition of the site and of any adjoining land that has occurred since the commencement of the new provisions and has not been taken into consideration in an earlier pitch fee review. In practice, that means that, in future, a residential property tribunal will be able to have regard to any decrease in the amenity or deterioration in the condition of any land adjoining the site when deciding what the pitch fee should be when a dispute has arisen about a pitch fee review.

The policy reason for including adjoining land is that sometimes that land is in poor condition, is being used inappropriately, or is in a state of redevelopment. All those circumstances might directly affect the amenity of the residents on the site, but, under the existing paragraph 18(1), such matters cannot be taken into account by the tribunal in determining the pitch fee. However, it is not the policy intention that site owners should be penalised in a pitch fee review because of things occurring on land over which they have no  control. Amendment 15 therefore inserts wording into proposed new sub-paragraph (aa) of paragraph 18(1), to make it clear that only where the adjoining land is occupied or controlled by the site owner must such matters be taken into account in a pitch fee review.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

I want to clarify an issue: in my constituency, overhanging trees in one site were damaging the fences of an adjoining park home site, right next to somebody’s home. That piece of land was not owned by the park home owner, nor was it a piece of land over which he had any control, but he also refused to have any contact with the owner of that adjoining land or to try to reason with them to make some improvements. Can the Minister place on record his desire that responsible owners, of which there are many, including the majority in my constituency, would talk to neighbouring landowners?

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising what I hope will be a very rare occasion—as he said, the vast majority of site owners are very responsible and want to do their best for their residents—where an irresponsible owner simply cannot be bothered to have discussions with the owners of neighbouring land. My hon. Friend will be well aware that, in such circumstances, site owners already have a range of measures that they can use to seek remediation for inappropriate activity by the occupants of adjoining land. Clearly, I hope that responsible owners would seek a sensible way forward, initially through dialogue, without recourse to legislation or the involvement of local authorities. However, in circumstances when that does not happen, I hope that we can assure my hon. Friend that local authorities have powers under existing legislation to come in and take action. I entirely share his view that the best way forward in sorting such matters out is through dialogue, just as it is in the case of straightforward neighbours of properties that are not on a park home.

Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler Conservative, South Derbyshire

I am pleased that the provision is being introduced. I can think of one particular case in south Derbyshire where lighting for the site in question has not been touched in 30 years, and neither have roads to the site. The question of what pitch fees have and have not been paid will be very important for tribunals, so I am pleased that this provision is being brought forward, and I will vote for it today.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I am delighted to have my hon. Friend’s support for the excellent Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney. I hope that hon. Members will support amendment 15.

Amendment 15 agreed to.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I beg to move amendment 16, in clause 11, page 25, line 40, leave out from ‘fee)’ to the end of line 46 and insert ‘—

(a) before sub-paragraph (1) insert—

“(A1) In the case of a protected site in England, unless this would be unreasonable having regard to paragraph 18(1), there is a presumption that the pitch fee shall increase or decrease by a percentage which is no more than any percentage increase or decrease in the retail prices index calculated by reference only to—

(a) the latest index, and

(b) the index published for the month which was 12 months before that to which the latest index relates.

(A2) In sub-paragraph (A1), “the latest index”—

(a) in a case where the owner serves a notice under paragraph 17(2), means the last index published before the day on which that notice is served;

(b) in a case where the owner serves a notice under paragraph 17(6), means the last index published before the day by which the owner was required to serve a notice under paragraph 17(2).”, and

(b) in sub-paragraph (1), at the beginning insert “In the case of a protected site in Wales,”.’.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow North West

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 17, in clause 11, page 26, line 4, leave out

‘since the last review date’ and insert

‘calculated in accordance with paragraph 20(A1)’.

Amendment 18, in clause 11, page 26, leave out lines 12 to 15.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The issue of pitch fees has already been touched upon, and the amendments take the issue slightly further. Pitch fees are regulated by the provisions implied in agreements in paragraphs 16 to 20 of chapter 2 of part 1 of schedule 1 to the 1983 Act. Reviews are conducted annually. Site owners must give 28 days’ notice of a review. There is a statutory presumption in paragraph 20 that, in a review, fees will increase or decrease by the percentage change in the retail prices index since the last review, unless that would be unreasonable because of matters such as agreed improvements to the site, decrease in amenity, as we just discussed, or some changes to legislation that affect the cost of managing the site.

Paragraph 20 was intended to ensure that the calculation of an RPI increase or decrease was based on the last published figure before the review. However, that is not as clear as it ought to be. As a result, it is not always the case that reviews are transparent, and there is evidence that some site owners simply choose the highest percentage change in RPI over the last year to fix the review, and that others simply work out an average RPI percentage change over that year and apply that to the pitch fee.

Clause 11(5) was intended to resolve that problem. It has come to light, however, that, as drafted, it would not enable the necessary calculation to be made. Amendment 16 therefore corrects an error in clause 11(5) regarding how the RPI percentage change should be calculated. It does that by replacing the current provision with two new subsections that would be inserted into paragraph 20 of chapter 2 of part 1 of schedule 1 of the 1983 Act. The new subsections require the calculation to be made using the last index published before the pitch fee review notice is given, or, where the site owner serves the pitch fee review notice late, the last index published before the last date on which he should have served the pitch fee review notice and the index published 12 months prior to that. Amendments 17 and 18 are consequential to that amendment.

Amendment 16 agreed to.

Amendments made: 17, in clause 11, page 26, line 4, leave out

‘since the last review date’

and insert

‘calculated in accordance with paragraph 20(A1)’.

Amendment 18, in clause 11, page 26, leave out lines 12 to 15.—(Mr Foster.)

Clause 11, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 13 to 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose.