MELTON GROVE is a complex of around 20 retirement bungalows which was left by the Clifton family to Fylde Borough Council over 50 years ago. It is owned by the six directors of the Clifton (Lytham) Housing Association Ltd for the benefit of the residents who inhabit these bungalows.
Fylde council officers have referred to it as, ‘a small oasis of tranquillity’, yet by the time you read this, it could be a building site. The bedrock of existence for these elderly residents could have been sold off to a developer by the back door, destroying the legacy left behind by the Clifton family so many years ago.
You may wish to know that this article is based on Counterbalance‘s superb heartfelt coverage of this issue. I won’t be touching on every detail, but he does, and trust me, if you take the time to read through the series your mind will be well and truly blown by the tyrannical depths that Fylde Borough Council officers will plumb in order to ensure that the sale of this estate can be completed. What’s worse is that it seems most of the Conservative councillors are on board.
Blackpudlians might think they have it bad sometimes, but the machinations going on within the echelons of Fylde Borough Council’s cabinet and executive offices smell even worse than Harbour Village in Fleetwood.
Break me from this tie
In 2007, cash-strapped Fylde Borough Council listed Melton Grove as a ‘Category 1′ asset, which means that they believed it could or should be sold off to generate income to spend on a new town hall. The alarm bells may not have been tolling then, but they certainly are now as the scene has been set for a bloody takeover with bulldozers at the ready.
Later in 2007, the a Special Policy & Service Review Scrutiny Committee met and changed Melton Grove from a Category 1 asset. They concluded with the following resolution;
That if the Directors of Clifton Lytham Housing choose not to dispose of the Association to a registered social landlord that the Council no longer supports the administrative costs to the Association
One way of looking at this, which is what Counterbalance does, is to say that this was a massive U-turn from the original position and grants a shroud of protection for the estate. I don’t necessarily go along with that.
For me, it states that the council will fund the CLHA if they transfer to a registered social landlord, but wont if they sell to anyone else. Essentially if it gets sold to a grubby developer, it’s game over and the council won’t fund any continuing social aspects. Rather than protecting Melton Grove, it actually looks more like a death warrant.
That said, it does not specifically order a sale of Melton Grove.
That’s not how Fylde Borough Council’s legal eagles interpreted it though. In a document which was written within a month or so of the above resolution being made but didn’t actually surface until November 2008, CLHA Company Secretary and Fylde Borough Council’s Head of Governance Ian Curtis spelled out some options for the continuation of Melton Grove.
Based on the resolution made, he concluded that;
The cabinet’s decision demonstrates that the council is no longer prepared to accept that Clifton Housing can continue in its present archaic and idiosyncratic way
The resolution doesn’t say that at all. Curtis went on to recommend that Melton Grove should be sold off. Who’s calling the tune here?
Rewriting the rulebook
The council then decided in 2009 to change the way it disposed of assets.
No longer did they have to operate a sound, transparent, competitive tendering process. Oh no. They changed the rules so the council’s Principal Estates Surveyor could dispose of assets in whichever means they saw fit.
This change means that, amazingly, officers could quite feasibly tout for brown envelopes and sell to a bidder who paid the biggest bung. A massive backwards step for integrity.
Easier than the truth
Also in 2009, the freehold to the land occupied by Melton Grove was acquired by the CLHA for the princely sum of £750 as recommended by the chief executive. They had previously been leaseholders on a 999 year lease. Without the freehold, it would be impossible to change any restrictive covenants applicable to the land, as you will see shortly.
With the necessary smoke and mirrors in place and with the freehold acquired, at the end of 2009 Fylde Borough Council’s Chief Executive Philip Woodward called for a Housing Options Appraisal. At the start of the following year, Barry Dean (supposedly of Morris Dean chartered surveyors) presented to the council his options for the future of Melton Grove. Two options proposed to continue with it under effective control of the council, whilst six options proposed to dispose of it. This suggests which of the two approaches he was asked to focus on.
