Communities and Local Government - Minutes of EvidenceHC 177-ii

Back to Report

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee

on Monday 5 March 2012

Members present:

Mr Clive Betts (Chair)

Heidi Alexander

Bob Blackman

Simon Danczuk

George Hollingbery

Mark Pawsey


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Ken Ayres, Acting Chair, Park Home Residents’ Association, Tony Boardman, park home resident, David Buckle, park home resident, Pauline Jones, park home resident, and Wendy Stephens, park home resident, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Good afternoon, everyone. I am pleased to see so many people here today. You are all very welcome. I am Clive Betts MP; I am Chair of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee. With me here are my colleagues, who are all Members of Parliament and members of that Select Committee. We are conducting an inquiry into park homes, and this is the first evidence session that we are holding. We will also hold more evidence sessions back in Westminster in due course.

What we do as a Select Committee is look at an issue and invite people to write in and give evidence to us. We have had over 200 submissions, which is a very large number indeed, from people writing in and giving us their views on the situation with regard to park homes. We have had a visit today and we have been around a couple of sites. We also then have witnesses, as you are today, to speak to us, then more witnesses in London. When we have collected all the evidence together, we produce a report, which can contain recommendations, if we think there are things that need to be changed. That report goes to Government, and then the Government eventually reply with their views on the report that we have done. There is a little bit of progress down the line to go. You can look at this information on our parliamentary website, which will keep you abreast of all the evidence we receive, and, eventually, of our report, when it is produced. In the end, the report is produced on the evidence that we have received. We do not come with any preconceived views; we listen to what people have got to say to us. We are members of different political parties. This is a crossparty report and we try to get agreement at the end of the day.

I will just make an opening statement. We have received, as I say, an awful lot of evidence-over 220 written memoranda-most of which have now been published on the Committee’s website. Where those who have submitted written evidence have asked for their names to be withheld and where serious allegations have been made directly against individuals, mostly but not exclusively by park home owners against site owners, names and addresses have been redacted in the published material. The material on the webpage, therefore, gives a substantially anonymised record of matters where many consider there are problems. The purpose of this session will be to probe the extent and nature of the issues and problems identified from the written evidence, their causes and possible changes to alleviate them. A transcript of the evidence given today will be published within a week. If, during the evidence sessions, serious allegations are made against identifiable persons or organisations, the Committee may, in the interest of fairness, ask any person against whom allegations are made to reply in writing to these allegations. These replies may be published by the Committee as well. That is to keep fairness and balance in all our proceedings. I also have to say, if anyone makes a reference to something that is currently in a case before the courts, then we suggest that you do not do that in the first place and, if you do, I may have to intervene and stop you, because we are not, according to the parliamentary rules, allowed to discuss matters that the courts are currently considering. That is just to make sure everyone understands the position we are in, at the very beginning.

You are most welcome. We are here, as I say, as a parliamentary inquiry, but our intention is simply to try to get to the facts of the case and for you to have an opportunity to tell us what your views are. To begin with, welcome to the first set of witnesses. Perhaps you could just say your name and, if you have a particular responsibility, tell us what that is. That would be helpful. If we just go along the line, please tell us who you are.

David Buckle: I am David Buckle, and I am a park home resident.

Pauline Jones: I am Pauline Jones, and I am a park home resident.

Ken Ayres: I am Ken Ayres. I am currently head of the Bournemouth boroughwide association for residents.

Tony Boardman: Tony Boardman, park home resident.

Wendy Stephens: Wendy Stephens, park home resident.

Q2 Chair: Thank you. Mr. Ayres, I think you have a statement at the beginning that you would just like to read to us to set the scene. Is that right, Mr Ayres; are you going to do that?

Ken Ayres: Okay. Good afternoon, honourable lady and gentlemen, and Mr Chairman. I am Ken Ayres. I moved back to England eight years ago on to a park home site in Bournemouth. When I arrived on this park, I knew nothing of the fact that, once on a park, you come under a different set of rules than if you live in bricks and mortar. This shocked me at first, because I could see no reason for these laws being different, and then I met two chaps on the park who were currently running the residents’ association and decided to join them to get us some better rights. These two gentlemen had been fighting for these rights for some years. I joined the residents’ association and have now ended up heading it on our park as general secretary.

In my time on the park, I have witnessed to my amazement blocked sales, water pipes ruptured and pushed up through the floor to flood the home so it could not be sold, large bonfires lit to choke residents with breathing difficulties, and one home burned to the ground. The legislation that we come under is far too weak. Local authorities are not in possession of the power to control these bad owners, and they give decent owners a bad name. A fine of £2,500 is nothing to them, and this industry is in need of a complete revamp, because, as I say, these owners give the decent owners a bad name.

Licences should be easier to revoke, and the threat of this would make the owners think twice. If things are allowed to slide on, there will be casualties, as we nearly had on a park home site in Oxford five years ago. I have written to the Prime Minister on two occasions, and he has assured me that these things are being looked into, and I presume your current panel is a result. Thank you, Mr Chairman.

Q3 Chair: Thank you very much for that statement. In the end as a Select Committee, we are independent in that sense; we decide on the inquiries we do, and I explained the process for Government to respond to us. But certainly one of the reasons why the inquiry is looking at some of these issues is that concerns have been raised. We will ask a number of questions now. If one person wants to answer on behalf of all of you, that is fine. There is no need to repeat what someone else has said if you agree with it. If you have a different point of view, then please say so.

In general terms, do you find that the owners of sites do keep them in a reasonable condition and maintain them satisfactorily? If they do not, what actions have you got at present that enable you to try to ensure that those things are put right? Are those actions effective or are they not fit for purpose? Mr Boardman, would you like to begin?

Tony Boardman: Yes, I would. In the main, the park that I live on is maintained to a fairly low standard. Any problems that we have on the park are difficult to bring to any conclusion because, on our park, we do not have a published address or telephone number where we can contact the park owner. Any problems that we have are mainly done through a third party, who happens to be a bit of a maintenance man, who is or is not on the park when we want him. For the roads, the paths, the lighting, whatever, we cannot physically contact the park owner, so it generally does not get done until he sees fit to do it.

Q4 Chair: When you say a "maintenance man", is it literally that, is it the agent of the owner or is it simply someone who is contracted to do some work?

Tony Boardman: It is a jobbing builder who comes on to the park to do the work for the park owner.

Q5 Chair: Does anybody else want to make comments on this issue? Have you had a need to go to the local council and try to get them to intervene to try to improve matters, and has that been successful?

Ken Ayres: Many times. The council has tried but not always successfully.

Q6 Chair: Have you had any explanation from the council about why they have not been successful in trying to get these problems resolved?

Ken Ayres: As I said in my statement, the licensing officer in particular does not have the powers that he should have to intervene, in our estimation.

Q7 Chair: One thing I suppose would be said by the owners is they only have a certain amount of money to spend. Perhaps if the residents would pay a bit more in fees, then the owners would have a bit more to invest. Have there been any discussions along those lines? How would that go down with the owners of the homes?

Ken Ayres: According to the implied terms, the owner is supposed to consult with the residents’ association but, unfortunately, our owner never consults with anybody. He just turns up at seven o’clock in the morning, gets on with it and tells you to get out of the way.

Tony Boardman: We have a written agreement-or should have. All park home residents should have a written agreement with the park owner, in which he sets out what his responsibilities are and he also sets out what your responsibilities are-in other words, the park home resident. Again, on the park that I live on, the park owner seems not to do anything or very little of the items that he has actually stated are his responsibilities.

Q8 Heidi Alexander: When you moved into your home, how much discussion did you have with the owners of the site when you were going through the buying process about the mechanism for keeping the areas nice and well maintained? Did you have a discussion about how it would all work in practice?

Tony Boardman: Yes.

Q9 Heidi Alexander: What were your expectations at that stage, what did you believe would happen and how has that differed since you have moved into your home?

Tony Boardman: When we moved in, we had approximately an hour and a half’s discussion with the park owner in a garage on the site, in which he set out what his rules and regulations were and how he expected us to conduct ourselves. We have been living on the site for 14 years, and we have conducted ourselves rigidly to the rules and regulations that he set down without any reciprocal action.

Q10 Heidi Alexander: So were you led to believe, at that stage, that the simple things that you were talking about in terms of the maintenance of the park would be sorted out as a matter of course? You were told that would happen but, in your experience, that has not happened.

Tony Boardman: Yes, absolutely. We were led to believe that the park was for retired and semiretired people, with no animals, no pets and no children. Now it seems to be the case that anyone who has got the wherewithal to pay him for a home or whatever can come on. We have under25s on there now, for instance. We have people coming on with cats and this sort of thing-much younger people than it was originally designed for and thought would be living on there.

Q11 George Hollingbery: Did any of you sign a binding contract with the owner about any of these issues?

Tony Boardman: Yes.

Q12 George Hollingbery: Do you have a copy in your possession?

Tony Boardman: Yes.

Q13 George Hollingbery: Good. Normally there should be a binding contract.

Tony Boardman: Yes.

Q14 George Hollingbery: Is there any hint or can you give us any indication of whether you feel that somebody who came to a park home negotiation with overt advice from, say, an accompanying solicitor might find it rather more difficult to buy a home in the first place?

Tony Boardman: I am not sure if I understood that.

Q15 George Hollingbery: What I am questioning here is that, it seems to me, there are at least some home park owners who do not seem to be terribly well advised, and it is probably a rather better prospect for a park owner who is not particularly, shall we say, motivated by public spirit to allow such people on to the site rather than those who are well advised. Do any of you have any evidence to offer at all that, if somebody comes with proper advice, with solicitor’s advice and so on and so forth, they are less likely to be accepted by a park owner?

Tony Boardman: No evidence of that, but again, and I can only speak about our park, we have people living on our park who have not actually ever seen or spoken to the park owner.

Q16 George Hollingbery: Yet you signed an agreement and say you have one in your possession. Are you saying to us that there are plenty who do not have such an agreement in any way, shape or form?

Tony Boardman: Yes.

