Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Hearing....

When Jason Butler withdrew his planning applications to turn 54 Glensdale Street and 55 Glensdale Terrace into 4 ‘flats’ in each house, we were pleased but before we had finished breathing a sigh of relief he had changed tack and put in another retrospective application to turn the two houses in question into 3 ‘flats’ in each house. We again put in our objections and the applications were turned down.

However there was a lot of money to be made if this project could be pushed through and the landlord was not going to give in without a fight – but then neither were we.

We were informed that he had put in appeal against the decision of the Planning Department and a hearing was scheduled for 10 March 2009. If he won that appeal the council would not be able to stop the conversion of those houses or any others in the same area.

The appeal was before an Inspector from the Planning Inspectorate, John Murray, LLb, Dip.Plan.Env., DMS, Solicitor, and those present were from the Planning Enforcement and Housing Departments opposing these developments together with members of the fledgling organisation calling itself COVEN and two ward councillors (Cllrs Brett and Pryke (Lib Dem). The landlord was represented by his company Green Investments Ltd.

I do not think that the landlord was prepared for the strength or breadth of opposition from the council, councillors or COVEN. They appeared to be under the impression that it would be easy to overturn the decision and that they would then be able to use that ruling to turn innumerable other tiny properties into ‘flats’ for which they would then be able to charge the council’s Homelessness Unit a minimum of £174 per week.

At the heart of this matter was money. A single family dwelling, as both these properties had been before they were converted without planning permission, would attract a rent of £400 per month, as 3 flats they would have a rental income of around £2,250 per month. It is not hard to see the advantage to the landlord.

The Inspector appointed to hear the appeal listened to submissions from the council and the landlord and also from the residents. He gave us a chance to refute their points, item by item, on lack of space; noise; overcrowding; safety and the lack of facilities generally in the area to cope with such an influx of extra residents.

Green Investments Ltd tried to imply that other conversions in the area, which the council had approved, set some kind of precedent but we were able to show that in fact these conversions (for which they alleged they had the blessing of our local MP), were in fact in Harehills and applied to an entirely different style of house and a completely different kind of conversion. The MP in question was not in fact our MP who as it happens did not back this conversion at all.
The hearing lasted from 10am until 4pm with only a short break for lunch, which I do not think anyone was expecting. However in the end the Inspector decided he would see the properties for himself and off we all went to the Glensdales to view the properties.

After inspecting the properties and speaking to some of the residents of one house he went away to consider his decision and on the 17 March 2009 we heard the official result from the Inspector – we had done it, we had won! Unbelievably the residents, with council backing, had taken on one of the most powerful landlords dragging our area down and proved that he could be stopped.

Though the inspector gave the landlord slightly longer than the council had wanted to return the houses to their original state, he was told unequivocally that he had to do it. However this landlord is not one to follow procedure and though he eventually removed the tenants he left the properties insecure and they soon became a focus for anti social behaviour, with COVEN having to request that the council step in and board the properties up on more than one occasion. Eventually the houses were sold but most of the remedial work was not done until the day before the sale.

However this has not solved the problem, we did not think it would, there is just too much money to be made from turning tiny unsuitable back-t0-back family homes into dormitory ‘flats’ on short term lets for largely emergency council lets and the ones raking in the money are not the ones having to put up with the consequences of their actions.

We formed ourselves in to COVEN to make a difference and to stand up for our community. We have had successes and failures but we won’t give in, our area has so much going for it. Its unique geographical position alone should assure its prosperous future and as some of the residents of this area we intend to do our best to see that we and other residents get a say in and a fair share of that bright future.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

COVEN: How it all began, or The struggle of local people against dodgy developers.

It all started in March 2008, when Richard Bilton brought Panorama in East End Park. We were all quite shocked, we were on TV for all the wrong reasons and Panorama was all we talked about. A friend of mine from Sunderland who stayed with me at the time called all her friends to tell them that she had been in the Panorama area.

