My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Breaking News Our Ramsgate House Hunt Opens Can of Worms


I’ve finally woken up to the very scary fact that I owe Thanet Council £23,000 and that this debt includes a cripplingly unfair 8% statutory interest rate. This large debt was imposed on me by Thanet Council to recover its legal costs for a High Court gagging injunction they took out against me in December 2014. The injunction was secured, with the approval of the then ruling Labour Cabinet at Thanet Council, to prevent me from publishing, in the public interest, confidential documents about the controversial Ramsgate Pleaurama development. The injunction is unique. Its the first time in legal history that a gagging injunction has been secured against a councillor by the council he/she was democratically elected to oversee. This unprecedented action raises some very important questions about the rights of councillors to free expression and their ability to public interest whistle-blow. But I’m digressing. The purpose of this post  is not to discuss  the injunction; I’ll be writing about that  in more detail soon, but to tell you a story  about a very surprising thing which happened to me, which wouldn’t have happened had I not been trying to deal with the injunction and the astronomic court costs.
Having no savings or  income apart from state benefits and a small rental from our  granny annexe, Jo and I recently began searching  for a cheaper  home  for ourselves and our 3 daughters. The idea was to free up some cash so we could pay off Thanet Council and be free of the debt and massive annual interest payments once and for all.

Last week we discovered what we thought was the answer. A large family home with a separate self–contained basement flat at 27  La Belle Alliance Square Ramsgate. The pictures and the description on the Ward and Co website were very exciting and Jo and I thought this property might be a solution to our problems. The asking price was  £385,000. The property  had been on the market since April so we might possibly  get a deal at £360- £375k which would free up enough cash to pay off Thanet Council. It was large enough for the  5 strong Driver clan and had room for  visitors to stay and the girls' mates to come and play. It also looked quite nice and homely too.

No planning application or building control application for the flat
But having had previous bad experiences of house buying  Jo and I have become very cautious house hunters and we like to do a little bit of homework before we take things further with a property we might fancy. The first thing was to find out more about the flat. According to the estate agent’s  blurb  the basement is currently arranged as a one bedroom self contained flat which has been recently converted and never used”. Having worked for several years in Camden council's  planning department I know that to convert part of a dwelling house into a self-contained flat almost always requires planning permission and building regulations  approval. So we checked Thanet Council’s planning records and discovered  that no planning permission had been granted for the flat and nor had building regulations approval been given for the conversion work.
No separate council tax banding for the flat
We next checked the council tax status of the recently converted self-contained basement flat. According to the Government’s Valuation Office any “part of a building which has been constructed or adapted for use as separate living accommodation”, is required by law to have a separate council tax banding and even if the flat is not occupied by a rent-paying tenant the owner of the flat is still required to pay the council tax due for the flat.  The Valuation Office defines "separate living accommodation" as accommodation which has independent access, or access from a hallway or other area; its own facilities for preparing food and sleeping; its own washing  facilities and a toilet. Looking at the floor plans from the estate agent its clear that this flat meets all of the Valuation Office criteria to be classified as  a council taxable unit of  "separate living accommodation".

picture from estate agent website of the flat
When I worked in planning at Camden council the normal practice was for my team to pass on details of all flat/ annexe conversions to the council tax team so that they could arrange for a valuation to carried out and the newly converted property added to the council tax billing register. However the conversion at 27 La Belle Alliance Square does not appear to have had planning permission or building regulations approval so the council is almost certainly unaware that the flat exists and that a new listing needs to be added to the council tax register for the property. Just to be doubly sure that the owners had, like good citizens should always do, notified the council about the flat, Jo and I double checked the property against the latest council tax register information dated 5 September 2016. The register  lists 27 La Belle Alliance Square as a single property in council tax band C with no separately listed and valued self-contained flat.

another picture of the flat
Clearly the owners of the property we were interested in had failed to secure planning permission and building regulations for the flat conversion and had failed to notify Thanet Council about the existence of the flat for council tax purposes.  These are acts which are unlawful and which most reasonable people would say were dishonest, or perhaps something stronger like fraud. Worse still carrying out the flat conversion without planning permission and building regulations approval is downright irresponsible and  potentially dangerous because unchecked and non approved building works such as electrical wiring and the like  could easily be  sub-standard and dangerous, putting at risk the safety of anyone living in the flat.  So who are the owners of 27 La Belle Alliance Square Ramsgate?