There was no obvious case for disposal: as of their 2010 accounts, the association was operating with a small, but growing surplus, and the estate was managed with the expertise of New Fylde Housing (now Progress Group) on contract with CLHA. There were no operating problems and as such no real reason to dispose of it other than simple asset stripping.
Nonetheless, the wheels were set in motion to liquidate this land.
Fuck the residents.
Nothing else here for you
It was decided that in order to minimise corporation tax liability on a sale, rather than sell CLHA’s assets to a third party, that the CLHA itself would have to be sold. In order for this to take place, the constitution of the company needed to be changed to remove any protection clauses, guarantees and specified or implied social obligations from within the Articles of Association of CLHA.
And it was made so.
The directors of the CLHA each own a share of it and are, or were, all councillors appointed and removed by Fylde Borough Council. This requirement was written into the Articles of Association of CLHA. Therefore it could be said that Fylde Borough Council effectively owned it.
In January 2011 the Memorandum and Articles of Association for CLHA were modified by its directors to remove the restriction which required directors to be councillors. Since the CLHA now had the freehold of the land, they also removed the following restrictive covenant;
Not to use the said premises or any part thereof for any other purpose than that of private dwellings for the working classes and for aged persons of limited means
These modifications have not only slashed a path for a ‘preferred’ developer to parachute in and take up a directorship, but for said developer to do whatever they like with the entire estate. In erasing this covenant, any lasting legacy of the Clifton family has been wiped out in tow.
Gods up in the sky
The end defined the means here. The constitution of the CLHA which used to protect the residents of Melton Grove was dismantled piece by piece by Fylde Borough Council in order to facilitate their ultimate premeditated goal: sale of the land to the highest bidder.
It should be noted that this procedure was neither voted on, nor scrutinised, nor even considered by Fylde Borough Council’s elected membership. It was carried out autonomously by CLHA’s six directors (under the advice of Fylde Borough Council officers) and by virtue of them all being councillors, by the Fylde Borough Council machine itself. It’s not that the majority of the councillors didn’t object to this, it’s that they never got an opportunity to and were not even aware that it was going on.
With a new-found carte blanche to dispose of assets to whoever they want in whatever clandestine manner they desire, and with any protective clauses removed from the Articles of Association of CLHA, the way has indeed been paved for Fylde Borough Council to forget about any social obligations it may once have had and chase the biggest payday possible, which funnily enough is more or less what happened.
Fuck the residents.
Passion take the wind
Surveyor Barry Dean was instructed by the Chief Executive to conduct negotiations with potential suitors for this land and came to the following conclusions on the 13th of September 2010.
That Progress Housing had offered a deal which would return £1,420,000 or possibly over £1,500,000.
That Community Gateway had offered a deal which could return £1,125,000.
That Windmill Group has offered a deal of £1,375,000.
At this point, Dean recommended to the council that if they were to make a decision there and then, he would reocmmend the Progress Housing offer.
However, two months later Barry Dean had changed his tune.
He admitted that Windmill had, on the 20th of September 2010, offered an additional £125,000 which would be payable if they were to secure planning permission to build 6 detached homes on the site. Cash for planning permission, anyone?
Even though Windmill Group’s maximum offer was dependent on this planning permission being granted, it was recommended by Barry Dean perhaps in part because the other bidders required that the land and properties were transferred to them which would have incurred a corporation tax liability for Fylde Borough Council.
The newly formed Melton Grove Residents Association claim their surveyor has valued the site at around £4m, so maybe it is being sold short as well.
The prospective new owners have nobly promised to continue the current waiting list for Melton Grove, though, which is awfully nice of them. Or is it?
The waiting list stood at 13 years’ worth of waiting just two years ago, yet now there lie two empty bungalows on the complex. In 2008, letting rules were amended, and one can only conclude that those people who previously qualified and were on the waiting list no longer qualify. If this is the right, the properties will soon become empty – perfect for demolition.
Fuck the residents.
Fylde Cllr Buckley was applauded for her presentation of the budget earlier this year, however, there were some anomalies.