Q17 George Hollingbery: I see, Chairman, there is plenty of nodding going on in the chamber. It seems a rum state of affairs.

Tony Boardman: Our particular park owner now seems to have devolved most of the legalities for the sale of the park homes to a local estate agent, and they seem to do all of the free selling bits, but without full information of what happens or what is expected on the park.

Q18 George Hollingbery: I think I can only properly ask the witnesses in front of us, Chairman, rather than for a show of hands, but can we just ask the individual park home owners here whether they have in their possession what they regard as a full and frank exchange of views and information in a contract that they signed with their full knowledge? That is two; two people on the panel seem to have had full knowledge of what it was they were signing. As a matter of curiosity, we have had some evidence today that park owners seem entirely capable, able and within their rights to change the size of plots, as they wish, to move fences and so on and so forth. Is that something that was specified in your agreement when you saw it?

Tony Boardman: Yes.

Ken Ayres: The problem is that, especially in my case, the park owner who I bought my home from has since changed. We now have a new park owner. When the park owner changes, the regulations on the site change as well, in most instances.

Q19 George Hollingbery: I will make the comment for the record, Chairman: that seems like a very odd state of affairs. If you have signed an agreement with that owner and the ownership has transferred, it should still presumably be binding between both sides of the contract.

Ken Ayres: It should be.

David Buckle: Can I come in with my deputation now, just to clear up this word that keeps being used? The word is "should". I and many others would like the site licensing conditions to be the national standard and not drafted by individual local authorities. Also, we would like the ambiguous word "should" removed from the phraseology and replaced by the word "must". In the High Court, Judge Ken Potter, in the case of Esso v Edwards et al*[21.37] adjudged that the word "should" could mean "in the fullness of time", whereas the word "must" is mandatory and immediate. Throughout the site licensing conditions that are applicable to my park, the word "should" is continually used, and only once is the word "must" used in those site licensing conditions. Throughout all the procedures, we keep hearing this word "should": a park owner should do this; a park owner should do that. It must be laid down as "must": a park owner must carry out their responsibilities. Thank you.

Q20 Simon Danczuk: My question is about how you end up living on a site that has a bad site owner. If I were moving out, I might look around the neighbourhood that I was thinking about buying a house in and speak to some of the people who live next door to the property. One would assume that you might take references from people. You were saying, Ken, that when you joined that particular site you met two guys who were already involved in campaigning against the existing site owner. Had you spoken to them before you had gone on the site-I am not saying that would have been easy-you might not have moved on the site at all. Did any of you take up references or speak to others besides the site owner before moving on there?

Ken Ayres: It was probably different in my case, because I had moved back from the Republic of Ireland after 12 years and did not know anybody in Bournemouth. I was looking for somewhere to rest my head, so to speak, while I looked around to buy bricks and mortar. Once I got on the site, I got involved in the residents’ association and decided to stay. As I say, I have been there ever since. The thing is with buying these park homes that a lot of people do not even employ a solicitor. It is like buying a car really; as long as you have the money, you are on.

Q21 Simon Danczuk: What about you, Tony, in terms of other people taking references and speaking to neighbours before they purchase? In terms of the car, we were having this discussion. At least with a car you get a logbook we were saying but, Tony, did you take up any references or anything?

Tony Boardman: No. I was in a poor situation, in that I had just lost my house and I was looking for somewhere to live. That is how I ended up on the home park.

Q22 Simon Danczuk: Wendy, what about you?

Wendy Stephens: I bought my home about 16 years ago. It was a different site owner, very nice people who ran the park very well. I purchased my home from my sister who had lived there for four years, so obviously I went on her experiences and all was okay.

Q23 Mark Pawsey: Chairman, we have had lots of evidence that people do not actually have a contract but, Mr Boardman, you said you have a copy of a paper contract between you and the park owner. Mr Buckle said it would be better if the contract had the word "must" in it rather than "should". Does your contract say "must" or "should"?

Tony Boardman: "Should" rather than "must".

Q24 Mark Pawsey: You said that you have tried to draw attention to the obligations of the park owner. Can I ask you how you drew them to his attention and, once you had drawn them to his attention, what his response was to your request that he complied with his obligations in that agreement?

Tony Boardman: Funnily enough, I have just written to the park owner, at the end of January, about a particular person who has just moved in next door to me and contravened the rules and regulations that the owner has actually set down for the park. To date, I have not had a reply.

Q25 Mark Pawsey: Is that the only letter you have written to him?

Tony Boardman: No, I have written several letters.

Q26 Mark Pawsey: You have simply had no replies to your letters.

Tony Boardman: Correct.

Q27 Bob Blackman: First of all, my apologies to the panel and to the rest of the audience; I have to go earlier than other colleagues to catch an earlier train back to London. I want to move on to the bit about the fees and charges that you incur as a result of being owners. One of the issues of course is striking a balance between the site owners’ responsibilities, their income and their ability then to balance up those responsibilities with pay. At the moment under legislation, if you sell your home, the site owner is entitled to a 10% fee on that home. If that was to be lowered, presumably site owners would increase the charges for the site. Would you be prepared to see that happen?

David Buckle: No, because the pitch increase is governed by the RPI, the retail prices index, and that is the September figure. If the selling commission came down, no doubt the park owners would push to get rid of the RPI. This has been put in front of Parliamentary Committees before, and it was rescinded by IPHAS, the Independent Park Home Advisory Service, by Alan Savory, whom you probably know of. He has attended Parliament quite a few times. Now, I would like just to digress: where a park owner blocks the sale of a home-

Q28 Bob Blackman: Sorry, I was going to come on to that in a minute. Can I just ask if anyone on the panel would prefer to see that position because, at the moment, there is no proposal to do so? I just wonder if any of the panel would agree that that is a good way-

Ken Ayres: There needs to be regulation in these pitch fees. An example I would give you is I have one of the smallest homes on our park. Some of the bigger pitches are four times the size of mine, but I pay the biggest pitch fee on the park for one of the smallest homes. There needs to be regulation on these pitch fees, because it is ridiculous. If you buy your home from a park owner, under present legislation, he can set your pitch fee as high as he likes and there is nothing to stop it. If you buy off a previous resident, he cannot charge you any more than that resident has paid.

Q29 Bob Blackman: Would you prefer it if, instead of pitch fees, there was a more transparent position so that there were clear service charges for the services provided by, effectively, the landlord. That would then be reflected in the fees you paid, instead of, as you say, Ken, here is a fee you have paid and you have no idea what it is going towards. Would that be a better and more transparent way of paying for your services?

Ken Ayres: There should definitely be more transparency in the pitch fees, so that we know what is being paid or what maintenance is being allowed for in that pitch fee. At the moment, we have no idea, because it has never been made transparent.

Q30 Bob Blackman: How, for example, are electricity, gas and water bills passed on to you?

Ken Ayres: We pay our electricity to the park owner.

Q31 Bob Blackman: Do you get a separate bill or is that conglomerate?

Ken Ayres: The park manager goes around and reads the meters and you get a bill quarterly, yes. Gas we buy directly from either British Gas or one of the other companies.

Q32 Bob Blackman: Does that apply for everybody here on the panel?

Ken Ayres: I think some parks are different.

Tony Boardman: On our park, we have electricity and gas through the utility companies.

Q33 Bob Blackman: Do you pay them directly or does the park owner?

Tony Boardman: We pay them directly.

Pauline Jones: For our electricity, they read the meters, then the site owner sends us a bill and we pay her whatever the bill comes to. That applies to the water as well. For gas, we are on Calor gas at the moment but, when I read my deputation, I am hoping to enlighten you on different aspects of that.

Q34 Bob Blackman: Has anyone not received bills for their services for a long time-electricity, gas or water?

David Buckle: I know of one park in Bournemouth that has not had a water bill now for seven years, so when a resident wishes to sell their home, the park owner says, "I need £1,000 off you towards the water bill, otherwise I will block your sale."

Q35 Bob Blackman: Clearly one of the issues before us, potentially, is to improve the regulation that exists for local authorities to do more, but there will be a charge for those services. Naturally, the park owner is going to try to pass those charges on to you. If there were to be stronger regulation, would you be prepared to pay a bit of extra money on your service charges, your ground rent or whatever in order to ensure that proper regulations were in place?

Tony Boardman: Yes.

Bob Blackman: You would, Tony. What about others?

David Buckle: I would have to consider that.

Ken Ayres: In my present position, I am paying well over the top anyway.

Q36 Simon Danczuk: What examples of intimidation have you guys experienced personally?

Wendy Stephens: It involves sale blocking. The site owner blocked two sales of mine personally. My sister and I lost our mother a couple of years ago, and we marketed her property. We found a buyer, and he caused problems with the buyer. They had an argument and the site owner told the buyer that he could not come on to any of his parks. At the end of the day, I lost that buyer. Unfortunately, my sister at the time was not terribly well, so we agreed a sale to the park owner that was £10,000 less than what we had from the original buyer so, because of circumstances, we went ahead and sold to the park owner.

Q37 Simon Danczuk: Just to be clear on that, are you suggesting that the park owner chose an argument with the potential buyer? In what way did they do that then?

Wendy Stephens: Obviously it would be hearsay, just going on what the purchaser told me.

Simon Danczuk: The owner asked to meet the-

Wendy Stephens: No, he just makes phone calls. He demands to know something without telling the person who he is calling who he actually is. This causes problems to start off with. I cannot remember exactly how the conversation went, but it was quite insulting, which brought a reaction from the purchaser, who was quite a volatile gentleman anyway, so it was quite heated.

Q38 Simon Danczuk: Are there any other examples of intimidation by owners?

Pauline Jones: There has been intimidation on our park, but it happened to another resident, so I cannot-

Q39 Simon Danczuk: Could you tell me the story, Pauline?