But some of us, walking the streets in East End Park and Richmond Hill noticed a change that could make things so much worse. We noticed back-to-back houses being turned into flats: with shower rooms in the living room and added side entrances in the binyards. We decided to look into it, and what we found was shocking: a formerly successful businessman, Jason Butler from the formerly successful Jump estate agents had applied to turn seven houses in the area into bedsits after he had already converted two back-to-backs in the Glensdales without permission.

The planning applications were also shocking: the typeII back-to-backs were going to be turned into four bedsits, resulting to people living in cellars with no natural light or fresh air. We knew we had to object to them, but we also had a number of questions: Why was the developer so sure as to complete the conversions without planning permission? Was this a “pilot” for more such conversions in East End Park?

At the time some local residents started looking into the issue. We objected to the planning applications, we wrote letters to our councillors and local MP, we educated ourselves on planning regulations, we took a closer look into the area we live in and, most importantly, we started talking to each other, we became friends. We also addressed the Richmond Hill Residents’ Forum, bringing to it for the first time a genuine agenda item straight from the people.

And as the time went by a lot happened: Jason Butler withdrew all six applications and re-applied retrospectively for the two converted back-to-backs to use them as three bedsits each. And tenants moved in.

And more questions emerged: who would rent a tiny bedsit in East End Park? Could it be that it is the Council itself paying for rents in properties that do not adhere to planning rules? Could it be that developers like Jason Butler can ignore the law and at the same time get money and tenants from the Council?

It took months for this last question to be answered, but it was indeed what we were afraid of and more. We found out that the council was paying MrButler to house vulnerable people in houses unfit for habitation. We also found out that because of relatively low house prices our area housed 30% of all the emergency accommodation contracts in the city. And we found out that, a bit like the planning department, those who look after the homeless provision for Leeds City Council were too stretched to actually check things properly.

The back-to-backs and the need to have our voices heard is what brought us together to form COVEN, along with the vision that our neighbourhoods can be viable and our environment can be clean and healthy, and our streets can be beautiful.

But the story of the conversions is not over yet. It’s to be continued…

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Planning Issues in LS9

One of the main problems in this area is that a large number of very small and unsuitable houses and shops are being turned into flats without the required planning permissions or into houses in multiple occupation. Thankfully Selective Licensing has helped with this in the designated area (if the Licensing authorities have the full information) but outside this area landlords are doing what they like with properties, changing the essential character of the area from family homes into little more than hostels for those needing temporary accommodation or accommodation for people leaving prison, alcohol or drug programmes and the area does not have the resources to cope.

We know that these kind of challenging tenants have to be housed, we only ask why such a large proportion of them, 34% of the total, have to be housed in East End Park and Cross Green.

In one case in the Clarks a landlord changed a shop into a flat without permission and left the shutters in place so that the change would not be noticed. He was being paid Housing Allowance by the council for the two properties since they had obviously not checked to see if there should be two flats there. It was also obvious that they had not checked the state of the accommodation provided either because when the Senior Environmental Health Officer, Private Rented Sector Housing Team, called in by COVEN on behalf of the tenant, inspected the flats he served notices to repair the property. They were then assessed by an independent consultant employed by the tenant’s solicitor who said the property would not be classed as a decent home and exhibits many HAZARDS as defined by the Housing, Health & Safety Rating System as detailed in the Housing Act 2004. This property is still the subject of legal proceedings by the tenant but the landlord has applied for and been granted permission to change the property into two flats – it really does seem that if you have the brass neck you can get anything you want!The two latest shops wanting to become flats are 250 York Road and 34 Raincliffe Road. Both these properties have applied for retrospective planning permission for the change of use so once again the area loses the chance of a local business and ends up with more people shoehorned into properties that were not designed for that level of occupation. The area is bursting at the seams, when will it end?

