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That is very much the case, which is why I am arguing for new regulations that would require licence owners to be fit and proper people,
ensuring that if they did not comply with the site licence, it would be removed from them and they would be forced to sell up.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned that Mr. Small owns a couple of park home sites in his constituency, and the National Association of Park Home Residents advises me that Mr. Small and his family have a number of sites. I shall read the names into the record. They are Battisford Park homes at Plympton, Beauford Park at Norton Fitzwarren in Taunton, Beechdown Park, Totnes road in Paignton, in the hon. Gentlemans constituency, Bickington Park in Barnstaple, Brimley Gardens in Bovey Tracey in my constituency, and Brookmeadow Park, High street, Wroughton, in Swindon. I remember the former Member for Swindon, Julia Drown, complaining about Mr. Small and the difficulties experienced in tracking him down. We had some conversations then about the difficulties that the Smalls were causing on the site in her constituency.
Mr. Small also owns Broughton Park, Shoreditch, in Taunton, Buckingham Orchard, which I have already mentioned, in Chudleigh Knighton, Byways Park, Strode road, in Clevedon, north Somerset, Green Lane Park Homes at Breinton in Hereford, Hillside Park, Totnes road in Paigntonhis other site in the constituency of the hon. Member for TotnesKingsway Park, Tower Lane, Tower road north, Warmley in Bristol, Manleaze Park at Cannards Grave, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, Moorland Park on Old Moorland road, Bovey Tracey, again in my constituency, Newlands Park on Sidmouth road, Aylesbeare, Ringswell Park, Middlemoor in Exeter and Woodlands Park in Tedburn St. Mary, also in my constituency.
I have never had any complaints from my constituents about Woodlands Park, but I know that Members have had problems with many of the other parks, so if the media pick up any of this story, I recommend that they have a look at those parks, talk to the residents and find out whether there is a problem with the management in their area. I am not saying that all those parks are badly managed, but in my experience and that of the hon. Member for Totnes, my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey), who sadly cannot be present, and others, Mr. Small has caused problems.
Mr. Small is not the only one, however. In relation to sales and commission, there are difficulties not only with the percentage fee, but with the requirement of the park home owner to determine who can buy, and move on to, the pitch. The Government amended the legislation, and they were wise to do so, because it had been recommended. However, they have not got rid of all the problems.
For example, Mrs. Hughes, a resident of the United States of America contacted me. Her mother, who lived at Buckingham Orchard but has since sadly died, had her park home valued by an estate agent at £60,000. She eventually sold it to Mr. Small for £10,000 and, to add insult to injury, I think he may have been entitled to take 10 per cent. commission on top. He did so, I believe, on the ground that the home was in breach of regulationsregulations that, to my knowledge, the local authorities had been telling him and the previous site owner to comply with for the past 15 years. Now,
when someone wishes to sell, they are told, You cant sell, youre in breach of regulation, therefore I am not permitting the sale.
Mrs. Hughes was, I believe, defrauded of £50,000, if the valuation was £60,000. In my view, she was certainly defrauded of some money, but she is not the only one. I apologise for not having mentioned the next case to the Member in whose constituency it occurred, but I could not find the hon. Member concerned. I have a letter here from residents of a park home in Radcliffe on Trent. It says that Wyldecrest Properties Ltd is
repeatedly putting obstacles in the way to prevent her
from selling, as she is aware that legally she can assign a home to a new purchaser at the same rent as it is at present.
Its too close to other properties.
Another park home in another part of the country is using exactly the same excuse to block a sale. In that instance, I do not know whether the park home owner could buy the park home at a knock-down price or not, but I suspect that might be the case.
I would like to reveal the other problems that people on these sites may face. I come back to Mr. Small again, because earlier I mentioned the site at Bickington Park, near Barnstaple, North Devon. In that case, the installation of a new home that had been sold was moved. One might think that if someone bought a new home, it would be fault-free. However, in this case the son of the people who moved there alleged that there had been incorrect installation of the home. I shall read from his letter:
This is...the most serious issue of them all. Upon visiting the home, it was pointed out to a representative from Homeseeker
that some of the interior doors were not closing properly. Upon further inspection, he discovered a bulge in the floor. The Homeseeker representative was of the opinion that the axle stands on which the home stands were not placed correctly, and in addition there did not appear to be enough of them. He emphasised that it was the responsibility of the site owners to rectify this fault, but unsurprisingly the site owners are insisting that Homeseeker are culpable.
was determined that his residents should settle into their new homes in peace and quiet and not feel as if they were living in the middle of a building site.