Well you could have  knocked me down with a feather when I found out!   It’s non other than the former Mayor of Ramsgate, David Green and his wife Elizabeth Green! The Greens are longstanding, some might say too longstanding, senior Labour politicians.  David Green, was a Labour councillor on Thanet District Council (TDC) for 16 years (1999-2015) and a Ramsgate Town councillor from 2009 -15. He was Mayor of Ramsgate between 2009-12 and a member of Thanet’s council’s ruling Labour Cabinet between 2011-15 with special responsibility for the council’s  planning and housing services. He recently attempted an unsuccessful political comeback in the July Newington by-election and was, I believe,  the  manager of Labour's unsuccessful Northwood by-election campaign last month. He is also the Treasurer of the South Thanet Labour Party.   Elizabeth Green was a Labour councillor on Thanet District Council (TDC) for 16 years (1999-2015), a Ramsgate Town councillor from 2009 -15 and Kent County Councillor between 2005-13 and a member of Thanet’s council’s ruling Labour Cabinet between 2013-15. The Greens were in effect part of a professional political elite,  living well off  their not inconsiderable councillor allowances for almost 2 decades.


The Greens. Prominent Thanet Labour politicians. Were they prominently dishonest or prominently forgetful? What do you think?
Its inconceivable that experienced and very  senior politicians, like the Greens, didn’t know that their flat conversion required planning permission and building regulations approval, especially when its borne in mind that David Green was in charge of Thanet Council’s planning service for several years.
I also find it hard  to understand why the Greens appear to have failed to register their flat for separate council tax banding and why they have therefore probably failed to pay the council tax which technically is due to Thanet Council.
As members of  Thanet Council's ruling Labour Cabinet until 2015 they were responsible for ending the 6 month council tax exemption policy on empty houses and flats in the district. This means that council tax on the Green's flat was due immediately after the conversion works had been completed, which was April 2016 if not sooner. They were also responsible for developing polices to maximise council tax collection rates in the Thanet district. Its difficult for me to believe that having gained so much council tax experience and knowledge whilst they were Thanet councillors and Cabinet members,  they simply forgot, or didn't realise,   that they owned a flat for which they should have been paying council tax!  
As prominent Ramsgate citizens David and Elizabeth Green must follow the rules like everyone else is required to do, but what I have found out  suggests  to me that they were probably doing the opposite. These are extremely serious allegations which may  mean that the Greens evaded the payment of  council tax  and may have carried out unlawful conversion works as well.  Having not been checked and certified these works could potentially  be sub-standard and pose safety risks and danger to anyone living in the flat. 
I will be contacting the Leader of Thanet Council to request that this matter is investigated. If the investigation reveals any wrong doing I would expect the Greens to pay in full any tax which is deemed to have been due and to secure any relevant permissions and conduct any required works  to regularise their flat
Thanet Labour  Party should also do the right thing and suspend from membership the Greens until investigations are carried out.  If I was a member of Thanet Labour Party I would insist that the Greens were expelled from Labour membership if it is found to be the case that they unlawfully converted a flat and then sought to avoid the payment of council tax due on that flat. Surely such actions, if they are found to be true, could be seen as bringing the Labour Party into disrepute.

Latest news David Green has challenged my account of matters related to his home. I am busy with Live animal exports tonight but will reply to him tomorrow via my blogiste. It will be an interesting read.  

22 comments:

  1. Why did you have an injunction but not the Gazette too?

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  2. How many more of them have been bending the rules?

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  3. Ridiculous and malicious ! You Mr Green are a disgrace and a fraud. Quite simply a nasty excuse for a human being ...

