'Building industry is full of cowboys' says Harborough MP Neil O’Brien in a savage attack on housebuilders

Harborough MP Neil O’Brien has launched a savage attack on housebuilders in the House of Commons.

Thursday, 5th March 2020, 4:09 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th March 2020, 4:11 pm
Harborough MP Neil OBrien has launched a savage attack on housebuilders in the House of Commons.

Mr O’Brien, who has a special interest in planning and development, said builders have to do much better right across the board.

He warned the under-fire building industry was “full of cowboys”.

Mr O’Brien warned MPs developers have to up their game after highlighting a catalogue of issues showcased in the Harborough Mail over the last few months.

“The first problem is what has come to be known as ‘fleeceholding’.

“It’s become the norm for parts of developments like car parks and public spaces to be handed over to property management companies - and for new owners to become leaseholders with responsibilities to pay for their upkeep.

“Instead of public spaces being maintained by the council, property management companies step in,” said Mr O’Brien.

“These firms offer to adopt these responsibilities more cheaply than the council would.

“But they are often only able to do that because they are working on the assumption they will dramatically ramp up the charges to residents over time.”

The fleeceholding hidden fee scandal has raised its ugly head on the new Farndon Fields estate in Market Harborough.

“One resident on Farndon Fields was asked to pay hundreds of pounds for the maintenance of a car park.

“But that so-called ‘maintenance’ only involved a couple of minutes work over a whole year.

“Residents complain to me that charges are completely opaque - and grow dramatically over time,” said Mr O’Brien.

“In some cases they also have to pay substantial fees for documentation when they move out.”

The furious Conservative MP urged the government to act “against bad practices that fall short of criminality”.

“I hope the minister will ensure this industry, which is full of cowboys, now comes under proper regulation.

“My constituents are sick of spending loads of time battling unfair bills.

“Let me turn to a second set of issues - which relate to the process of construction.

“One issue is inappropriate access routes to sites.

“On Farndon Fields some residents of new homes were told there would be no development of neighbouring land for years.

“Not only was this untrue but when another developer then gained planning permission to build there they decided to use a route through the new estate.

“Weaving massive lorries down tiny narrow streets, past a playground and up a little cul de sac,” snapped Mr O’Brien.

“There’s now mud all over the roads and lorries constantly mount the pavement or go down streets they are not supposed to.

“Giant lorries sit idling outside people’s homes in the early hours of the morning.

“And it is going to go on for years.”

The incensed dad-of-two said flooding in the Harborough area has been a massive problem after constant heavy rain this winter.

“This has been caused by inadequate drainage from building sites.

“Developers generally start work by scraping off the topsoil, meaning fields no longer soak up water.

“But too often they only put in proper drainage late in the construction process.

“This winter several have been caught out and hopelessly inadequate temporary drainage has been overwhelmed,” insisted Mr O’Brien.

He said devastated residents in Kingston Way, off Burnmill Road, Market Harborough, and in Fleckney have been “repeatedly flooded”.

“The developer’s response has been to build a little sort of muddy sandcastle to try and direct water down a drain.

“It’s a pretty pathetic reflection on an industry that claims to be considerate,” raged Mr O’Brien.

The planning specialist said the “violation of planning conditions” is another huge challenge.

“Builders work on sites outside the hours that are allowed.

“Lorries park in residential streets or queue outside a site, engines revving before the site opens.

“Firms fail to honour commitments on wheel-washing and so residents walk huge amounts of mud into their homes,” declared Mr O’Brien.

“A final set of problems in the industry relates to adoption.

“On Devana Way (Great Glen) developers sold houses on a lovely tree-lined road.

“But after selling the houses they had a dispute with the county council about who would maintain the trees.

“So the developer came along one morning and simply ripped out all the trees.

“In other places public spaces have fallen into neglect for years because there is no agreement on adoption.

“I hope the minister will reform the system so developers are not allowed to start construction without clear agreements on adoption and who is going to maintain what.”

Mr O’Brien said the UK now urgently needs:

A clear vision of where we want development – with more of it in cities

A clear vision of what kind of development we want – with less piecemeal development

A better system for making development pay its own way

To give councils vital new powers to improve development

To reboot neighbourhood planning so it can fulful its potential.

“If we change the system we can ensure we keep the places we value the most green and pleasant,” said Mr O’Brien.

“And at the same time ensure that the average family can get a house they can afford.”