Protection for Homebuyers

Part of Treasury Committee – in Westminster Hall at 2:43 pm on 13th December 2018.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North 2:43 pm, 13th December 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I congratulate my hon. Friend Kate Green on securing this debate and on the eloquent way in which she set out her case. She and other hon. Members showed that there is a major problem, and I hope the Minister will address it in her remarks.

When my hon. Friend said that she was seeking a debate on this issue, I immediately said, “I would love to be part of that debate,” because for the past eight or nine years I have been having problems with house builders in my constituency. I have been most struck by the fact that, of all the casework I deal with, they are the most difficult group to get a response from.

My hon. Friend said that Persimmon has a policy of not dealing with Members of Parliament, and that is certainly my experience. Despite numerous letters and telephone calls, it was only when I sent it a message saying that I was about to stand up in Parliament and make very derogatory remarks about its failure to respond that I even got the courtesy of a letter. It then took many months to get a meeting—I got one after, I think, five years of trying. That part of the house building community really needs to sort itself out.

We have heard a lot about the leasehold scandal. We have heard about snagging with new properties, and homeowners’ problems in getting that sorted out. I want to talk about two issues that have been a problem for me in my constituency. As a background, I should say that Hull is one of the most successful Help to Buy areas of the country. Lots of my constituents have scrimped and saved to get together the money to buy their home, and they are really proud that they have been able to do that. They are then faced with developers who, once the house has been sold, seemingly wash their hands and think they have no responsibility for sorting out the problems they have left behind. My constituents are left high and dry.

I want to give two examples. The first involves Harron Homes and Persimmon Homes, which developed a housing estate around Whisperwood Way in my constituency. The estate was completed in about 2007, but it took me and the residents four years of campaigning to get the road surfaced by the developers and adopted by the local authority. Of course, that should have been done before the residents moved in. It was unsafe, it damaged people’s cars and it was dangerous to children and the elderly. There were also problems with Yorkshire Water completing the sewerage works. Harron Homes dragged its feet to get the road surfaced.

It is clear that developers, utilities and, in some cases, local authorities, should have stronger responsibilities placed on them to ensure that issues such as that do not drag on for four years. The residents have to pay their council tax, their water rate bills and everything else, but there is seemingly no mechanism to ensure that the problems they face are dealt with.

While all that was happening, I was approached by some more residents from Whisperwood Way. They came to me because they had moved into properties in Leadhills Way that were built right up to the edge of the Sutton Cross drain. Those families told me that their homes had been built by Persimmon in 2006, and they were having two problems. The first was that the homes were built too close to the drain, which caused their gardens to sink and their fences to collapse into it. The second was that the pathways on the estate were not surfaced to a council standard. A local resident said:

“My children are extremely eager to play on their garden toys but I am reluctant to let them do so because of the fear that the fence and land near to it will simply fall/slip down into the drain if they so much as go near it. Our garden (and I’m sure several of our neighbours’ gardens) are extremely fragile due to erosion caused by the ‘drain’ and the tractors who ‘dredge’ the sides by simply pulling the ground away. I feel like myself and my children are living like prisoners. I appreciate that this sounds extremely dramatic, but this is how this issue is making us feel. It’s especially hard during the school holidays when both of my children are off.”

The key issue in that case is that there was no way for the council to take any enforcement action against Persimmon to compel it to sort out the problem that had developed on the land very close to the drain that it had built houses on.

If residents had someone—an ombudsman, for example—to turn to, backed by real powers to compel developers to put right problems, such matters could be sorted out, without adding to the years of stress and misery, which my constituents are still going through. Although finally, after five years, we got Persimmon to a meeting where we agreed that it would carry out a report into what was happening, proper resolution of the problem at the back of those houses is still lacking.