I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which is timely from my perspective, as I visited Great Orton park homes last week. The main issues for the residents I met were the state of the park and the responsibility of the park owner.
I have two points to make. First, does my hon. Friend agree that introducing the fit and proper person test would go some way towards giving councils more powers to intervene where appropriate? Secondly, does he agree that it would be appropriate for residents to have the opportunity to acquire ownership of the park in certain circumstances, similar to the right that long leaseholders in blocks of flats have?
My hon. Friend’s second point is a suitable subject for a separate debate. One problem is that the land on which the caravans are situated is in separate ownership from the caravans, so to introduce a right to buy that land might legally be quite complicated. Having said that, it has been suggested that, to get round the site licence provisions, some operators are offering long leases on the small area of land on which each caravan or park home is situated, which leads to the situation where each separate park home on a site has to have a separate site licence. That is the latest way in which the law is being stretched. At my suggestion, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council and the leasehold advisory group are interested in looking into the issue to see whether we will have a situation rather like the one we had with some Traveller sites, where an acre of field was divided up into lots of very small plots.
I am sceptical about my hon. Friend’s earlier point about the fit and proper person test. I will illustrate my scepticism by referring to the controlling director of Royale Parks Ltd. Robert Lee Jack Bull, born in May 1977, was appointed as the director of Royale Parks Ltd on 7 September 2018. Directly or indirectly, he holds between 25% and 50% of the shares and voting rights in that company, which is part of a complex group of companies. The information that I have seen from Companies House suggests that Mr Bull is the director of no fewer than 74 companies, which between them have assets of about £80 million and liabilities of about £110 million. Royale Parks Ltd controls 75% or more of the shares and voting rights in some of those subsidiary companies, such as Royale Parks (Dorset) Ltd. In marketing the properties, however, RoyaleLife describes itself as
“a family-owned business with a heritage dating back to 1945.”
There may be such a heritage, but what is probably not well known is that Mr Robert Lee Jack Bull was convicted at Cheltenham magistrates court on two pieces of information brought by the trading standards department, as described in the register for 10 January 2013. They are in similar terms, so I will refer only to the first one, which says:
“Between 13/08/2009 and 08/11/2009 at Gloucestershire, being a trader, engaged in a commercial practice which, by omission, was misleading under regulation 6 of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 in that its factual contract omitted material Information, namely by making representations to Phillip and Mary Bentall, being average consumers, with respect to a park home, 101 Cotswold Grange Country Park, Meadow Lane, Twyning, which representations caused them to take a transactional decision namely to sell their home at 32 Quay Lane, Hanley Castle and purchase 101 Cotswold Grange Country Park which they would not otherwise have undertaken if they had known that planning permission only existed for holiday homes at Cotswold Grange Country Park and that 101 Cotswold Grange Country Park was a holiday home, not a permanent residential property, contrary to Regulation 10 of said regulations and as a result caused or was likely to cause the average consumer to take a transactional decision he would not have taken otherwise.
Contrary to regulations 10 and 13 of the…Regulations 2008.”
Mr Bull was fined £4,000 on that and the other count, and ordered to pay costs and a victim surcharge.
If we go for a fit and proper person test, will Mr Bull fall foul of that test? I suspect that he would not, which shows the weakness of such a test. That is why I express openly my scepticism about it, but I think that if my constituents, certainly at Tall Trees, knew about Mr Bull’s background they would be very concerned, because many of them were the victims of mis-selling. They bought their park homes at Tall Trees around the same period, between 2009 and 2013, having been told that those park homes carried with them full residential rights over a 12-month period.