Pauline Jones: I cannot remember offhand. Yes, we also had water meters fitted, because we have hosepipes on site and some people use them more often than others. Although the water bill is for the whole site, if someone uses more water than the others, we all have to share in that cost, if you know what I mean, so some of us decided to have water meters fitted underneath the sink, not outside. When we told the site owner, she was not having that. What she said is, "You can’t do that, because who is going to pay the surplus of the water that is left over?" If we all pay what we have used and there is some outstanding water, who is going to pay for that? She said, "I am not having it," and we went to court about it.

Q40 Simon Danczuk: Were you successful or not?

Pauline Jones: No, we were not; we could not have water meters. In hindsight, where we paid-

David Buckle: Do you want me to carry on for you?

Pauline Jones: Yes, please.

David Buckle: A gentleman on this lady’s park had a medical condition and he had a wet room fitted. He was using more water on the park than anybody else, so he thought it was only just and fair that he should pay for the water that he used, and he had a meter fitted. On this particular park, the water bill is divided between the 17 homes proportionately.

Pauline Jones: There are 12, sorry.

David Buckle: The park owner took the gentleman to court and he was found guilty for fitting the water meter and what he had done. Also, the court found the park owner guilty of something, and they were fined and paid the costs. That is what happened in this case; it was purely that the gentleman wanted to pay for what he had used.

Q41 Simon Danczuk: Are there any other final examples of intimidation that you have experienced yourselves or that you are aware of?

Ken Ayres: Yes. I had to go to the aid of this lady on the end, when the park owner was abusing her, screaming like a banshee. There are witnesses to that. In the end, I had to call the police. They came down and advised him that it would be a lot safer if he were to leave the park immediately, which he did within three minutes. The language he used with this lady was definitely abusive. Something else I witnessed, when there were two homes for sale on our park, was the owner had two fellows lighting bonfires on the site. The two homes that were for sale suddenly had their water supply ruptured and the pipes rammed up through the floor to flood the homes, so they could not be sold.

Q42 Heidi Alexander: Could I just ask a followup question to the example that you gave, Wendy, about your experience with the sale of the property, and the fact that you lost the purchaser and had to sell it to the site owner for a figure that was £10,000 less? Did the site owner then sell that property on? If so, do you know how much they then sold it for?

Wendy Stephens: No. He has recently changed what he usually does with the old homes. Usually, he dismantles them on the site and then they are all taken off. Now, he is renting them, so my mother’s home is still on the park and he is letting it to a gentleman at the moment.

Q43 Chair: We want to make sure you have had the opportunity to tell us everything you want to tell us today. If we have not asked the right questions, that is fair enough. I think Pauline has something down there you want to read to us, have you? Go on then, Pauline.

Pauline Jones: I have lived on a park home site in Bournemouth for 10 years. My home is 12 years old and was the first new one placed on the site. There are 12 homes in total on our small site. The issues have been many: very poor site maintenance; car park bays not marked out for residents; electricity supply inadequate for our modernday park home, as one resident can affect the supply to another; lighting on the park is inadequate; the paths leading to residents’ homes are uneven and constantly being patched; the drains stand proud of the tarmac path, which can cause the residents to trip; our water supply is also inadequate, as one resident turning on a tap can affect the supply to their neighbours.

Our main concern is the cost of heating our homes. Why can we not have the same rights as people who live in bricks and mortar? Some residents on our small site are over 80 years of age. None of us want these problems at our time of life. We are still on bottled gas and we had no idea, when purchasing our homes, of how inconvenient and expensive this would be. A resident negotiated a deal with Calor and got the price down to £95 for two bottles instead of £102. The average bottle lasts nine days if we are very careful in the better winter conditions, plus our electric bills on average work out at £100 each quarter. In the last two years, the weather was really bad and a bottle only lasted one week. One elderly person gets through three bottles in two weeks. This elderly resident is on warfarin and other medication, which makes her feel the cold, so she needs her heating on constantly throughout the day. Over the past seven years, we the residents have been trying very hard to get mains gas into the site. The residents have offered to pay all the costs involved to have mains gas installed, but our park owner refuses to sign the form to allow workmen permission to enter the park to carry out the work. The residents themselves have worked hard to obtain the grant, all to no avail.

The park owner attended a residents’ meeting in which it was agreed for the work to commence, if the gas company put the park back to its original state. When the representative of the gas company visited the park owner to get the consent form signed, it was refused. When we asked why, the park owner replied, "This is my park. I will do what I want and, while I am the park owner, I will not agree." You can imagine how we all felt. At present, there are no incentives for an owner to do improvements on their sites. The majority just take our pitch fees and do not put this money aside for the upkeep of the work to be undertaken on the site. When our home is sold, the park owner receives 10% of the sale price. The average home is roughly £120,000 and, again, none of the commission is put back into the park. We have no mains gas, and our water and electric supply, which is, at the present, inadequate to meet the needs of modernday park homes must be greatly improved. We have said this so many times before, and hopefully someone is listening now. Thank you for listening.

Q44 Mark Pawsey: Pauline, in that account, you mentioned a couple of things. One was that you were unaware before buying your park home of the implications of operating on bottled gas. You have also told us that the average price of a home on your park is £120,000. That is an awful lot of money. It seems that the evidence we are getting is that not many people are taking professional advice or legal advice before spending such substantial sums. I wonder if you and your colleagues on the panel could comment on why people feel able to spend such significant sums of money without taking some advice before making the purchase.

Pauline Jones: I did not pay that amount when I moved on to my site, but that is taken as an average of all the sites. It is not just the price of the homes on my site.

Q45 Mark Pawsey: It is less the issue of the price that concerns me than the question of people not taking advice before entering into a contract with a park home owner. I am just wondering if you can explain to me why people seem to be able to spend such massive sums of money, without first of all going to somebody independent and seeing what they think about it.

Pauline Jones: I myself did have a solicitor, and they asked me if I had any concerns, and I said no. Originally, our site was a caravan site; those were done away with and the new park homes were put on. As I said in my statement, mine was the first one although I did not move in till two years later. It was a site management home. There was only one other new home. In all the years I have been there, I have seen all the old homes being taken off and all the new ones being put on.

Q46 Mark Pawsey: Did you pay a reasonable sum of money for the advice that you received from the solicitor?

Pauline Jones: I just paid the normal sort of-

Q47 Mark Pawsey: Do you think he gave you good advice?

Pauline Jones: No, he or she did not at the time. They asked me if there were any problems that they could look into. At that time, I said no, there were not.

Q48 Mark Pawsey: They did not suggest to you the possibility that, for example, your gas bills might be substantially higher because of having to operate on bottled gas rather than being on mains gas.

Pauline Jones: When we first moved in there, the bottled gas was only £44 for two bottles. Well, the price of gas bottles never comes down. Every time, it goes up but it never comes down like mains gas or electricity prices. It continues to go up. How far do we have to go? We keep paying these high prices and it never comes down.

Q49 Mark Pawsey: I just wonder whether some of the other members of the panel might just contribute to the broader question.

David Buckle: I purchased my home through a solicitor, and the solicitor dealt directly with the park owner. I was advised by the park owner’s estate agent that one had to be 55 or over, retired or semiretired and with no pets. The day that my furniture lorry came to move my boxes into the home, because it was fully furnished-and it cost me £142,000-the estate agent took me to one side and said, "I’m awfully sorry but there is a dog on the park. We had to let the dog on to secure the sale of a home, but the dog has to travel from the home to the outside of the park in a car." Then the park owners changed and now we have 25yearolds, 30yearolds, cats and dogs. I think there are more dogs on our park than there are people. Where the present park owner has blocked sales and either demolished homes or taken them off, he is now putting older homes on to the park and renting them out at £80 a week. His advertisement in the Daily Echo, our local paper, said, "DHSS welcome and homeless".

Q50 Mark Pawsey: Mr Buckle, you have moved on to broader things. I am just trying to get an understanding about the advice that occupiers of park homes get. Of two people who have given evidence, two have taken advice. The original message we were getting was that people did not take that kind of advice, so is our assumption that the majority of park owners do not take professional advice before entering into a contract wrong?

Tony Boardman: I would say that is right; they do not.

David Buckle: A great many solicitors are not au fait with the legislation that governs park homes.

Q51 Mark Pawsey: People are taking advice but the advice is generally bad.

David Buckle: Yes.

Ken Ayres: I tried to find a solicitor who knew anything about park home law after I moved on, and very few had any knowledge of it whatsoever.

Tony Boardman: I agree.

Ken Ayres: As for people who move on to the park without asking neighbours or the like, they mostly look at the glossy magazines that you can find in the Park Home magazine. It describes what an idyllic life it is, and an idyllic life it could be if you have the right sort of owner. We have a very good community despite everything else on our park. It also tells you that you can go online and see these wonderful homes, and they do look wonderful-they are like modernday bungalows-but it does not tell you anything about the harassment you are going to get afterwards.

Chair: At that point, I think we are going to have to draw this part of our evidence to a conclusion. Thank you all very much indeed for coming and speaking to us this afternoon. We now move on to the next panel. Thank you very much indeed.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Richard Grigg, Owner, Stour Park Site, David Curson, Director, Berkeleyparks, and Paul Tarr, Director, Berkeleyparks, gave evidence.

Q52 Chair: Thank you very much. We move on to our next panel of witnesses. You are all very welcome. Thank you for coming today to give evidence to us. For the sake of our records, could you just begin by saying your name and the organisation you represent, please?

Richard Grigg: Richard Grigg from Stour Park.

David Curson: David Curson from the Berkeley Leisure Group. We have 45 parks around the country.

Paul Tarr: I am Paul Tarr; I am also from Berkeleyparks.

Q53 Chair: We have had criticism-you have heard some of it from the owners of homes on park home sites, and indeed we heard some on our trip this morning-that the licensing system currently does not work, because local authorities do not really have the powers to enforce licence conditions and they cannot charge for licences, so they do not have the resources for them to employ the officers to make sure that licences are observed. Have you got any sympathy with that point of view?