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  4. It is just awefull that Mr Driver needs to sell his home to pay costs that were incurred by Tdc to gag him in the first place! Then to discover this when looking at another property. This is a clear display of the hypocrisy within the politics and politicians of TDC. There are clearly one set of rules for one person and a different set for another depending on your power and connections.

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    1. And even more awful that someone relying on benefits is having to downsize to a house costing less than £400,000.

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  5. Spiteful and vindictive local Labour Party run then by Irish (and probably still is) who will do absolutely anything to silence anyone who gets near to exposing their corruption and incompetence.

    And we thought the conservatives were bad!!!!!!!

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  6. Absolutely disgusting that Mr Driver was even under a gagging order. It just goes to show you just how corrupt TDC is and has been for years

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  7. the drawings show a bedroom...

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  8. Former councillor & Mayor Green clearly thinks he is above the law by not applying for planning permission & not paying council. Now he's squirming & trying to blame the agents! Disgraceful...

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  9. Mr Green is wrong assuming not having separate utilities doesn't make a separate dwelling. It is obvious that he just doesn't want to pay any council tax. He has kept this secret from the council tax assessors that he has a self-contained flat that has a bathroom and kitchen. This could have been a flat, without proper planning permission, since he started living there. Mr and Mrs Green could have been avoiding council tax on this flat for years. I hope that his friends at the council don't sweep this under the carpet.

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  10. From the agents website (before it disappears):

    What the owner says

    We were attracted to this house for a number of reasons, firstly the amount of space that the house offers meaning our growing family had plenty of their own space, and secondly the location. Being so close to the town means that within a short walk we can be in the town centre, or on the seafront overlooking the Royal Harbour enjoying a coffee from one of the many cafes and bars available. We have maintained the house while we have been here and have most recently converted the lower ground floor into a self contained flat, but changes in circumstances mean this has never been lived in! We hope the next owners enjoy the house as much as we have done!

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  11. Sold a house last year - had to sign off on the estate agent's blurb, I checked all details were accurate and truthful.

    Can't believe that I would have missed something as major as a office being described as a granny annex!

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  12. A bit of info on annexes:

    http://www.extensionbuild.co.uk/when-annexe-not-annexe.html

    Looks like a class T exemption is ruled out as the annex hasn't been used. ..

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  13. The Valuations Office, a branch of HMRC and the department responsible for setting Council Tax on properties, deems an annexe to be liable for separate banding if it could be classed as a self-contained unit - i.e. it has its own kitchen area, bathroom and sleeping/living space - even if it shares other services and entrances with the main house

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  14. Popeye the Sailorman7 September 2016 at 15:53

    What a clown. His claim that it's an 'office' is laughable. Clearly a shabby and dishonourable attempt to avoid registering it for council tax. Additionally, he will have been well aware that planning permission should have been granted and all appropriate safety certificates should have been obtained whatever the conversion's intended use? I'm sure that in his former incarnation he'd have taken a very dim view of any one trying to pull off such a stunt.

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  15. When I was shown the properties it was the house plus an basement flat.

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  16. And we wonder why Pleasurama, Dreamland, Ramsgate Port, Manston etc etc are such a mess?

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  17. Not a very bright thing to do Mr Green. Any purchaser's solicitor would have picked up the fact that there was no planning permission. I suggest you put it back to the way it was. Knock £50k off the asking price and then sell it to Mr Driver.

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  18. Why is the injunction 8% interest when the Bank of England interest rate is 0.5%? Courts making up the rules?

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  19. Why extra tax for one property and a minor conversion? Why aren't the councilors reducing tax?

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  20. Rather than decorating his basement flat why doesn't he speak up on pleasurama or thor mercury?

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  21. I do hope our council will be looking into this matter as it is not something to be swept under the carpet. In fact this couple should be setting an example therefore should be made an example of through the enforcement appropriate.
    Thanet fraudsters who have sat so long in our council is the reason we have such a bad name for our council.

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