Commenting on why his Department didn’t go down the ’fit and proper person’ route, he said he didn’t think that would have solved the problems because it would have needed an enormous bureaucracy to deal with it and it was likely that the rogues would hide behind companies or would pass parks around among family members. Instead, Mr Shapps had looked at solutions that would make it ‘unprofitable’ to be a rogue park owner.
‘I think there is a very worrying trend of an explosion in the number of parks owned by a small number of unscrupulous park owners,’ he said. ‘They exploit and abuse park home residents and I have focused on legislation that will change that.’
He went on to say that the biggest problem is sale blocking and the proposed measures were intended to remove site owners’ involvement in sales. ‘I am absolutely confident,’ he added, that if we get to legislate we can look forward to a much better world for park home residents, and it will be one that they certainly deserve.’
Turning to the subject of the legislation needed to bring about these improvements to residents’ lives, Mr Shapps said that the legislative programme for the coming year had already been set out in the Queen’s Speech the previous week and that park homes were not included. However, he was hoping that a parliamentary colleague would take it on board and take it forward as a Private Member’s Bill with Government support. He didn’t think it was contentious and hoped it would obtain all party support and that it would be possible to get the measures through in the coming session.
Chairman of this All Party Parliamentary Group, Christopher Chope, said that the ballot for Private Members’ Bills was to be held the next day (May 17th) and he hoped that any successful MP choosing to ‘run with’ this Bill would be ale to take it forward by the middle of June.
Lord Campbell-Savours commented that although the Bill is expected to get Government support, that would be of no consequence unless it also got Government time.
Grant Shapps responded by saying that he thought it would have a pretty good chance of success as the Government was predisposed towards it.
Natascha Engel, MP for North East Derbyshire, confirmed Grant Shapps’ view that the number of parks owned by rogues was increasing, and that her major concern was about enforcement. She felt it was vital for local authorities to be given powers to go into parks and force the owner to do the things he had failed to do. She asked Mr Shapps if that was central to what he was planning to do.
He responded by saying that one of the important changes he proposes is to allow local authorities to fund their licensing. A problem that has been encountered in the past is that, from local authorities’ perspectives, they do not get any benefit from acting in these cases. Under the proposals, local authorities would be able to charge for their licensing responsibilities and they should be willing to get involved.
Robert Skeoch from the Department of Communities and Local Government said that under the proposals local authorities were being given the power to serve notice on site owners who are not complying with their licence conditions. ‘We are proposing to increase fines to an unlimited level,’ he said. ‘And if the site owner persists in not carrying out work, we are giving local authorities the right to go in, carry out that work and charge the site owner for it.’
Sheila Austin, a long-standing campaigner for residents’ rights who was very actively involved in the infamous Ladycroft dispute, questioned whether the local authority involvement would be a duty or a power. ‘Even if they get money for it,’ she said, ‘it doesn’t mean that they will act.’
Grant Shapps responded by saying that he believed that the only way to remove the rogues from the industry was to make it unprofitable for them to trade in an unscrupulous manner so that they would be forced out of the marketplace. Previously the maximum fine for non-compliance with site licence conditions was £2,500. Now, by making it ‘unlimited’ Mr Shapps said that an important message was being sent to the judiciary that if the site owner had done something wrong then the fine could potentially be in hundreds of thousands of pounds and there must come a point where the rogues would think it was no longer worthwhile to behave as they have done in the past.
Robert Skeoch added that the law was being changed so that directors and secretaries of companies and anyone registered with the company would be jointly and personally liable for it.
Looking for top tips on legal issues? Email us: email@example.com
To read more about this topic pick up the July issue of Park Homes and Holiday Caravan
For more legal advice subscribe to Park Homes and Holiday Caravan