Richard Grigg: Yes, I have. What we have heard this afternoon so far is double- Dutch to the three of us; it just sounds extraordinary. I have been in the business for 30 years and, in fairness, I would say that for most of those 30 years I have told everybody I have ever spoken to, whether they have been looking to buy on my park or somebody else’s park, to walk around and speak to other residents. It is just a sensible thing to do; it is a No. 1 thing. It would appear none of those people have done it. I know park owners will give all sorts of reasons-security and the rest of it, nonsense like that-but I have always said to people, "If you don’t walk round the park, then you could be walking into some problems in the future."

As far as the local authority goes, I have to say that I have a solution to offer the Committee. I do not like the idea of us all having to pay a licence fee to the local authority. Obviously we have our expenses, which are increasing every year, sometimes much more than RPI, I would say. Really, if you do that, it is penalising those of us who do not need a lot of adjudication, shall we say. How much should it be? Once it starts, say if it is £500 a park, £1,000 a park or £250, whatever it is, it will just go up and up and up, and so forth. Can I give you a quick spiel? Firstly, sale blocking; yes, I have every sympathy with residents who-

Q54 Chair: Can we just focus on the licence issue first? We will come on to those other issues in due course, if that is okay. We are trying to deal with a particular issue. I raised the issue about licensing.

Richard Grigg: It is about licences.

Q55 Chair: Can we just deal with the issue of the licence and the authority’s ability-

Richard Grigg: The whole problem, Mr Chairman, is about money. These unscrupulous park operators want as much money as possible, and every problem we have heard this afternoon and every problem that will come across your desk and your power is always about the park owner wanting as much money as possible, and their unscrupulous ways of getting it. If they did not have that attitude, you would hardly need much adjudication from the licensing authority. I do not know what my colleagues think.

David Curson: With regard to the licensing systems, as I said, we have 45 parks. We are dealing with a fair number of local authorities, and they are a right mixed bag. Some of them you never see from year to year; others are doing regular inspections. We do our best to work closely with them. We have a licence for each of our parks, and we follow the terms of that licence for each and every one. From our point of view, we ensure our licence conditions are met and we strive to achieve that for all of them.

Paul Tarr: We try to liaise with the site licensing officer as best we can, basically. As David said, on a lot of the parks they will do an annual inspection. Hopefully, on our parks they will not come up with too much, but sometimes they will give us a shortlist of maintenance items that need to be sorted, and we will sort them out as best we can, as soon as we can. We will liaise with the local authority and tell them what we are doing. Some local authorities will try to impose what we consider to be unfair regulations. For example, for a park with timber sheds, the local authority will come along all of a sudden and say, "Those timber sheds need to go by a certain date." That is troublesome for us and for the residents, because of the cost factor. There are various items like that where we have to liaise with the local authority and negotiate as we go along but, on the whole, we liaise with most of the local authorities quite well, I think.

Q56 Chair: Let me just try to look for a bit of help from you. Clearly there are accusations of problems on some sites. Now, they may not apply to your sites. We understand your indicating to us that you feel that you work well with your local authorities, but in some sites there appears to be a problem, which the local authorities do not appear to be able to resolve with the current rules. Is there a way of improving the regulatory environment, so that the bad parks, for want of a better description, which might give the whole industry a bad name, can actually be dealt with better?

Paul Tarr: Going back to basics, the local authority site licence, we have 45 of them and some of them are very, very old, probably back to the 1970s, and some of them are new, where the local authority has been proactive and incorporated the latest model standards into the site licence. It is very difficult. From our point of view, we negotiate with the local authority and deal with such matters, but to get a rogue park operator to deal with the local authority’s complaint, you would have to impose more powers to sort it out, but that would be a case of the local authority taking that park operator to court to remedy the site licensing agreements.

David Curson: I think it is a question of resources. We sometimes feel that a local authority will come to us to tick the box, because they know they can come along, say one or two things and we will do it. They go away pleased, but I think they do get intimidated on other parks. I wonder if perhaps they feel they cannot approach those as well, and that is part of the problem, because they do not have the resources and the back-up to do so.

Paul Tarr: We feel aggrieved sometimes that the local authority comes to us to do something and we will sort it out, but there may be a park down the road or two or three miles away where we have seen similar infringements and they do not seem to do anything about it.

Richard Grigg: I think that is a question of human nature. A local authority person, male or female, is just an ordinary person doing their job. As you probably got an impression from the residents who sat here before, these park owners can be fairly belligerent and unpleasant people. They have got the dosh; they have bought the park. You have heard what the attitude was: "It is my park," and so forth. It may be that, when you are at the front line, it is a different kettle of fish.

Q57 Chair: You seem to be, and I understand why, resistant to the idea that the licence might be charged for so that the local authority can have resources. Another way to do it, where a park owner is refusing to comply with the request from a local authority to meet a licence condition, is that the local authority could go in and do the work for them, and then charge that park owner for it. Would you think that might be a way forward that would be more appropriate?

David Curson: That is possibly workable but, again, it comes down to resources, and the local council needs to have those resources to do that. It is not something that would concern us, because we are up together, but yes, we could see that working elsewhere.

Paul Tarr: We have had quite a few local authorities say to us recently that they do not have the resources to issue a new site licence incorporating the new model standards. They do not have the time or resources to do that.

Richard Grigg: Mr Chairman, fair enough what we have just said, but let us get down to the reality of it. You are suggesting a truck with two, three or four ordinary guys working for the council, who are going to come on to the park where the guy is a rough diamond and start doing work. I just do not see it happening. I know in theory what you are saying could work and I would agree with it but, in reality, are they going to let them on the park?

Paul Tarr: Yes, I can see that could cause difficulties.

Q58 Chair: I think your indication is there may be some less than savoury people involved in this.

Richard Grigg: It is their property.

Paul Tarr: Basically it would be for the local authority to give the park owner a time to correct the faults and do it within that time. I suppose the only course from that would be a fine to put it right or, as you said, at the end of the day, they could empower themselves to go on and do the work and charge but, as Richard said, it would be difficult for certain parks, which are the parks you are trying to do it on.

Q59 George Hollingbery: Is there a chance that you guys feel that the industry has a responsibility to itself, and maybe a certification that you provide might work? You have trade associations, I believe. Or is it just that you make plenty of cash out of it as part of the property; it is up to them what they do with it. Is there potentially a reputational damage here for the entire industry, unless you are very careful?

Paul Tarr: We are very concerned with the reputation that we have with the rogue park operations tarring us all with the same brush. It is not fair. We have been going since 1955, and hopefully we are doing most of it right, most of the time. Yes, it does do damage, we are concerned about it and it needs to be addressed.

Q60 George Hollingbery: Just quickly, I think we are seeing the trade associations next week, so I do not want to probe too deeply, but would you have an appetite, as a member of a trade association, to be able to bar people from being part of that trade association?

Richard Grigg: If I may just say here, I remember some years back a meeting in London, where I think a branch of an association up north wrote into our headquarters saying that a certain park owner in their area wanted to become a member of BH&HPA. They were prepared to resign en bloc if our association gave them membership. In other words, they were a rogue park operator. When our association looked into it, really, when it came down to it, we could not actually refuse them. Do you remember this case, Paul? The situation was, and it was perhaps only once, he had not actually gone through the courts. Yes, he had done all the wrong things and so forth, but he did not have a piece of paper saying, "Look, you are a convicted felon," or whatever you like, so he had to become a member. We were just as hamstrung as anybody else.

Q61 George Hollingbery: In short, you do not believe there is any part for the industry itself to play in the efficient regulation of this sector.

David Curson: I think there is, and they are stepping up in more recent times. There are those who are excluded from membership. We do have quite a stringent vetting process, but again it comes down to on what grounds you can refuse them. There is quite a process, because I follow that as part of my branch association. The trade associations themselves of late have started to form a membership committee, and I know a colleague of mine is possibly up in front of that because of a court case. It is not necessarily to do with the bad running of the park-it is another issue-but because they are now going to court, they are up in front of the membership committee to answer why. The RPTs are now being introduced. As and when a park operator is in front of the RPTs, if they lose out, again they are being looked at more closely by the trade association.

Q62 Mark Pawsey: We have heard from Mr Hollingbery that we are going to take advice or evidence from the trade association later on, but it seems as though there is not a will currently within the trade association to do anything about what each of you three people giving evidence have spoken about-rogue park operators, unscrupulous people, belligerent and unpleasant people. Is it the role of Government then to make certain that these kind of people do not get to run park homes, by doing perhaps as the Government considered in its 2009 consultation, which is to make certain that a licence can only be given to a "fit and proper person"? Would you have any anxieties about the Government determining, through local authorities, who should be a park operator?

Richard Grigg: For 10 years, our association has been considering a "fit and proper person". In reality, it is a complete waste of time. You cannot, as far as I am aware, ban somebody from their own property. The second thing is they would just be replaced by somebody else from the same family or the same ilk. It just would not work. It is not like a publican where, if you take his licence away, he has no business. If you take somebody’s licence away, what are you going to do, run the park yourself? How many resources do you need to do that? When you get down to it, in reality, it is not going to work. It is all about money. They are not nice people anyway some of these park operators, but it is all about money. They follow the money. If they could make money selling cups of tea for hundreds of thousands of pounds, they would do that, and surplus water and whatever.

The only solution, and I am jumping ahead of what I was going to say earlier-and I might shock my colleagues to the left but it is just a suggestion-is to have a maximum fine of £250,000. After all, if some of your MPs are to be believed, such as Annette Brooke, who said it on the radio once, some of these park operators, through their dealings or misdealings, make 100 grand on the sale of a new home. I would add that I have never made anything like that. By the time it has come to court, they have probably made five or six of those deals, so they make a lot of money anyway. Make it really big. It is a simple way of dealing with it, because it hits their pocket. They can jump up and down all day but, if the fine comes in, that will concentrate their mind. The other thing, and the reason I make such a high figure as a suggestion, is when do judges ever really impose maximum sentences? If you look at horrendous road accidents or heinous crimes with a knife or a gun, judges rarely go for the maximum. £250,000 is a high figure; it is there if necessary. I just feel it is the only answer and the only way to concentrate their minds. If it drives them out of the business, great stuff. Let Paul and his colleagues take them over. It will be wonderful.

