Monthly Archives: February 2018

Aughton Police Station Mystery Ceiling Damage

The Aughton Police Station is closed for repairs, and has been since early this month. No announcement was made, just a notice stuck on the door . I wondered if a volunteer knew how long it would take and who is paying the bill? I presumed Merseyrail would pay, but wondered if it might affect the lease with the Aughton Parish Council.

My contact didn’t have any other information about the closure, only that “volunteers were told about 2 weeks ago that it was closed due to a ceiling problem and they would be informed when it was to be reopened”.

A request to the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for details of the ceiling damage, repairs, and timescale for repairs, brought this reply “In order to look into your enquiry I will need to consult with a colleague at Lancashire Constabulary”.

No news is often not good news. Local policing is being lost. We should be told of any lack of local policing services, hopefully just temporary, but the silence is indicative of the mushroom method of communications.

What Do You Know About “Fleecehold”?

Thousands of homeowners on private estates are facing unregulated and uncapped maintenance fees, amid allegations that developers have created a “fleecehold” cash cow from charging for communal areas not maintained by the council. Management contracts for “unadopted” private estates are frequently sold off to speculators and property management companies in the same way as freeholds and ground rents leaving homeowners with spiralling fees and nowhere to turn.

If a new-build estate is “unadopted” it means communal areas such as roads, grass verges, pavements and playgrounds are retained by the developer. The developer then usually sub-contracts day-to-day management. These companies then pass on the costs to homeowners (both freeholders and leaseholders) via a deed of transfer which obliges the homeowner, under the Law of Property Act 1925, to pay for maintenance of this land. This is often referred to as an “estate charge” or “service charge”. These are on top of full council tax even though the council doesn’t maintain their street.

A homeowner in Buckshaw Village  has urged buyers to be wary of purchasing homes from new housing estates. Bridget Murphy bought her nine year old property under a freehold agreement in 2015. She says that despite owning the full rights to the house she still has to pay fees if she wants to make changes to the property. “The unfairness of the situation in which leaseholders find themselves is widespread and also extends to freehold properties on new housing estates in this area” said Bridget, who is retired. “Although the property is freehold, the deeds contain numerous covenants, some of which are linked to uncapped permission fees. For example, I believe the fee is currently in the region of £200 for permission to add a conservatory or extend the property.

“It seems unethical that, although I own my freehold, the developer still has an interest in my property and can demand permission fees.” In a statement a spokesman from the developer Redrow  said “For those who apply to Redrow, in writing, to make changes to their home, for example to add an extension, Redrow charges a fixed admin fee of £150 + VAT to process the application. An exception to this would be if someone applied retrospectively, having already made changes to their property, in which case a reasonable fee would be charged for the time taken to process the retrospective application.”

The leasehold scandal caught Government attention last year when Sajid Javid, the Communities secretary, announced a crackdown on the practice. Also known as fleecehold, the practice sees charges on ground rent ratcheting up for buyers as their freeholds are sold on to investment companies.It means the properties become unaffordable to the leaseholder but also means they are trapped, unable to sell the lease on. On top of this leaseholders have to pay permission fees to refurbish the properties.

But Bridget is warning that this practice is now being transferred to freehold properties. She says that buyers need to be conscientious in buying freeholds from new housing estates as some freehold agreements are now also stipulating that residents need to pay fees if they want to make changes to their homes. “Now that the government has announced plans to sell all future new build houses as freehold properties, people need to be alerted to the fact that this new type of freehold is set to become the norm, if developers get their way” said Bridget.“Leasehold residents planning to purchase their freeholds also need to be alerted to the issue of permission fees in freehold deeds.”

The Mayor of Chorley councillor Mark Perks said “My advice to anyone who has contacted me interested in moving to Buckshaw has been to make sure you get a good solicitor who reads and understands the fine print on the deeds, lease or freehold and what permissions are placed upon each property. Certainly choose your own independent solicitor rather than go with one a developer recommends. It may cost you more at the start but far better than being trapped into something that turns out to be costly and difficult to get out of”.

Buckshaw Annual Service Charge Explained 
All Buckshaw property owners pay an annual management fee to the Buckshaw Village Management Co. Ltd (BVMCL) either directly or indirectly. The BVMCL is made up of all Buckshaw developers, with the principle developers being Redrow & Barratt who own the majority of the land on the village. This funding pays for the maintenance of all community amenities including the parks, community centre, Astro pitches and communal green areas etc.

Who are RMG?  RMG is the management company that are contracted by BVMCL to collect the annual management fee on their behalf. RMG manage the day to day administration of the Village and its amenities, including the collective management fund.