Besides these two properties 248 York Road, with the same landlord as 250 and 210 York Road is now being occupied as a flat upstairs and a flat in the shop despite the owner telling the Planning authorities that it would be returned to its original use and the Planning Enforcement then agreeing to close the file. Again the landlord thinks no one will notice or report it to the authorities, well he is wrong. This area used to be, and could be again a good area of family housing where decent people raise their kids and build a community and we will do our best to give it a chance to do that but at the moment the area has not the infrastructure to cope with this level of intensive occupation of properties. The noise, traffic, services in the area cannot cope with the extra households.

We do not need tiny flats for people to occupy on short term lets we need decent family homes for people who want to come into our area, put down roots and build a future for themselves and the community.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Another Success for Linda and her Team

Second landlord handed £12,000 bill after ignoring licensing warnings

A landlord is now facing a bill of more than £12,000, becoming the second in a fortnight to be prosecuted for failing to properly licence a property in Cross Green.

Steven Mark Ridgeon and his company, Ridge Properties Yorkshire Limited, ignored warnings to obtain ‘selective licenses’ for 2 Frederick Avenue, 36 Glensdale Grove, 1 Charles Avenue and 17 East Park Street in Leeds.

At Leeds Magistrates Court on Thursday, the company was fined £6,000 for failing to obtain a Licence for three properties and a further £1,500 fine was handed to Mr Ridgeon, the owner of the fourth property and director of the company. Costs of £3,529.90 were awarded, with a further £1,046.50 awarded against Mr Ridgeon.

Councillor Peter Gruen, Leeds City Council’s executive board member for housing, said:

  • “Most landlords in the city take their responsibilities seriously, but there are a few who show little or no interest in managing their properties responsibly.

  • “A small minority of landlords let their properties without really checking up on their new tenants.

  • “Selective licensing helps the council deal with bad landlords and ignoring warnings that properties should be licensed is simply unacceptable.”

In a bid to crack down on anti-social tenants and poor housing, part of Cross Green and East End Park in Leeds was designated as an area of Selective Licensing last October. It means all owners of privately rented properties in the area need a special licence to operate.

Ridge Properties Yorkshire Limited ignored numerous letters and opportunities to obtain a Selective Licence, even writing on one occasion to the council to claim that it owned only four properties in the designated area, when in fact they owned a total of eight.

The firm had licensed the four it admitted to, but despite being made aware of its legal obligations chose not to license the further four properties.

In a selective licensing area the landlord must also meet a ‘fit and proper person’ test to obtain a licence. Their rented properties must meet the licence conditions, ensuring they are safe and that the landlord can, and will, deal with anti-social tenants. Failure to have applied for or obtained a licence could mean a fine, on conviction, of up to £20,000.

The aim is to help to address issues of low demand affecting the area and reduce the anti-social behaviour of tenants in privately rented properties. Landlords will not be made responsible for the actions of their tenants, but they will be expected to take action if they know that their tenants are causing a problem.

This is excellent news for the people of the area, at last people are begining to realise that the quality of landlords and the behaviour of their tenants has much to do with the quality of life of themsleves and their neighbours. Keep up the good work.

Just one thought, should someone who has behaved as this landlord has still retain licences for the four houses he admitted to after all it is hardly the behaviour of a 'fit and proper person' is it?

NB: From 3 November 2010 the meetings between tenants/landlords and the Selective Licensing team at the Richmond Hill Community Centre, Long Close Lane will be between 5-6pm ON THE FIRST WEDNESDAY OF EVERY MONTH ONLY however the team can be contacted by telephone on 0113 395 0044 and on email bySelective licensing or you can post comments on here and we will see they are passed on

Sunday, 10 October 2010

NO2Incinerator decides on Biffa Bid

Members of the committee of the No2incinerator campaign, after meeting with the Biffa Project Manager, Mike Hardy, and his team have decided that they cannot give any kind of backing to the project to build a 380,000 tonnes commercial incinerator at the old Power Station A site at Skelton Grange.

The members of the committee who attended the meeting at the Biffa offices were impressed by the stacks of papers and folders Biffa had amassed to inform them on most aspects of the plans, though they were not allowed see them properly or to take these documents away with them for study.