Well, I hate to say it, but although that might make for good reading in a magazine about park homes, the reality for people in Buckingham Orchard is that they have been living on a building site for the last five years.
During that time, the local authority chief executive in the area and some of the other local authority officers have changed and the new officers are far more robust than their predecessors. However, the original local authority chief executive wrote to me to say that it
would take several years for the work at Buckingham Orchard to be completed. That is not acceptable. It is not acceptable that we allow elderly people who have retired to what they hope will be comfort and quiet decent living to be subjected to life on a tip, and Buckingham Orchard at times was a tip, with wrecked park homes left piled up and rubbish strewn over empty pitches. That is not the quality of life that the residents expected; it is not the quality of life that they deserve, and it is not the quality of life that we should allow them to endure just because we are unable to come up with the right legislation to correct some of the problems.
I have a final point about pitch fees. Again, the Government wisely listened to the working group and introduced legislation on the issue. I must say that the Government were loth to introduce changes to the legislation in the first place and they said that they did not want to introduce them in the Housing Bill.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who was at the time the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, stated at a meeting of the all-party group on park home owners that she would not introduce those changes. She was confronted by me and a Conservative shadow spokesman on housingnot the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman)but we persuaded the Under-Secretary, as she was then, that we would not oppose the Bill and we would support it if the Government accepted the changes that we suggested. As they did not take up extra time, the Government introduced the changes. They are to be congratulated on that. It also shows that all-party working on some issues can be effective.
I can tell the Minister that there are other issues on which we need some all-party work and I hope that we can make some of the other changes that we need. He will find that there is common cause among Members in Westminster Hall today on some of those changes.
Pitch fees were changed so that the Government could allow other regulatory changes to be factored in. I believe that there is a site somewhere in HampshireI do not have a note of the name on my filewhere the pitch fee review took inflation into consideration. There was an appendix of some of the additional costs. I shall list some of them:
Costs of letters advising owners of C&LG fact sheet
£0.28 / annum.
One off costs training / revision of M H acts...£0.22 / annum
Ongoing costs administration 14 day notices...£1.25 / annum
Park home base fund...£21.74 / annum
Fire regulations...£1.77 / annum.
I know that a lot of those costs may appear feasible, if perhaps a little petty£0.22 /annumbut over a large number of sites in an area they add up. In addition, one would think that such cost for fact sheets would be part of the general administrative cost included in peoples pitch fees.
However, for the life of me, I do not know how the park home owners came up with the idea that they would charge £15.76/annum for Additional maternity entitlement regulations. I am at a loss to understand
how someone can justify making that charge on people, in addition to their pitch fee, so that they can place their park home on a site.
I know that the Minister has an interest in this subject. He responded to the debate on Second Reading of the Housing and Regeneration Bill. I have also heard what he has said informally, as well as what he has said in Committee. I hope that he will respond positively when he is given the opportunity. There is cross-party consensus that something more needs to be done to protect park home residents, certainly on ensuring that fit and proper people run the sites. I hope that we can make progress and I look forward to hearing from him later.
I have two basic points to make to the Minister. The first is that I recall, many years ago as a young butchers lad, making deliveries on Elland road in Leeds to the pre-fabs, or pre-fabricated houses. My question to the Minister is simple. The construction of a pre-fab, of which there were many in that area of Leeds at that time, and the construction of a park home are somewhat similar, and in terms of dwelling space and so on they are also somewhat similar. My understanding, which may be wrong, is that there is a different status in law for park homes. When the Minister is considering what to do, it seems that that legal status is a potential route for him to explore, because the pre-fabs were constructed, of course, immediately after world war two, allegedly temporarily but it was only 45 or 50 years later that they were removed, often with protests by the occupants. So I pose that as an issue for the Ministers delectation.
I would like to make a second point. I do not claim to have the expertise with which the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) so eloquently introduced the debate, and I certainly have not done the same amount of research as him. However, I can smell injustice from a fair distance. When it comes to the park homes in my constituency, I can smell the injustice from here, because we have Mr. Adams, who is perhaps a relative, in some way, of Mr. SmallI do not know. Perhaps he is the bad cousin of Mr. Small, because Mr. Adams has been forcing people out of the park homes in my constituency at the cost of £1,000 per home.
It is fair to say that some of these issues have been hidden away because they are internalised within the self-described Gypsy community. Within that community, people have been removed from their park homes, and they are people who have lived there, or whose relatives have lived there, for many generations. In the Five Acres caravan site in Scrooby in my constituency, which is the worst example, a range of people have been, in essence, forced out for different reasons.
I have a key question for the Minister and it is also a question for the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) on the Opposition Front Bench. My Conservative district council seems unwilling to take any legal action, despite requests from me and my constituents to take such action.