Q63 Mark Pawsey: You acknowledge that there are problems among the cohort of people who own park homes. One of the difficult challenges for us is that, in many cases, your residents are elderly. They are vulnerable. They are people who are enjoying some comfortable living after working hard. They are retired. You have in many ways a duty of care, so your solution is to drive some owners out of the sector by pricing them out by large fines. Is it not the case though that, in the same way as the licensing might be evaded, they would simply then pass the licence on to somebody else who may be equally disreputable? Is there not a danger that, if those fines were bigger, they would simply be even more unscrupulous in getting hold of more money in order to be able to meet the fines, which they would treat as a cost of operating?

Richard Grigg: I am sorry; I do not follow this. Supposing you fine park owner A £150,000 or £200,000, he has to pay that. What is he going to do? Hand it over to his niece who is going to do so bad it will cop him another £150,000? I do not think so; I think he would say, "I have had enough of this. I’m off."

Q64 Mark Pawsey: Your solution to the issue of rogue operators is simply to increase the fines.

Richard Grigg: That is mine as an individual. I would be interested to hear what my two colleagues have to say.

Q65 Mark Pawsey: Gentlemen, the same question to you.

David Curson: So long as it follows due process. I would hate to think we would get a £250,000 fine if our fire hoses were not working one day, because there was a block or leak or something. Obviously it has to be proportionate to the crime or fault.

Q66 Mark Pawsey: What would your view be of the "fit and proper person" test? Are you a little bit more sympathetic to that proposal than perhaps Mr Grigg might be?

David Curson: It is the same thing. Yes, we would like to see it. The industry has always supported it and I support it, but it really is difficult to see how you can get an effective method adopted.

Q67 Mark Pawsey: So the reputable part of the industry supports the "fit and proper" test.

David Curson: Yes.

Q68 George Hollingbery: Just on that front, would it not be possible just to stick a shell company in front of everything and flatten it if you get a fine or say, "The ‘fit and proper person’ test does not apply because it is a company that owns this site"?

David Curson: This is one of the problems, yes. They can hide behind a number of things. There are different family members; the rogue ones acquire a park from another rogue one. It is policing and managing that, isn’t it? Part of the problem with the "fit and proper person" test is how you police, monitor and manage it.

Q69 George Hollingbery: Presumably there is nothing to stop you sticking it in an offshore corporation if you were so minded. In other words, it is very complicated, but if it were achievable, you would be in favour. I am just going to move on, if I can, to the business angle-the way you run your parks and how you make your money. How do these things work? As far as I can see, there are potentially three major avenues of income. We will talk about expenses in a minute, but the income is: you can take a commission on a sale; you have pitch fees; and, if you manage to buy a home at a certain price, you can sell it on. Those seem to me to be the three major ways that park owners can make money. Is that right?

Paul Tarr: We do not, as a company, tend to buy homes from residents and sell them on. Yes, there are pitch fees and the sale of new homes, if we have a vacant base, and commission under the Mobile Homes Act agreement at 10% on the previously occupied home, on the resident selling their home. Those are our three items of income.

Richard Grigg: I was going to say about the pitch fee that there has always been criticism of the 10%. We can refer back a few years ago to a very expensive Governmentoriented inquiry into the finances of running parks. The long and short of it-and it was a fairly long inquiry that cost a lot of money-was that the residents want the lowest fixed cost. They are on fixed income anyway, most of them, as pensioners. They want the lowest fixed cost, week in, week out. The way that they achieve that or it is achieved for them is by having, in effect, a subsidised pitch fee. The 10% is usually only paid, if I can be perfectly frank, when they go out in a box. If it is a nice park, they do not want to leave until they die, so they are not going to pay it anyway. You cannot run a park and do upgrading or even some fairly significant maintenance factors on pitch fee alone; it just does not add up. However, the 10% helps you do that-or it should do. That is the point.

I would be quite happy not to have the 10% but just have the commensurate, which is approximately, and colleagues will correct me here, a 30% increase in the pitch fee. At the moment, supposing the local authority or I came along and thought I needed some new street lamps, they are many thousands of pounds. I am in effect waiting, to put it crudely, for somebody to die and sell their home on the park. I get the 10% lump sum of several thousand pounds or whatever it is-£10,000 if they sell for £100,000-and then I do the work. I would much rather it was like McCarthy & Stone or other retirement proprietors, which charge much higher. I think McCarthy & Stone charge somewhere around £3,000 or £4,000. Compare that with our £120to£140amonth pitch fee.

Q70 George Hollingbery: With respect, McCarthy & Stone and park homes are very different kettles of fish, attracting a very different clientele. I would have thought, given what you have said about a very clear and probably quite modest fixed income for most of your owners, that would be prohibitive, would it not? You would probably kill the business there and then.

Richard Grigg: Well, you say it is a lot different; my residents would not want to live in a McCarthy & Stone property. It is a flat. They live in retired detached bungalows and they like it. I would just reinforce what I have to say. A colleague of mine in the business had permission for an extension to his park and, in selling those new homes, he advertised them at 5% commission but a slightly higher pitch fee than the rest of the park. When this was over and done with, he thought, "I will ask my residents." There were 99 homes on the park originally. He wrote to them and said, "Would you like to pay an extra £10," at that time, which represented an increase of about 1215% on the pitch fee, "on your pitch fee, but know that, when you sell, you will only pay 5% commission?" There was one taker out of 99 homes.

Paul Tarr: It cannot be fair to expect our existing residents to have to pay whatever percentage extra increase-10%, 20% or 30% extra increase-because we have done away with the 10% on sale. Most of them could not afford to pay that; they are on fixed incomes.

Q71 George Hollingbery: Let me just move on. I do not want to take too long; there are many other questions. Has there ever been a case where you have found sufficient monies coming in from the 10% fee for sale to be able to reduce the maintenance fees across the piece?

Paul Tarr: The pitch fee, if that is what you call a maintenance fee, goes up or indeed down, as it did the year before last very slightly, with the retail prices index. Basically, as an industry, we have felt over the years that the pitch fee has not kept up with our expenditure, the percentage increase, so no, we have not.

Q72 George Hollingbery: This leads me to an interesting point, in that, presumably, over the last 10 to 15 years, the 10% onsale fee has somewhat subsidised the maintenance for a park. If you are a proper owner and do the right maintenance at the right time-perhaps with a delay in a few things here and there-that 10% fee has allowed you to take a profit out of the industry and do some maintenance. Is that correct?

Paul Tarr: Our income comes from the three sources together. Yes, the 10% is a major part of our income source. It is one of the three things and it does enable us to carry out the works we have to carry out on the park on a regular basis-doing road repairs, electric, all sorts.

Q73 George Hollingbery: I am moving on to something slightly different, which is that we have heard quite a bit of evidence today about the nature of these parks changing and people on them changing, so "DHSS welcome" and so on and so forth. It seems to us that there is a change coming, probably because of the changes in the way house prices are moving, towards more rental on parks, such that now owners have an incentive, because they cannot make a capital return out of selling homes on, to convert them into a rental source. Is that something that is happening on your parks and can you see it happening in the future?

David Curson: Yes, we are just recently letting a few out, with debate, around the parks. They are fairly small units that have not sold, so we are going to see if we can let them rather than sell them, but it is not something that we want to do wholesale. We would rather sell them and be done with it, rather than manage renting and finding tenants, etc. From my point of view, no; we are not overly sold on renting, but we will do it for a small number.

Paul Tarr: As David says, these are small homes, in particular, that we have had in stock for about five years or so, which have not sold for one reason or another. They are sitting there deteriorating and unoccupied, but the applicant who is renting the home does have to meet exactly the same criteria as a person buying a new park home or buying a previously owned park home. They have to meet the age criteria of the park, the pet criteria of the park and go through exactly the same process.

Q74 George Hollingbery: This brings me on to another question. We have heard a lot of evidence again today about contracts-about people not looking at their contracts properly and/or getting advice but finding it is not worth the paper it is written on, and/or finding out that the site owner is not bound by them. Can you describe to me how that process works for your two individual operations?

Paul Tarr: Basically everybody on our residential parks has a written statement under the Mobile Homes Act (1983). When they purchase a new home, there is a procedure where the resident is issued with an agreement and they have a 28day coolingoff period, or they can sign a consent to reduce that. Everybody has an introduction meeting and they have a written statement issued to them to read, and they can liaise with us and talk to us about what is in it, so they have time to consider what they are buying before they buy it. We are always, as has been said, in favour of people going around and talking to other residents. It is the best form of advertising-or not. They can chat around and everything else.

People buying by way of assignment attend exactly the same introductory meeting. We have a form, which is basically a talkingpoint form that gives the park manager or whoever is doing the interview the opportunity of going through what a Mobile Homes Act agreement is, so that the purchaser is aware, if they are buying by way of assignment, what that is. We talk about park rules; we talk about pets and retirement, all the way through to what day the dustman comes. It is that sort of form.

Q75 George Hollingbery: Is this a private contract between you and the resident? Are you able to vary the terms of reference?

Paul Tarr: That is just an introductory meeting. It tells them the ins and outs of buying a park home and living on the park. The written statement we use as a company is a standard BH&HPA written statement. As part of that statement, there are park rules. Those park rules have not really been changed for the last 10 years or so, and they would be peculiar to us.

Q76 George Hollingbery: Let me press you on this. Let us say you got into commercial difficulties and you wanted to change the nature of the rules to help you commercially. How would you do that?

Paul Tarr: You have to do it through negotiation with the residents.

Q77 George Hollingbery: Because you have a private contract with each and every resident, in effect, against those rules that were initially published.

Paul Tarr: Each resident has the same park rules on all of our parks.

Q78 George Hollingbery: Those are individually agreed with each owner-that you are contracted to them to provide services within those rules that they have agreed and that you have agreed.

Paul Tarr: They form part of the Mobile Homes Act agreement in place and issued.

George Hollingbery: Mr Grigg, how about you in a smaller operation?