There is no doubt that Biffa are experts in fighting local residents groups, having done so across the country in many kinds of planning applications and have huge financial resources backing them. They are presently fighting group of residents called Burning Issue Group in Ware, Herts. over their attempts to place two incinerators in the local area, so they have a very experienced and well oiled publicity machine primed and ready to roll right over the top of groups of concerned local residents.

As has been mentioned before that NO2Incinerator is a local group of residents without any funding (excluding the £57 in the coffee jar donated at the last public meeting) who are definitely fighting a David and Goliath battle to stop this and another incinerator in their area - on their doorsteps!

It might be tempting for some people to say "well if it is not here and we don't have to pay then alright" and this is no doubt what Biffa is counting on but this is wrong. The problem has to be faced and tackled for the benefit of the people of Leeds as a whole but pushing out of your area and onto someone else's doorstep will not solve the problem.

The Planning Application goes in in the next week or so and we will keep you up to date on this extremely one sided fight for East Leeds.

Thursday, 7 October 2010


As accusations fly between our local councillors over the suspension of the long overdue £250,000 refurbishment of Richmond Hill Community Centre COVEN understands that the decision not to go ahead with the project as originally planned was based solely on the fact that the source of the finance, a central fund, is now under review, as is all council funding. We also understand that the plans are on hold pending a full review of the money available when this process is finished, and after taking into account the effects of any further cuts in funding arising from the Government's spending review due on 20 October 2010, after that the fate of the building's future will be decided.

The assertion, apparently made by Cllr Pryke (Lib Dem) that the whole plan had been scuppered deliberately by the Labour Party, now the largest single party on Leeds City Council, and the ward councillor Ron Grahame is vehemently denied.

However, with our library facilities once again under threat of closure (the previous plan had been to relocate the library and to the Community Centre) we feel strongly that Richmond Hill cannot afford to lose this community resource, used by so many different local groups. Transport links with other more fortunate areas of the city are poor and extremely expensive.

COVEN will be watching closely to see how this matter progresses and will keep you informed.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

At last some good news for East End Park and Cross Green

Firstly let me say that COVEN believe that this is a good area with many good people living here however it has in recent years experienced some severe problems, but at the heart of most of the problems faced by our community has been uncaring absentee landlords who rented out property to anyone, with no thought for the affect these sometimes bad or troubled tenants might have on the other residents of the area.

Bad tenants contributed substantially to a high level of anti social behaviour and dragged down the property values making the houses ever cheaper for the same bad landlords to snap up.

However last October a Selective Licensing Scheme was brought in covering Cross Green and parts of East End Park. Poor quality, badly maintained housing and absentee landlords were making the living conditions for their neighbours quite unbearable and something quite clearly had to be done.

Not all the landlords in the area were bad or uncaring but a small proportion certainly were and it was at these people that this scheme was specifically aimed. The new scheme required accommodation of a minimum safe standard to be provided and also a certain standard of previous good conduct from any landlord operating in the designated area. Whilst landlords with a Selective License are not be made responsible for the actions of their tenants, but they are expected to take action if they know that their tenants are causing a problem.

COVEN have had an ongoing dialogue with the Head of Selective Licensing, Linda Sherwood, and her department since before the Scheme was introduced and we strongly support its work and both ourselves and the Selective Licencing Scheme are always eager to hear from residents if an address in the designated area is causing a problem.

A list of all the Selective Licensed properties is published on the council's website where you can check the status of a property and this list is regularly updated. We are told that more prosecutions may follow in the near future which is good news as only tough enforcement will make the bad landlords think twice about trying to operate in the area without a Selective License.

We take our hats of to Linda and her team in getting the scheme up and running, it has been a huge project but it is a small but vital step in the regeneration of this area. We also want to thank our councillors Brett and Pryke (Lib Dem) who started the process and our MP Hilary Benn (Labour) who all played their part in getting the scheme going.

We've made a positive start in taking back our area and we intend to keep up the good work!