I’ve heard that if the community amenities don’t make a profit then my annual management fee will go up?The funding is directly related to the profit/loss of the community amenities. Therefore if the Astro turf or the community centre fails to cover their running costs, this impacts the funding and will inevitably have an effect on the annual management fee. The BVCA once sat on the village management group (made up of RMG, Envirocare and BVCA, as residents) and were fully involved to ensure that the community centre and Astro turf maximised their potential to turn a profit in order to safeguard the funding and keep the management fee as low as possible.

Who’s responsible for the upkeep of the street lights, road names and other street furniture?  The owners of the road are responsible for all street furniture. At the moment some roads on Buckshaw are still owned privately by the respective developer – it will be some years until the roads are adopted by Lancashire County Council (LCC). RMG has a responsibility for a proportion of the communal areas – including a section of the green corridor. To find out who has responsibility for your street/nearby roads please contact RMG (details below) or your local council.

Will the councils ever adopt Buckshaw and its amenities, meaning we won’t have to pay an extra management fee? Buckshaw Village is split between two Borough Councils and currently there are no plans for the village to be adopted. This process will be a long drawn out issue and until the village construction is finished it is unlikely this will be viewed in any great detail.

I get charged for two sets of Management Fees – why is this? Every household on Buckshaw pays an annual service charge. This service charge covers areas like the green corridor, the mound, the community centre and the sports pitches (as outlined above). If you receive a bill requesting monies for another service charge (i.e. Runshaw MCL, Cuerden MCL, Worden Hall MCL etc), this money covers the cost of shared areas pertinent to your property and could include the maintenance of your car park, shared garden, hallways etc. For more information please contact RMG directly as they will have more detailed relating to your property than can be covered on our website.

Wigan Council Woes

Wigan Council  knew on 15th February 2018 it would lose the Cllr Jones case. Cllr Jones took the council to the High Court and won the right to have a Judicial Review. He and his supporters won that but failed to get the injunction to stop the election on a legal technicality. As one supporter, Cllr Gareth Fairhurst said “To you and me it was the fact that [Chief Executive] Donna Hall wasn’t in the court room and had she been there I have absolutely no doubt that it would have been stopped by Hon Justice Kerr there and then”.

The Council barrister argued that Donna Hall was acting as a returning Officer a position that Wigan Council gave her but it is a stand-alone position. For that reason she had to be named personally on the legal papers and not just have Wigan Council name on there.

Cllr Fairhurst “had previously been discussing the case with the highly respected solicitor Piers Coleman and those talks continued throughout the weekend day and night. When the Hearing started it became very clear to Cllr Fairhurst that the Judge was not impressed that he had this case in front of him and he knew he was going to be ripping into someone. The legal arguments went back and forth very quickly because the Council said if they lost they would be going to London to get an urgent appeal in. The Judge was OK with this if that was what either side wanted but he got things moving quickly. He basically said to the Barristers don’t tell me something that you have written as I have read them over night.

“We had not only applied for the Injunction but for him to listen to the Judicial Review at the same time and to wrap it all up. He agreed but the council didn’t like this. It became apparent that he was going to agree with us on the JR and that Steve never had resigned. So now that had been resolved what to do with the election? I know the courts do not and I really do mean do not like getting involved with elections. The council’s barrister had said this and tried to use this as their argument but the judge said he could because it was an exceptional case and he was reluctant, but it was a mess that had been created by Donna Hall’s own doing. Discussions went back and forth people that had voted via postal votes would have to be destroyed but then Steve’s barrister said well what about all the people that voted for him 2016 what about their democracy and votes?

“So he said that because he had decided the by election should never have been called he said there really was only one thing to do – cancel the By election. What a result! At the point Steve’s barrister applied for costs against the council – another word for them to pick the bill up for everything as they had been at fault. The answer was yes and for a number of reasons including that I had written to Donna Hall last Friday after the last hearing to say call the election off or you will lose and get a big bill. She had been warned as I put her on immediate noticed. She wrote back to me on Monday night and said no. That was the trigger me and Steve had waited for and we knew we would go to London the following morning”.

“The Judge had said yesterday that Donna Hall should never have called the election and she never had the power to do so. Also that even when I warned her and told her to stop she ignored it and carried on. All these actions plus many others have left the tax payers with a bill that is huge. She is on over £200,000 and I believe that she should be sacked immediately with no golden hand shake pay off. If the Labour Leader Cllr Peter Smith sticks by her then he is condoning her actions and even to this very day the Council and Donna are claiming the Judge got it wrong and Steve resigned. The Judge said in his opinion he did not and then another said he definitely didn’t. I know Steve is getting back to helping residents but also Donna Hall needs to give him a personal and public apology now! This is just a small amount of detail on the whole case but hopefully it shows you some of what has gone on and what should happen in my opinion now”.