I seek clarification about the law in this area, and if my understanding of it is right, I shall seek action from the Conservatives about their recalcitrant councillors in Bassetlaw. I understand that when there have been serious breaches of the law, local authorities have the powerin essence, a dutyto take legal action on behalf of the relevant people. My constituents have requested that such action should be taken, but that has not happened.
After suggesting that the local authority was empowered to take action on this issue, I received letters from the chief executive of Bassetlaw district council, this year, suggesting that the illegal eviction of a resident from a park home is a private matter that should be resolved between individuals. Such cases often involve elderly people who have never been to court in their lives and who do not have the resources to do so. I am no expert in taking such matters forward, but it seems to me that if the law obliges the local authority to act, it should act. If my reading of the law is correct, and local authorities have those powers, they should use them. Two years ago, Bassetlaw claimed to have such powers. Will the Minister write to the council, outlining what its powers are and why it would be appropriate, if there have been clear breaches of the law, to use them?
Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) on securing the debate, and on his consistent campaigning on behalf of park home residents across the country. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann); I was born in his constituency, and well know many of the issues that he has raised. I, too, shall attempt to be brief, so I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I rattle through the key points. Park homes play a significant role in providing low-cost accommodation, and the hon. Member for Teignbridge is right to highlight the prevalence of retired people who live in park homes. There are a significant number on the east Lincolnshire coast, particularly around Skegness and Ingoldmells in my constituency.
There are four key issues that I want the Minister and his civil servants to consider, the first of which is the pitch fee. Despite the relevant changes to the Mobile Homes Act 1983, a landlord in my constituency is trying to raise the pitch fee by 25 per cent., with absolutely no consultation with residents and certainly with no agreement. In another park, the landlord is attempting to impose a pitch fee increase that is above the retail price index, again without consultation. When residents resist, through the residents association, the landlord issues letters, via a solicitor, threatening not only to evict individuals but to shut down the whole park, by taking it to court, thereby evicting everyone. The Minister and hon. Members will understand that that causes great concern and consternation. The problem gets worse. An elderly couple is in dispute with that site
owner, who used to be a residents association chairman. They have managed to obtain grants for a lift to help the wife get into her home, but the landlord refused to give permission for the works to be carried out while they were in dispute about the pitch fee. Those are the sorts of people with whom we are dealing, and that issue should be considered closely.
The second issue, which the hon. Member for Teignbridge has also mentioned, is the wheeze that some landlords use of adding costs for the provision of services such as road improvements, water and sewerage. In one park in my constituency, the sewerage system does not work properly and the landlord will not put it right.
The third issue, which my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and other hon. Members raised, is the commission rate of properties that are bought and sold. I understand that good park home owners sometimes invest the vast majority of that 10 per cent. figure into the park to provide or better facilities and services to residents. More often than not, however, that is not the case. There needs to be much greater transparency, so that residents and residents associations, as the representatives of people who live on the park, can see how that money is being spent and whether it is going straight into the landlords pocket or is being reinvested into the park. It is important that residents understand what they are getting into when they buy on to a park, but that is not the case in my constituencyother hon. Members are noddingwhere there is not a fundamental understanding. The point about legal advice that was made earlier is absolutely right.
The fourth area that the Minister should consider is the role of the local authority. There is no duty on the local authority to enforce when there is a breach of site licence conditions. However, I understand that, to some extent, because, ultimately, a local authoritys only sanction is to remove a sites licence, in which case the residents would no longer be allowed to stay there and the local authority would have a duty to house them. Clearly, no local authority is going to do that, because of the additional cost.
Further changes to the 1983 Act are needed, but there are things that the Minister could do now, without changing the current law or introducing primary legislation. At the meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for the welfare of park home owners that the Minister kindly attended, he mentioned that he was considering a tribunal system. It would help if he were to update us regarding the implementation of a tribunal system by which disputes between landlords and residents may be resolved. It would also be helpful if his Department provided a simplified guide for residents about their legal rights, so that they understand exactly where the law stands on protecting their rights. His Department should also put more pressure on local authorities to implement existing law and should ensure that they enforce site licences, because that clearly is not happening across the country. Will he compile a list of park homes and owners for the public, so that people can see which park owners are doing their job properly and which are not? That would effectively be a name and shame operation.
In conclusion, it is clear that the current legislative structure is not working. It still allows inappropriate behaviour by many landlords to the detriment of park home residents, many of whom bought their homes in
good faith but are not being allowed quiet enjoyment of them. I believe that the Minister is serious about looking into this issue, and he needs to look carefully at the issues that I have raised.
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