Housing and Planning — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:03 pm on 3rd March 2020.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston 3:03 pm, 3rd March 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I will talk about Mostyn House in Parkgate, which was originally a boarding school and is now a listed building. Once the school closed, the site was certainly attractive to developers.

Revised plans to build apartments into the fabric of the old school were submitted halfway through its redevelopment. Despite the many efforts of under-resourced local authority enforcement officers, the developer, PJ Livesey, continually drags its feet, with the result that there is a list of outstanding works as long as your arm. Planning permission was only finally achieved some five years after residents first moved in. Developers have similarly patchy records elsewhere in the country, but because the system lacks the capacity to challenge these people, they continue to get away with it.

I have long spoken about the industrial scale mis-selling that arose as part of the leasehold scandal, and we finally saw official recognition of that last week from the Competition and Markets Authority. The situation at Mostyn House is slightly different but has many similarities. Little specific legal information was provided at the initial stage, particularly regarding planning and the leasehold position, and little documentation was produced in respect of service charges. What was provided was misleading and inaccurate on ongoing costs. There were also financial incentives to use panel solicitors and pressure to exchange contracts within a tight timescale.

Many people buying these apartments were experienced professionals whose concerns about those issues were assuaged at the time by the developer’s sales staff, who confidently stated that the purchase was covered by a Premier Guarantee warranty, which gave the buyers a 10-year guarantee similar to the National House Building Council’s. That sounds good, does it not—a Premier Guarantee warranty? It sounds pretty solid, and something to give certainty. Being compared to the NHBC’s guarantee gives it an air of respectability.

However, buyers might find that they have more rights if something goes wrong with their kettle. It is at best a dispute resolution service, not a guarantee, and is seriously compromised by virtue of being funded by the developers against whom it is meant to enforce the guarantee. Premier not only provides the warranty on the build of Mostyn House but also acts as the approved inspector in respect of building regulations. Premier is effectively employed as the building control and building regulation compliance body to inspect, approve and guarantee works undertaken by the developer that it is supposed to be insuring against.

After four years of back and forth, Premier’s surveyor recently viewed the development and agreed with the defects raised by residents. However, Premier is not prepared to progress the claims, even though water is pouring into apartments right now from the defective roofs, gutters and walls. Premier said:

“The remit of our service is to attempt to bring the two parties together, investigate the dispute and make recommendations…That being said, the conciliation service will not be suitable for all disputes.”

That is not a guarantee or warranty; it is a cop-out.

It is clear that some works by the developer were non-compliant, as additional fire separation works and modifications have had to be undertaken since occupation took place. How did Premier sign off those works in the first place? It is plainly evident that there has been a general lack of supervision of the development during its construction and a lack of inspections by the approved inspector. If it finds too many faults, it will have to pay out under its own insurance policy, funded by the developer. It is therefore easy to see how the temptation to be less than thorough could arise.

My constituents have been let down. The ombudsman has proven toothless and the Solicitors Regulation Authority ineffective. Indeed, anyone who cares to look at Trustpilot ratings for the ombudsman, the SRA and Premier will see that there is very little customer satisfaction anywhere in the country. There is a wholesale failure of regulation across the board on many issues, including in this case and others we have heard about. It is time that the Minister and the Government listened and sorted out this shambles once and for all.