Richard Grigg: I remember once on a park-whether I was having difficulty selling homes, I cannot remember-I had a couple of people with what I call "handbag dogs", really tiny things. I wrote to the residents and said, "I am thinking of changing the rule. Would you have any objection to smaller dogs at my discretion," and so on and so forth?" I got a twotoone vote in favour, but in fact I never needed to go down that route. I just think that residents’ associations are coming along now; we have to recognise them. It would be difficult, listening to the lady who was sitting here, where there are 17 homes on a park; that is not many people to deal with if somebody is difficult to deal with. I have a park of 92 homes and, if 80% or 90% of the residents are in the association, then it is a powerful sort of thing.

Q79 George Hollingbery: Just let me ask a final question of you. If you wanted to change the terms upon which you had sold a house or the pitch had been sold to one of your residents, are you legally able to do so without question from residents?

Richard Grigg: No, you are not.

David Curson: I should say that, in the front of the standard agreement, there is a procedure, and it does give information there on the means of negotiating beforehand with the owner to change or vary any terms. I have never been approached by anyone to do that, but there is a format there to do so.

Q80 George Hollingbery: You cannot impose a blanket change.

David Curson: No.

Paul Tarr: We cannot change the content of the Mobile Homes Act agreement.

Q81 George Hollingbery: Do you still specify the pitch and the pitch size to all your residents?

Paul Tarr: Yes.

Q82 George Hollingbery: Do you specify a pitch size? Are they taking on a certain pitch size when they come to one of your parks, or is it up to you to specify how big a pitch might or not might be?

Richard Grigg: The pitches are already established and fenced, and that is what they buy.

Q83 George Hollingbery: We have had evidence given to us today that some owners are very happy to change their pitch sizes.

Paul Tarr: There is a slight difference between the agreements for somebody buying a new home and a previously occupied home, because the new home will have a sketch within it giving the details of the plot size or the nominal plot boundaries. Not all of the previously owned homes will have such a sketch, but it is normally defined by the natural boundaries of the plot, but there is provision within park rules to change the plot size.

Q84 Mark Pawsey: Just a quick one: I wonder if I could ask you, from your experience, what percentage of people buying park homes are professionally represented?

Paul Tarr: Very few.

Mark Pawsey: In percentage terms?

Paul Tarr: 1% or less. Very few.

Richard Grigg: I agree with that.

Q85 Mark Pawsey: Previously of five people sitting in front of us, two had been professionally represented. Is that not a fair assessment at all?

Paul Tarr: As the gentleman giving evidence before said, not a lot of solicitors are au fait with park homes legislation. They may well be acting on behalf of the customer selling their bricks and mortar property. We occasionally get the odd question, but it is very rare for us to be asked. The only side issue with that is, if people are being legally represented, and it is on both sides if it is previously owned, then they would have to pay the solicitors’ fees, obviously whatever it is-£500 to buy and £500 to sell or whatever-and that is an extra expense that probably not a lot of our outgoing park residents would wish to pay.

Q86 Heidi Alexander: Could I ask Mr Grigg first of all what the process is when one of your residents wants to sell up?

Richard Grigg: If I am lucky, normally they should come and tell me. They would normally go to an estate agent and put it on the market. When they have a customer for it, I would do the interview. On that subject, we know that it is the interview that scuppers or blocks a sale. If you wish to scupper a sale, that is the way these guys are operating. I do think the interview is essential. I had a lady only last week, I think. She was a wonderful lady; I would have loved to have her on the park, and she had friends with dogs. I said, "Yes, they could come and visit. They could even come and stay." When you dug deeper, it turned out several of these friends wanted her to look after their dogs when they were on holiday. I quickly worked it out. For about 12 weeks a year, there would be a dog in her property, not related to her or anything. I said no.

If, as I have read sometimes, there is a move to try to stop the park owner doing the interviews and stop him sale blocking, if you follow me, this would be very bad for a well-run park, because the outgoing resident quite often has passed away and we are dealing with a relative who is only interested in what they can get out of the home. They are not interested in the future of the park. Never mind what they may say; they are not. I have dealt with relatives, and they are quite singleminded in what they are looking for: as much as they can get from the sale. I could imagine a situation like that with this lady. If I was not able to dig deep, they would say, "Do not say anything about that." They would come on the park and then I would be facing a problem.

Q87 Heidi Alexander: Of the last 10 interviews that you have conducted, how many have you said, "Yes, go ahead. Absolutely no problem"?

Richard Grigg: Virtually every one. We have a minimum age of 60 on my park. There was one where the man was 62 but his wife was only 52, so I said, "No, that is not going to be possible." Needless to say, the relative or the beneficiary threw a gasket at me, but I stood my ground, and I also went straight away to my residents’ association and said, "Look, I am refusing this person. Are you backing me?"

Q88 Heidi Alexander: On the occasions when you have said, for good reason, "I do not believe that this person is appropriate for living in the park," have you then bought the property off that individual or have they found another purchaser who you have subsequently been able to agree on?

Richard Grigg: The latter.

Q89 Heidi Alexander: Can I just turn my attention now to Berkeleyparks. Mr Tarr, earlier you said, "We do not tend to buy homes and sell them on." Have you ever done that?

Paul Tarr: Not sell them on, no. I cannot from memory think of one that we have bought to sell on. Occasionally, we will buy a home from an outgoing resident, but it tends to be in a state nowadays or, if it is a very old home, the people have approached us to see whether we can help them to sell it on, to get the trader in to look at it or whatever.

Q90 Heidi Alexander: When someone has passed away and you buy from the person who has inherited, in effect, the mobile home, what then happens? The pitch becomes vacant. You then-

Paul Tarr: The home will get removed by a scrap dealer and taken away, and the site will probably be redeveloped in due course.

Q91 Heidi Alexander: A new home would go up and you would then sell it, presumably with a higher pitch fee.

Paul Tarr: Yes, it is fair to say that the new homes we sell do have a higher pitch fee than the homes that have been on the park for a long time, because they are fixed. As I said earlier, as an industry, we feel that the pitch fees have not covered the increase in our expenditure, so our new home pitch fees are higher.

Q92 Heidi Alexander: Can I just ask the same question of you that I asked Mr Grigg? If you took the last 10 interviews that you have carried out, I guess as a much bigger organisation you might have a better handle on percentages overall. What I am trying to understand is how many. Have you ever blocked a sale and then subsequently acted? I know you were saying that you do not sell them on, but there is a way around this, which is about your getting a vacant site and then putting up a new property to sell.

Paul Tarr: I cannot honestly remember the last one we did decline. There was one in the last week or so when somebody wanted to bring a commercial vehicle on to the park and buy a park home. They would have been accepted but they wanted to bring a commercial vehicle on. We did decline them; because it would be a breach of the park rules and it would upset existing residents to see a great van parked next to them, we said, "We would willingly accept you, but you would have to make alternative arrangements for your commercial vehicle." Because of the chap’s circumstances, he was not willing to do that and withdrew from the sale. That home is still for sale. Hopefully, another buyer will be found. In answer to your question, I would think one a year, if that.

David Curson: There are very few. The normal reasons are because they do not meet the age criteria, or they have a pet or commercial vehicle. There are very few grounds on which you could decline an application.

Q93 Heidi Alexander: How widespread do you think it is among other park home site owners? We have heard evidence earlier that this is going on and you are saying you do not do it. How significant do you think it is in terms of other site owners?

Paul Tarr: We obviously hear that it happens, and unfortunately it is the rogue operators in the industry who need to stopped from doing it, because it does not do our industry any good. It does happen.

Q94 Simon Danczuk: Berkeleyparks is a small business that has been going since the 1950s. Is that right?

Paul Tarr: Yes, 1955.

Q95 Simon Danczuk: How many park homes do you have currently across the country?

David Curson: The precise number we do not know, but it is over 5,000.

Q96 Simon Danczuk: You were saying there are about eight on the sites that you manage that are rented. Is that right?

David Curson: That is spread around a number of parks, yes.

Q97 Simon Danczuk: How many out of the 5,000 are rented, approximately, percentage wise?

David Curson: Eight out of 5,000 basically.

Q98 Simon Danczuk: That small, okay. You were saying that you clear pitches when somebody passes away, wants to move on or whatever. You tend not to buy them; you clear the pitch. What percentage are you clearing per year? Are you buying the park home?

Paul Tarr: Sometimes, not always. Somebody will just ask us to dispose of the old home. The ones that come off really are past their sellby date, if you like. That is not our decision; we are usually told that by the person wanting to get rid of it. It is probably about 10 or 12 a year.

Q99 Simon Danczuk: Where they have moved off the pitch.

Paul Tarr: Yes.

Q100 Simon Danczuk: If somebody wants to sell, they just sell.

Paul Tarr: If they wish to sell, obviously being a fairly large organisation we have paperwork. We have lots of paperwork, and we ask them to complete a notification of intention to sell form, which they complete and send in. That just tells us how much they are selling for and the process of what is included in it. There is also the option, and it is an option, that they can use our sales agency service, which is a bit like an estate agent service. They fill that in; we acknowledge it. We say that we would like to look at the pitch to make sure there are no infringements to the site licence, primarily, or the British standard. If somebody has constructed a porch or has a timber shed that has not been picked up before, that needs to be corrected so as not to infringe the site licence. There are little things like that.

We would then carry out the inspection. We would write and acknowledge that we would like this or that done, but normally it is straightforward enough, and then agree to the sale and ask them to let us know when they have a purchaser. The purchaser then comes along, attends the park interview and we accept them, nine times out of 10, or more, and we set a date for the assignment to take place.

Q101 Simon Danczuk: In terms of the new homes that you get to sell on your sites, what is the average price for one of those, more or less?

Paul Tarr: It would depend on the park and the location, because obviously we are very much tied into the land values across the country, the same as it would be with bricks and mortar, but anything from £60,000 to £260,000.

Q102 Simon Danczuk: What is the cost of the property? It depends on the number of bedrooms, I guess, and things like that.

Paul Tarr: The exworks price can be anything up to £150,000.

Q103 Simon Danczuk: What is the manufacturing cost?

