Author Topic: Park Homes | Backbench Business - [14(th) Allotted Day] | Commons debates  (Read 2417 times)

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Park Homes | Backbench Business - [14(th) Allotted Day] | Commons debates
16 December 2010, 3:45 pm

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate, and I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), with whom I campaign assiduously as a member of the all-party group on mobile homes. As the House has heard, the group has received a number of delegations and deputations, not just in recent months, but in the period prior to my election as a Member of this House. My interest and concern in this area dates back to my days as a parliamentary candidate, when I met and discussed issues relating to park homes with the residents of the Brook Meadow park, which is in the village of Wroughton, where I live in my constituency. A number of residents, some of whom are elderly-they will forgive me for saying that-are not frightened to write to and lobby their Member of Parliament, or to come to the precincts of this House to make impassioned speeches on behalf of not only their own interests, but those of all their friends and neighbours.

An old principle in property law is the right of quiet enjoyment. That principle is well known to English law. It applies to people who live in bricks and mortar, so why does it not apply to people who live in park homes? The reason is simply that there has been only a gradual acceptance among law makers and opinion formers that park homes are not just goods or chattels, but places where people live. That acceptance means that the rights of property-the rights that we automatically assume apply for not only people who own homes, but those who rent bricks and mortar-should now apply for people in park homes.

Interestingly, amendments to the Mobile Homes Act 1983-I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) for his proper intervention pointing out that that term can lead to a lot of misunderstanding-were made by the Housing Act 2004. Perhaps that was an implicit acceptance by the then Government that we were no longer talking about mere chattels, but about places in which people live. Whether that was a Freudian slip or a deliberate intention, I welcome it. I suggest that our new Government should adopt that philosophy when dealing with park homes, treating them as houses and places where people live. The Government should allow those people equivalent rights to those that property owners or tenants enjoy under the protection of not only the 2004 Act, but the range of housing legislation that has evolved in this place since the latter part of the 19th century.

The issues and problems raised with me by my local residents are similar to those echoed by other hon. Members, and I do not seek to repeat them. They boil down to a few key areas. There are serious issues relating to the sale of park homes, there is a lack of resolution relating to agreements about the pitch fees to be charged every month and there are problems with utilities. I wish to deal with those in reverse order.

My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) rightly reminded us in an intervention that gas and electricity utilities enjoy the protection of Ofgem, and water utilities enjoy the protection of Ofwat, and that various guidelines and directives have been issued. The problem arises when electricity and water supplies are administered via the site owner; in other words, they come through a wholesale agreement via the site owner, rather than to individual pitches. Therein lies a great problem. It does not allow domestic users in each park home to benefit from domestic tariffs, for example. A wholesale business-related tariff is charged to the park that is not as advantageous to residents as it might be.

Another problem is that the lack of direct contact between the utility company and the resident can lead to all sorts of complications. One local example occurred in Brook Meadow a few years ago where there was the awful case of residents being written to by the electricity company and told that their electricity was about to be cut off because the company was in dispute with the site owner. The site owner had allowed matters to develop to the door of the court before he finally relented and paid the bill that was overdue. That is not a satisfactory position for residents to be put in. They were thoroughly innocent third parties who were literally terrified at the thought of not having electricity supplied to their homes. That is an inconsistency that needs to be resolved, and it should be resolved via a system of licensing and regulation.

The same can be said about the water supply. Site home owners experience a lot of problems with water pressure. It is far better, in my view, for the site owners to withdraw from the supply issue and let residents deal directly with water companies. That would be far more transparent and easier to administer.

I have mentioned the difficulty with pitch fees. In the case that I am dealing with, the dispute about pitch fees remains unresolved. That has an unpleasant knock-on effect because, in direct breach of the regulations, the site owner has been in the habit of, in effect, threatening prospective sellers of pitches with the fact that the pitch fee has been unpaid, saying that he wants resolution of the unpaid debt before he will permit the sale. He is putting an entirely discrete issue in the way of the sale of a home. That is wholly wrong and in breach of the current regulations, but it is happening.

I use that example to make the more general point that it is now time for local authorities, which exercise a range of powers in other licensing areas, to take on the responsibility of licensing the owners of park home sites. The phrase "fit and proper person" has quite rightly been put under the microscope. It needs very careful definition, but perhaps one can draw a comparison with taxi licences and licences for public houses and clubs. In such cases, local authorities look carefully at each application, gather information about previous convictions and other such relevant information, and make a judgment based on all the evidence.

I am not a person who likes to call automatically for more regulation, but such is the gravity of the situation that faces so many park home residents that there is sadly no alternative.

Source: Robert Buckland's recent appearances (TheyWorkForYou)