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Thorpe Bay covenant is a "money-making racket", say campaigners
12:00pm Sunday 7th October 2012 in News
CAMPAIGNERS have branded a protective covenant a “money-making racket” after it was revealed a major development company received a share of the profits.
The Echo has discovered Robert Leonard Group, which owns prominent sites such as the seafront Esplanade House and 225 acres of green belt at Bournes Green, holds a 49 per cent stake in Thorpe Bay Estate Company Ltd.
The company, through its subsidiary, Thorpe Estate Ltd, owns the covenant which binds hundreds of residents of the Burges Estate, Thorpe Bay, to pay up to several thousand pounds if they want to make any alterations to their homes.
The rest of the firm is owned by Regis Group, which has been called a “bully” by the Burges Estate Residents’ Association and James Duddridge, the Tory MP for Rochford and Southend East, for its strict enforcement of the covenant.
The covenant ostensibly exists to protect the character of the estate by preventing over-development.
But Ron Woodley, the association’s chairman, said the involvement of Robert Leonard proved it had simply become a way to make easy money.
He said: “It is just a money-making racket, a way of generating revenue.
“There can be no pretence that it is anything other than that.
“It cannot and does not need to protect the integrity of the estate, because the council now has that responsibility.”
Most of the residents living on the estate own the leasehold to their properties, with the freehold retained by Regis.
Pier Management, a Regis subsidiary which manages the leases, says that means it is entitled to charge an “administration fee” and “reasonable costs” for any alterations to homes.
But Mr Woodley has now launched a legal challenge after collecting examples of residents being charged thousands of pounds for relatively minor changes.
Companies House records show Thorpe Estate Ltd raked in £146,000 in 2010/11, “mainly due to additional licence and alterations income”.
Earlier this week, Mr Duddridge vowed to raise the issue in Parliament.
He said: “Collectively the community needs to get together and get somebody who will be able to have a proper judicial review of the covenant and its application, rather than doing it on a case-by-case basis.”
No one from Pier Management or Regis was available for comment.
THE boss of Robert Leonard Group has called for Ron Woodley to be honest about his motivation for campaigning on residents’ behalfs.
Perry Gamon, the firm’s managing director, confirmed the company held an interest in Thorpe Bay Estate Company Ltd.
But he revealed Regis Group had offered to let Mr Woodley, an Independent councillor as well as chairman of the Burges Estate Residents’ Association, manage the estate on its behalf nearly two years ago.
He said: “Personally speaking, I believe that if Mr Woodley was that unhappy with the situation, he should have accepted the opportunity to manage the estate when it was offered to him.
“I’m not sure whether he advised his members of that generous offer.
“Maybe the time and hard work involved in managing a huge estate would stand in the way of his political ambitions.”
According to Mr Woodley, the deal offered by Regis was to manage only the applications for minor changes to properties.
He said: “I couldn’t accept that - it had to be the whole lot - so there was nothing to offer to the association.”