Paul Tarr: We are not manufacturers, but that is the exworks retail price. It can vary depending on what make or model it is, from the smallest home at approximately £35,000 to the largest home at £150,000ish. It very much depends what it is, and then of course you have all the associated costs-transport, siting, brick skirt, concrete base and everything else that goes to make it habitable.

Q104 Chair: Just one final point-perhaps you could help me with this one. For sale blocking, obviously a serious allegation has been made, not about you but about other site owners. You have also given us evidence that residents would not be happy to switch around so that, if the 10% commission went, the site fees went up. How do you think it is possible to deal with sale blocking being used by irresponsible site owners to advantage themselves? Is there any way we can deal with that issue without simply abolishing the commission and putting site fees up?

Richard Grigg: The reason they do sale blocking is not just, sometimes, to stop the sale, in effect, so that in the end the desperate outgoing resident comes to them and says, "How much are you going to pay?" They pay £20,000 and then put it back on the market for the £80,000 that it was. That is half the story. The other half is that they want to block the sale, buy the thing cheaply, get it off the park and put a new one on. I just come back to it every single time: you just have to give a massive fine, because they are out for massive bucks by cheating people. The only way, I think, is to counteract it with the same thing.

David Curson: The RPTs have already picked up on a few people trying to block the sales but, of course, by the time it gets to the RPT, the purchaser has possibly lost interest and this is half the trouble. The rogue operator then goes unpunished, effectively, because it is only the cost of the RPT they have had to put up or defend. Really, as my colleague says, there has to be a higher penalty for those who do anything untoward and block sales.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed for the evidence you have given us this afternoon.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Councillor Roger West, Elected Member, and Councillor Lawrence Williams, Elected Member, gave evidence.

Q105 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to our final panel. Thank you very much for coming, both of you. Could you just introduce yourselves, for the sake of our records, please?

Lawrence Williams: Yes, of course. I am Lawrence Williams and I am the Ward Councillor for Littledown and Iford.

Roger West: Good afternoon, Mr Chairman, and welcome to you. I am Councillor Roger West. I represent the Redhill and Northbourne area. I am interested in this because I have five park homes in my ward.

Q106 Chair: Thank you very much indeed. You have obviously been listening to our first two lots of witnesses. Clearly some of the issues have been raised do not happen everywhere, but there are incidents that have been described to us of owners blocking sales for their own financial gain, trying to unfairly raise pitch fees or, indeed, cases of harassment. In your experience as local councillors, have you got any evidence of these activities and how much do they concern you?

Lawrence Williams: I can only offer anecdotal evidence. I have recently, in the last six or nine months, been involved with park homes. My colleague Councillor West has many years of dealing with park homes, but I have been told by my residents, and many of those whom you have heard this afternoon give evidence, of plenty of blocking by owners.

Roger West: It is very difficult, because this is really a civil matter between the resident, often the deceased’s relatives, and the potential new buyer. It is not normally a field in which the local councillor gets involved. However, I can help you in an instance. I have given you a report.1 I do not expect to read it out, but I think you might find it interesting at some time or other. It is a factual statement with regard to sale blocking, and that is on a particular site. You have heard already referred to the fact that one of the sites in my ward does not receive a water bill; the residents do not receive a water bill. This happened because residents from another site discovered the water bill was absolutely extortionate on one site compared with another. One of the good sites happened to be Selwood. They wanted to know why this was, and they discovered it was to do with the water bill. The water bill was enormous, solely because of the leakage. There was no incentive for the site owner to repair that leakage, because the bill was passed on to the residents who were just paying it. It was the comparison that brought it to light.

Why it comes under sale blocking is because I have it in writing that when a resident wanted to sell her home-her husband had died and she wanted to move into the town centre into a conventional flat-the site owner refused to agree to the transference of the home to another party unless she paid £1,000. That, he said, was towards the water bill, but there was no evidence that water bill was, in actual fact, her responsibility, because she had been paying for it over the odds for many years, and there was no indication also of how many other people had also been, through the solicitors of deceased people, or whatever it might be, paying this £1,000. It is a secret world we are entering into of cash and goodness knows what, but it shows that lady, who was desperate to move off the site, could not sell her home unless she agreed to give the site owner £1,000. That I regard as a form of sale blocking.

Lawrence Williams: Could I just drop in, if I may? I first came on the scene last summer, as a result of a telephone call from Councillor West. We both met with a couple who were in distress. I will not go into the details of the visit, but we contacted the Town Hall, the council, and arranged to get this resident moved out into proper housing. The couple were not able to live in the property they were in for various reasons. Again, I will not go into that. When it came to selling their property, they were offered a pittance; they were offered £2,500, I believe, by the owner, and they took the money because they could not afford not to take the money. If they had held out, they would have got considerably more, I believe.

Q107 Chair: What was the owner doing to put pressure on the couple to take that amount of money? If in the end, the couple simply said, "What is your offer?" and then an offer was made, there is actually nothing wrong with that.

Lawrence Williams: They needed to move in a hurry. They were not really in a position to advertise it, and the owner took advantage knowing that this was the situation. They were being rehoused.

Roger West: Could I help on that one? As I say, I welcome you here, because we have had many meetings on park homes and you will see that. I have helped to set up a boroughwide association. I think that is still unique. We had an inaugural meeting in 2005 of 150 people, but we have also had meetings in this very chamber. You have visited Iford today. The home that we were referring to was actually facing the one you heard about from Ken Ayres, about the water issue. A big area in front of it was, in those days, decimated. It looked like a bomb site, quite frankly. Homes had been removed. Gas pipes, I understand, were not being properly blocked off. It would have been very difficult to sell a home where that particular one was. It was very unpleasant. This, as far as I understand, is the technique that is used by some site owners to intimidate others. This is the sort of thing you might have seen on television.

Q108 Simon Danczuk: Under what current circumstances can a local authority revoke a site licence from an owner?

Roger West: I have absolutely no idea. You have an officer here who might be able to help you. I have never ever heard, in my experience in Bournemouth-and I have got involved nationally to a certain extent-of a site licence being revoked. It is an interesting question. However, some local authorities do run sites. How they have ended up doing that, I do not know. There is one in Ringwood, about 10 miles from here. I will visit it one day.

Q109 Simon Danczuk: The final stage is we will make recommendations. What sort of sanctions do you think there should be available for unscrupulous site owners?

Roger West: I am afraid to say you will have to read my report to get to the bottom of that. As Richard Grigg was saying, greed is at the bottom of the whole thing. This industry never used to be, as far as I know, as it is now, until some rather unscrupulous people came in and could see that it was quite easy, by being very unpleasant to a resident, to get a vast turnover of residents on a site. The more you turned the residents over-in other words, the more those properties changed hands-the more money the site owner made. It is a crazy state of affairs, it really is.

Today you have had two very good site owners. Selwood Park is not actually in my ward, but I often visit it. It is extremely well run; there is no question about that. They reinvest in the site and they put in good quality electricity and water. It is a shame that you were not able to visit today. Richard Grigg invests a lot in his site, and it has a totally different feel to the site that you visited, which is why he can sell homes for £180,000odd, because it is a very pleasant site to live on.

Q110 Simon Danczuk: Just to be clear, Councillor, to save me reading your report, what sanctions do you recommend should be put in place to deal with the unscrupulous site owners?

Roger West: I am going to be a little bit contentious and possibly say something that will not be very popular, but I believe very strongly that it is all down to the local authority. Principally, it is the local authority that should be enforcing site licence conditions. If they were to do that more rigorously, then I think there would be very much less room for unscrupulous site owners. I spoke at a meeting in Poole on the subject of park homes with Annette Brooke MP; she was also at that meeting. That was definitely the theme that I took.

This council, to give it its praise, did actually get every site owner to agree to the 2008 model standards. They did not actually have to do that, but the officers worked very hard to get all site owners to agree to it. We were under the impression that, once that had happened, then everything would be marvellous. I am afraid to say it has not been marvellous. You will find in your pack a photograph I took only about a week ago of the electricity cabinet on one of the sites. You will see a reference to "spot the snail". This is an electricity box where the power for a particular home is provided, and I would not want my electricity to be provided from a box like that on a site, so who is doing the site maintenance?

Q111 Simon Danczuk: Just to be clear, Councillor, what you are saying to the Committee is that local authorities already have the powers; they do not need any more powers to deal with unscrupulous site owners. Is that your point?

Roger West: You are taking it a little further than I actually wanted to; however, I did visit-and this is a bit of namedropping-Lord Graham of Edmonton. I went with two residents, one of the witnesses at the far end, to the House of Lords. In his opinion, we already have enough powers as a local authority to make sure the sites are properly managed. They should have good parking. They should have proper-

Q112 Simon Danczuk: Sorry, Councillor, I am not bothered about what Lord Graham thinks. I want to know what you think. Do you think local authorities have enough powers or what more powers do you think local authorities should have? What powers should they have more of?

Roger West: There are two aspects to this. From the local authority point of view, they should be very much more rigorous with regards to making sure that the site licence conditions are adhered to. We heard from the lady with regards to water and electricity. Other sites can do it; why can her site not do it? The site licence condition says that the water and electricity supply has to be adequate. I do not think it is difficult to find out whether it is adequate or not. If your electricity in your home affects the adjacent one, it is not adequate, and the same goes with water.

Q113 George Hollingbery: Just very quickly, if this is to happen, it is going to mean that there has to be a statutory duty on councils, which there currently is not, which means more costs, which means charging for licensing. This means that all those residents on good parks run by good owners will end up paying more money than they currently do for no particularly good reason. Is that reasonable?

Roger West: I do not agree with that premise in the first place. I think the local authority, which is the licensing authority for park homes in Bournemouth, should enforce the site licence conditions. I am not convinced that we need a fee to do that. It is one of those things that we should be doing.

