Residents were not consulted properly when Fylde Council decided to sell the company which owned their homes, an investigation has revealed.
The Local Government Ombudsman’s report into the sale of Clifton Lytham Housing Association (CLHA) in 2011 said the council should apologise and pay residents £200 each following its failure to fully consult homeowners in Melton Grove, Lytham, over the sale of the estate to a private developer in 2011.
The report, issued today, cleared board members – made up of councillors – of any impropriety which could have influenced the sale or adversely affected residents.
The Ombudsman considered 12 specific complaints against the board, 11 of which were unfounded or not relevant.
It also found rent had gone up, but by “affordable levels.”
Dr Jane Martin, of the Local Government Ombudsman, said: “The residents who came to me feel understandably aggrieved that their homes were acquired by a developer with very little communication from either the council or the association.
“However, while I appreciate the residents’ concerns about the increased rents they will now have to pay, I cannot say the sale to the developer would not have happened if the complainants had been properly consulted and I cannot say rents would not have gone up.
“In the interest of open and transparent governance, there should have been more effort made to consult with the residents, and I hope the council will learn lessons from my report.”
The Express revealed the Ombudsman had contacted the council in May last year over the sale of the Melton Grove estate to a private developer.
Controversy was sparked because, despite CLHA initially seeking to sell to a registered social landlord, the Windmill Group is a private developer.
The 20 two-bedroom bungalow site has remained unchanged since the group was named owners.
Coun David Eaves, Fylde Council leader said: “This has been a very thorough investigation and one that councillors and officers welcome as the final chapter in the sale of the Clifton Lytham Housing Association shares.
“What is most important is that the Clifton Lytham Association have had all the matters thoroughly investigated and can now draw a line under the issue.
“The report is very clear: rents have not risen above affordable levels; there was no conflict of interest at any point and the (CLHA)board complied with the law at all times.
“We know this has been a distressing episode for some residents and we accept there was not sufficient consultation by the board on the sale of the shares.
“The council will take on board the recommendations of the Ombudsman to allow the residents closure on this matter.
“The report states that the insufficient consultation is unlikely to have affected the final outcome of the sale.
“We hope the complainant and the people she represented can be assured that no detriment has been caused to them.”
The council said it accepted the findings and will support Omsbudsman recommendations to pay each resident £100 in “recognition of the lost opportunity for consultation on the future of their housing” and £100 each “for the confusion caused by the lack of consultation about their housing”.
A spokesman for the Melton Grove Residents’ Association said: “The Ombudsman has now confirmed that Fylde Council were at fault through maladministration and service failure when they sold Melton Grove to a property developer instead of a Registered Social Landlord.
“Despite all the platitudes and promises the council made that residents would see no change but ownership and would be protected, in perpetuity no worthwhile safeguards were put in place and any that were are so vague they are uninforceable.
“This has left Melton Grove, once an idyllic town asset, available to all local residents of limited means, under constant threat of development and rent increases. Many tenants have now left the homes in which they thought they would see out their days and others struggling to afford to keep their homes. Fylde Council officers and cabinet drove through the sale against huge public outcry and refused to consult in any meaningful way with or listen to the public. Whatever spin the council puts on the the Ombudsmans report it is clear they were wrong and negligent in doing so and the Ombudsman agrees.”
The report will be available to view at Fylde Town Hall from August 18 and will be published on the council website www.fylde.gov.uk