Despite imminent completion on the Melton Grove deal, in the section detailing capital receipts, there was a section marked Clifton Housing which totalled zero which suggests that the council were not anticipating a sale and that the status quo would be maintained. On the other hand, other assets, which have only just gone up for sale, had assumed capital receipts of £5.8m this year and £3m next year.
This suggests one of three things. Either it is not anticipated that a deal to sell Melton Grove off will happen, that they will be giving it away for free, or that selective amnesia has taken place and it has been kept out of the figures so as not to have the money available included in this year’s budget. In other words, they want to treat it as a ‘bonus’ which can capriciously be dolloped out.
It just so happens that running in parallel to this is a bid for National Lottery funding to do up Lytham Hall, too. And according to Cllr Fazackerley, the deadline is tight. The Gasjet more or less confirmed any suspicions as they ran an article in March suggesting that £300,000 of the money from the sale of Melton Grove will be railroaded into to Lytham Hall in order to secure like-for-like National Lottery grants, with council leader David Eaves even being accused of gerrymandering.
Of course, if this ends up being the case, no tax will be payable on the latter amount due to the charitable status of Lytham Hall’s operator (otherwise known as Fylde Borough Council). As Counterbalance has cited most correctly, retail supremo Sir Philip Green got hammered publicly for avoiding tax in a similar way, by registering his companies in tax havens in his wife’s name and paying all profits there.
One assumes too that in due course there will be propaganda spewed out by the Conservative administration proclaiming that they have ‘saved’ Lytham Hall with their ‘decisive’ action.
Fuck the residents.
This position becomes even more ludicrous when you take a look at how much filthy lucre Fylde Borough Council are accumulating in their war chest. The Lytham Hall funding is easily affordable by the council, yet they are set to use the Melton Grove sale as a vehicle to on one hand meet that need, yet on the other to add another £1m to their bank coffers.
It all seems a bit mysterious to me. If they don’t need to sell it (which they don’t) then why on earth are they doing just that? All I can conclude is that they like cash more than residents’ happiness.
Louis the Magnificent
Cllr Louis Rigby has been the only person prepared to put their neck on the chopping block to save Melton Grove.
As a nomadic director of the Clifton Lytham Housing Association and current spanner in the works of the entire deal, after discovering that there were some questions over whether Barry Dean was actually employed by Morris Dean, he requested a list of documents from the council’s legal department. Each of the documents had involvement from Barry Dean in their preparation.
Rigby was informed that he could have the documents but it would take a short time to collate them; no problem.
But there were machinations afoot to dismiss Cllr Rigby, and just days later he received a letter calling for a special meeting to agree further amendments to the Articles of Association of CLHA, with one of the amendments being to allow directors to be removed by serving notice on them.
Normally, removal of a director would have been voted on by full council, but these changes would allow the directors of CLHA to remove themselves from the control of the council. It also once again keeps the Melton Grove issue away from anyone who could possibly object.
It won’t surprise you to discover that this was all ratified and that Cllr Rigby has indeed had his notice served on him.
Howard the Great
The subject of Melton Grove is on the agenda for the next full council meeting, but council officers are working to complete the sale before this meeting to ensure that it does not get stopped.
Fylde’s current mayor, Cllr Howard Henshaw, requested a Special Meeting to be held before then in order to ensure that it was properly debated. Fylde’s chief executive Philip Woodward declined his request and told him that it was too late.
Furthermore, another councillor requested that the Melton Grove process be referred to scrutiny in order to see what lessons could be learned, but they were told by Fylde Borough Council officers that the chief executive would not allow it to happen.
Despite this doom and gloom, though, Cllr Henshaw has prevailed and Melton Grove was scheduled for discussion in a Special Meeting on the 18th of July despite Council Leader David Eaves asking the him not to call one.
What does Eaves have to hide?
We may never know, because an emergency meeting in order to relieve Cllr Rigby of his share of CLHA is set to take place imminently (if it hasn’t already) and for this share to be transferred to the council who will then, having washed all of the blood away, present it to Windmill Group ripe for development on Friday 15th July.
The scandal is great and the transparency is zero. The Conservatives have been whipped to vote down any rebellion should it get that far. They are determined to ram this sale through at all costs.