Q114 Mark Pawsey: Let us come back to that, Councillor, because you are saying the council should do that out of its general revenue. It does not perform its planning function out of its general revenue; it has a planning fee. Why should the broader residents of the borough pay for the cost of enforcing on park homes? Should it not be the case that there perhaps should be a fee charged by the local authority? Perhaps we might let Councillor Williams have an input on this; do you think it would be a good idea for the local authority-and it is the local authority that has the requirement currently, but it is just powers rather than an obligation-to monitor park homes? If it were to do so, do you think the council should be able to recover the costs of doing that from a fee to the park owners?

Lawrence Williams: First of all, we have a fine licensing department here at the Town Hall. I cannot sing their praises highly enough. They always seem to respond to any problems I have on behalf of the residents and, within the law currently, they do have the ability to put things right.

Q115 Mark Pawsey: Is it the responsibility of council tax payers across the borough to carry the burden of that regulation, or should it be something that should be borne by site owners who, in turn, want to see this passed on, perhaps through the pitch fee, to residents?

Lawrence Williams: We are not necessarily passing it on to the residents, because site owners earn a substantial amount of money from the residents already.

Q116 Mark Pawsey: You would be happy to see the site owners carry the costs themselves.

Lawrence Williams: I think I would be very happy to see the site owners do that.

Q117 Mark Pawsey: What about the fact that the requirement on local authorities is not mandatory, as Mr Hollingbery has just referred to? Do you think it should be a mandatory obligation on local authorities? Mr Tarr told us that local authorities were a mixed bag; some seemed to do it very thoroughly and, by all accounts, you do it very well here in Bournemouth. What about other more tardy authorities? Should they be obliged to get involved?

Lawrence Williams: I believe they should.

Q118 Mark Pawsey: Have you evidence that other authorities are not doing that?

Lawrence Williams: No, I am afraid I cannot answer that.

Q119 Mark Pawsey: How do you think more effective and better monitoring would result in a better result for park owners? Do you think some of the evidence that we got in the first session might have been avoided if local authorities had more powers and were obliged to implement them?

Lawrence Williams: I think the difficulty we are having here today is that we have heard from a number of residents who live with a lessthangood park owner, and you have heard from what appear to be good park owners. We are mixing apples with oranges here, and not getting the full picture. This morning, you saw two park homes, a good one and a bad one. You can judge which is which for yourselves, I am sure. I do not feel we are doing the right thing by not hearing from the bad owners, but you are not going to hear from the bad owners.

George Hollingbery: Yes, we are.

Q120 Mark Pawsey: Councillor West, do you think that Bournemouth is sufficiently rigorous in its management of park homes?

Roger West: Yes. You did refer to planning, and this does not come under planning as far as I am concerned. It comes under environmental health.

Q121 Mark Pawsey: Absolutely, but planning is not funded by the general taxpayer. Planning is funded through planning fees. My question to you, sir, is: why should the general taxpayer, who has nothing to do with park homes at all, fund the regulation of park homes? Why should it not be through a system of charging fees to the park site owners?

Roger West: I would not agree with it, because what would you then do with regard to noisy dogs and all the other things that environmental health deals with? I feel that, once you get a site in a good condition, it will be easy to maintain it in that condition. It is when it changes hands or when standards are allowed to slip that it is a problem.

Just to give you an example, because we have been creating a bit of a fuss, the Chairman of the Licensing Board was visibly shaken when he went down to see Iford Bridge at our invitation. He does not want me to say that, but he was, because I saw his face. Once he then reported back to the Licensing Board, things did move very quickly. The director of environmental health did a site visit with me. We went round to every single site, with one exception, and there was an action plan and that action plan is now being implemented. It can be done; the council just needs the will.

However, I would like to mention that, in one particular site in Hampshire that has been in communication with me, they have never seen an MP, they have never seen a councillor and they have never seen anybody from the local authority. That is where the problems lie.

Q122 Heidi Alexander: I appreciate the efforts that you are making here in Bournemouth, but I think a lot of the residents that are living on park home sites would still say it is not working and we still have a lot of problems. I am trying to work out what the ultimate sanction should be for these bad site owners. I think about bad property owners. You know, if you leave a property empty, it is derelict; there are powers, ultimately, for the council to go in and take ownership of that property. You referred to sites earlier that are in local authority ownership. While the conditions would have to be very clearly defined in terms of recurrent intimidation and excessive profit maximisation, and I realise that is debatable, ultimately, do you not think it would be a good idea, when you have really bad site owners, to have an ability for a local authority to go in, take it over and address the problems that people are experiencing on those sites?

Roger West: In an ideal world that sounds like quite a good idea, but I am not convinced that it would happen. I do feel there has to be some penalty, a strong penalty, for those site owners that do not do as they are told. To have a site owner in Bournemouth talking to residents saying, "Do not rattle my cage and I will not rattle yours," is unacceptable. To have site owners making elderly residents cry is unacceptable. However, it is wrong that we have sites in Bournemouth, as was identified by the lady earlier, where the residents are willing to pay for the gas to be installed, but they were not told when they first came on to the site of the cost of heating. They were not told the electricity was going to affect one and the other. In my opinion, most of it comes down to the initial contract. What we have heard so far does not really identify the problems with regard to the contract. You have referred to a contract. I am not convinced that what they sign up to, if they have ever actually signed up to one, is a contract. You will see that argument in my papers.

Heidi Alexander: I am not sure I have a followup question, thank you.

Q123 Chair: Can I pick up just two possible ways of addressing this? I think it has been accepted that more needs to be done to sort out some of the poorer sites. There is an argument being put that the good sites should not have to pay more to address the problems of the bad sites, through increased licences or whatever. I can understand that. Would you generally both favour an increase in fine levels to punish the bad site owners and maybe giving powers to local authorities to go in and do the work, and charge those owners for it, so it would not cost the local authority but the work would actually get done?

Lawrence Williams: Yes, most certainly.

Roger West: Being a member of the planning board-although this is not a planning issue-yes, ultimately the council has that sanction. If the site owner will not repair the car parks so they are full of potholes, if a pitch is full of trip hazards, then why not let the council go in and charge the site owner. I have absolutely no problem with that whatsoever.

Lawrence Williams: Yes, absolutely, I concur.

Q124 George Hollingbery: We have heard evidence that most recent regulatory changes have not necessarily been as effective as they might have been. The reference to the Property Tribunal Service, I think in the evidence we have received today, is that, by the time any dispute gets there, the sale that was mooted has probably fallen away. Is that your general experience?

Lawrence Williams: As I mentioned earlier, I have little experience in that but, anecdotally, yes, I have heard this.

Roger West: Yes, the great problem again is to do with the contract and how people actually purchase their homes in the first place.

Q125 George Hollingbery: Can we just concentrate on the Property Tribunal Service? Do you believe it has been an effective change in regulation?

Roger West: I have no experience of it whatsoever, so I cannot comment.

Q126 George Hollingbery: The model standards, which I think you referred to earlier, Councillor West-you said you welcomed it and you loved the idea of it when it came in, but it has been of little effect-can you just elaborate on that a little?

Roger West: To an extent, it is exactly what you heard from David Buckle earlier on, with this business about "must" as opposed to "should". A really simple one is in there-it does talk about electricity. I know I am going on about electricity, but electricity is absolutely fundamental to the way a modern home functions. People will buy park homes for a large amount of money, not knowing that the electricity supply in some way is limited. When any one of you purchases a home, I am sure you would-

Q127 George Hollingbery: Let us concentrate on the model contracts or the model terms. Are they simply not being enforced? Are they unable to be enforced? If they have a model contract, they have been agreed by professionals in the area, which is how I understand it should work. Why does it not?

Roger West: It does not work, again, because the wording is not that accurate. It is the definition, particularly with water and electricity, of "adequate".

Q128 George Hollingbery: Councillor Williams, any experience in this area?

Lawrence Williams: No, I am afraid not.

Q129 Chair: Are there any additional points you would like to leave with us before we conclude?

Lawrence Williams: I just want to say that I am here today because of my residents, and my residents come first. I want them to live peaceful lives, which is what they deserve. Thank you.

Roger West: Thank you. There is no way I am going to read this statement out to you, but I will make sure that my views are well known to the residents. However, I feel that the initial problem does lie with the thing that I referred to, which is the contract. We have heard from one of the site owners that they have this written statement. I have given you copies of a written statement. That written statement implies that there will be rules and regulations, the site rules. I believe I have not come across anybody being given, at the time of the proposed purchase, the site rules. The rules are very important. People purchase park homes often expecting that those homes will stay for 55yearolds and plus. That should be an integral part of the contract you have with the site owner. When you then hear that some of the sites change character dramatically by having younger people on the site or people with pets, it alters it. That person has made quite a commitment to the site owner, and it is not a contract easy to get out of. At this moment, they have to pay 10% and find somebody else who wants to take it on. It is not like selling a car, which you can just walk away from. It is a very big commitment they are making, and it is at the end of their lives. I think, at the age of 55 and 60, that contract should be transparent, which was actually referred to by Bob Blackman MP-lack of transparency. That is absolutely important.

You will also have heard that the pitch fee varies. Now, I think that is wrong. Richard Grigg does not do that. If you vary the pitch fee, why should one pitch be different from another? That effectively alters the value of that. If you have two adjacent homes, which are as near as damn it identical to each other, but one has got a much bigger pitch fee associated with it than the other, then the value of the one with the high pitch fee will obviously be less than the other one. If you do not know that is happening, then that is wrong, in my opinion.

Chair: Thank you, Councillor West. I think you have given us written evidence of those points as well and, of course, we will take the written evidence into account as well. Thank you for coming this afternoon and, Councillor Williams, thank you as well for giving evidence to us. That concludes our business here for this afternoon. Can I thank everyone who has come to listen to us? As I say, all of this evidence will be put on our website, and indeed our report, when we eventually produce it, will be available on our website as well. Could I finally just thank very much Councillor Lawton and Rob White, on behalf of Bournemouth Council, for all the arrangements they have made for us today? They have been absolutely excellent. We very much appreciate the time and effort you have put into organising our visit today. Thank you very much indeed. I wish everyone a safe journey home.

[1] Not printed.

Prepared 19th June 2012