Isn’t life in West Lancashire boring by comparison?

The Councillor Who Was, Wasn’t, And Still Is, A Councillor

Following the Wigan story of Cllr Steve Jones whose resignation was not a resignation but merely NOTICE of resignation, it is easy to imagine steam arising from the corridors of power at Wigan Towers. The Chief Executive Donna Hall  enjoys an annual salary of £165,000 and there is some ambiguity about the legal office, viz an Assistant Director – Legal and a Strategic Legal Manager – Chief Legal Officer and Principal Solicitor. Apparently neither of whom knew the legal difference between “resignation” and “notice of resignation” that was the key to the dispute. Case law anyone, or just astute legal opinion from London, see below?

As the story unfolded we observed the reference to “following the resignation of” that did not state how. The full court papers are not yet available but this case involves the Chief Executive and presumably the Borough Solicitor, whose electoral law competence might now be in doubt? NB I have just discovered this news “Returning officer Donna Hall, who is also Wigan Council’s chief executive, was not present in court for the interim hearing in Manchester.

But Mr Justice Kerr said “On the question of whether the claimant resigned by written notice, if I had to decide today I would decide without much difficulty he did not”. And we found that Cllr Steve Jones was having some personal issues and when Wigan Council found out about this they put pressure on him to resign. Under the shear pressure he agreed that he “would resign” on the 20th February 2018. Therefore, confirming his intention, Wigan Council agreed to this but 4 days after this some local residents had contacted him and said don’t do it he changed his mind of his intention. And we had a well respected solicitor in London confirm in his initial findings that the act of the Council is unlawful and therefore Cllr Steve Jones has a great case to bring. His supporters said that as we all know legal action is not cheap and therefore we are trying to raise £2,000 to contribute towards those costs. As one person said 100 people at £20 raises the amount. Larger or smaller donations are equally important as not everyone has that kind of money at the minute. If you feel strongly enough for Cllr Steve Jones and/ or Democracy please support any way you can because after all is said and done DEMOCRACY IS NOT ONLY FOR THE RICH”.

“It becomes still more intriguing by this news “about the “strange turn of events In Wigan. Chaos reigned after Wigan Council insisted an independent councillor could not reverse his decision to quit the chamber. Coun Steve Jones, independent representative for Bryn ward, performed a dramatic U-turn when he posted on Facebook that he was staying on. This came just a few days after he announced he was stepping down on February 20 for personal reasons.

“However, the town hall has now insisted that he actually resigned on the day he said he would step down and a notice of casual vacancy for a new councillor has already been published. Coun Jones [had told the council]: “With a lot of thought I have to inform you that as of the 20th of February 2018 I will be resigning my role as an elected councillor for Wigan Council”. The law says that a resignation takes effect when received, but is a resignation that is described as being for a date in the future really a resignation before that date? I think the lawyers will have some fun with this one”.

“In the meantime, he has since turned up to a council meeting and insisted on taking his seat as a councillor. Only when the meeting was adjourned did he agree to move to the public gallery. Councillor Jones’s vacillation over whether or not to resign may be connected with the run of controversies he has recently been in, with a caution for assault, a drink driving conviction, a series of aggressive social media postings about the council’s Chief Executive and a warning that he would not be able to vote on the council’s budget as he was behind with his council tax payments”.

Although the notice of election had been issued, ballot papers printed, postal votes sent out and even at least 754 votes returned, the court ruled it was wrong of the council to take his resignation as having immediate effect. The council and the Returning Officer were granted leave to appeal but decided not to, “in order to protect the public purse”.

Wigan Council used its twitter account openly in respect of councillors and their council tax. They were asked “This council is so corrupt, how many of “our” councillors didn’t pay their council tax last year??” and they, Wigan, replied “Replying to @clarepe007 Just one @clarepe007 Steve Jones”. Then asked “Replying to @WiganCouncil Has he at any point said “I’ve learnt a valuable lesson and regret my actions?” If not” and they replied “Replying to @GRALambo @WiganCouncil Yes he has”.

Ormskirk Car Parking Fiasco or Fair?

15 Hours ago, OWLs  showed their opinion of the new WLBC car parking charges. They even put up a poll.

“Labour councillors are proposing changes to car parking charges:
► £1 for 3 hours on all council car parks in Ormskirk;
► abolishing the free parking behind Poundstretcher;
► hiking short stay charges everywhere else.
“We’re unimpressed. The central issue is the need for improved footfall in the town centre. This seems to amount to a free extra hour for existing payers, and a £1 deterrent for those people who currently nip in for a few bits. This proposal does nothing to drive new customers to the town centre. What do you think? How does this affect you? In the poll, 63% say Poor proposal  while 37% say Good proposal  You can imagine what the local businesses think, those who want shoppers and not fleeting visitors, but the council still wants its pound of flesh off motorists while still allowing its own employees to park free all day as a job perk. How often has it been said, employees being paid by local council tax should pay a levy if they don’t use their cars for work.

