Being constitutionally unable to resist the temptation to indulge in a spot of lèse majesté, Nearly Legal is pleased to be able to threaten Her Majesty with a spell on the naughty step. Not for being a hereditary monarch – that is a little outside our remit – but for the actions of her servants, vassals, minions and apparatchiks at the Crown Estates office.
Crown Estates happen to be, for the time being at least, a major landlord of homes let at ‘decent rents’ in London. But there are plans afoot to sell off the Victoria Park, Millbank, Cumberland Market and Lee Green estates, for something like £250 million. It appears that this is to finance the redevelopment of the Regents Street commercial properties – see CEO Roger Bright’s evidence to the Commons Treasury committee at q.155 – 157 and onwards.
Residents (a mixture of Rent Act protected, Assured, AST and leaseholders) are not happy, particularly in view of some of the potential purchasers floating around and the rather less than bulletproof ‘assurances’ on terms and conditions on a transfer offered by Mr Bright to the Treasury Committe (Q163 onwards). Only 35% of the tenants have protected rent levels. Affordability of rent and keyworker schemes would have no guarantee of continued existence for new tenants and the Crown Estate is not re-letting properties that have become vacant.
The scheme is being pushed forward by Paul Clark, who was behind the £150 million sale of social housing for the Church Commissioners to Genesis HA and Grainger. That sale resulted in complaints about rent increases of up to 30% over two years and the ending of keyworker schemes. Clark has said that the Crown Estate was looking to sell to a landlord ‘of the same tone’. As a housing lawyer, I can assure him that ‘tone’ is not an enforceable concept in a dispute with a landlord.
The residents’ campaign appears to aim in part to embarrass the Estate out of the sell off, and good luck to them, but £250 million buys a lot of embarrassment. For Her Majesty, the naughty step awaits…