And then, just 6 Hours ago, who should jump on the same bandwagon but the recalcitrant schoolboy Cllr Currie to claim “Businesses in #Ormskirk have long called for the council to find a way of increasing footfall to the town. @LabourWestLancs response? Increase car parking for anyone wishing to nip in for an hour by 42.86%”. Does he ever have an original thought? 

Gastronomic Pimping, Or How To Obtain Planning Advantage

Who said “You’re not an MP you’re a gastronomic pimp” and “This island is almost made of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an organizing genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish in Great Britain at the same time”? That was Aneurin Bevan in his days of headline oratory.

The timeless practice of “gastronomic pimping”, as Nye Bevan put it, is a tool long used by commercial lobbyists to curry favour. These “meetings” are deliberately social occasions designed to create bonds, establish shared values and ultimately influence council decisions.

 reports on Robert Davis, claimed to be the most wined and dined politician in Britain while he was chairman of Westminster council’s planning committee, being entertained 150 times by property industry figures in three years. But hospitality is not the only tool in the property lobbyist’s box. One of the surest ways to access and influence the officials you seek to influence is to employ people who know local government inside out. Councillors up and down the country are employed in the property lobbying business. They are elected to represent the public interest and at the same time employed by developers seeking to influence the public sphere.

Take one of the scores of firms in this business, which claims to have “won successful planning consents for over 20 years”. It employs numerous local councillors, including one who sits on a council planning committee, as well as prospective and former councillors, plus a former council leader. These people not only understand how decisions are made, but in many cases are the decision-makers themselves. This is valuable for any developer needing council backing.

Besides trying to ensure that elected officials are onside with their clients’ development plans, these planning lobbyists also deal with any resistance from local communities. Developers have a statutory duty on large projects to consult with communities. Consultation, however, in the hands of lobbyists, is a tool that serves to draw out community opposition and provide it with a managed channel through which to voice concerns, but with no hope of tangibly changing the outcome. As the ex-Tesco lobbyist Bernard Hughes explained “Businesses have to be able to predict risk and gain intelligence on potential problems. The army used to call it reconnaissance; we call it consultation.”

People need to have a proper look at what is happening in their council. Take a look at the registers of interests. What do developers want from their relationships? It may be straightforward planning permission; or relief from paying a tax used to fund local amenities; or an agreement with the council on the amount of affordable homes the developer has, or doesn’t have, to provide. All of which can be, and is, negotiated by the councils upon which such lavish hospitality is poured.

That the “local lobbying” industry has got away with such practices for so long is no surprise. It lacks the one thing necessary to drive them out – scrutiny. As Davis says in his defence, all his meetings with developers “were all properly declared and open to anyone to examine”. But people need to have a proper look at what is happening in their council. Take a look at the registers of interests to see if any of your councillors double up as lobbyists. Get hold of the registers of hospitality and see if they are taking from the developers they should be overseeing. Use freedom of information law to dig deeper into who is meeting whom, and what they are seeking to do, and then hand the information to your local paper.

Until a light is shone on these relationships they will continue to flourish, and we will continue to get developments that serve no one but the investors and developers. 514 freebies, gifts to one person, doesn’t enhance the reputation of probity in planning.

Judge Suspends LCC/Virgin Health Service Contract

The LEP reports that “A controversial move to privatise parts of Lancashire’s health services would save just 0.07 per cent, it has been revealed. Last year Lancashire County Council announced that it was awarding the £104m contract for the Healthy Child programme to Virgin, rather than local NHS providers.

“The county council said that the bid followed a “rigorous process heavily weighted in favour of quality service”. But court documents reveal that the difference between the two bids was just 0.07 per cent – or £14,560 a year. The decision proved controversial, and Lancashire Care NHS Trust  and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals who currently run the service have launched a legal challenge against the decision.

“The process is ongoing, but Mr Justice Fraser has suspended the process of privatisation and refused the council’s appeal against the suspension. His judgement states “The competing bidders’ prices were almost identical, accounting for a difference of just 0.07 per cent in their overall scores”.

“James Rupa Unison North West Regional Organiser said “These services should remain in the NHS. The council has made a short-sighted and reckless decision in awarding such a large and important contract to Virgin. The judgement shows how privatising key services will damage our local NHS organisations and will not save the council significant money”.