Sun, 17 May 2020
THE minister for housing has intervened in a £60,000 row between an Upper Lambourn developer and West Berkshire Council.
Last April, former district council leader Gordon Lundie accused his own authority of allowing the local builder to unwittingly face financial ruin.
Roger McCabe, the developer of The Malt Shovel pub in the village, was exempt from having to pay a £60,000 charge to the council – so long as he filled in the right forms before a deadline.
But Mr Lundie (formerly Con, Lambourn Valley) said the council, while fully aware of the situation, never warned his constituent he was about to become liable by default.
That left Mr McCabe legally obliged to pay the council the sum or risk going to prison if he couldn’t.
Mr McCabe asked Newbury MP Laura Farris for help and she contacted the minister, Christopher Pincher, for advice.
The minister’s reply suggests the council could, in fact, opt to review the situation at any time.
Last April, Mr Lundie explained that as the developer of an existing building, Mr McCabe, who was converting the former pub into flats, was exempt from paying the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL).
Mr Lundie said the council had all the necessary information but, as the deadline loomed, it nevertheless failed to warn his former constituent that it needed to be put into the correct format to activate the exemption.
He added at the time: “The poor guy.
“It’s quite clear there should have been nothing to pay.
“And there were plenty of opportunities to warn him they didn’t have the information in the proper form and that there was a deadline.
“But instead they took the opportunity to send him this bill... and he could now go to jail if he can’t pay it.
“At no point did anyone tell him there was a deadline for saying so.
“[Nick Carter] the chief executive said it’s not ideal, but once that bill had been raised, it’s a legal document and it becomes a criminal offence not to pay it.”
Mr McCabe said at the time: “I’m not brilliant at forms.
“This is driving me to despair – I don’t know which way to turn.
“I’ve put my life savings into this.”
West Berkshire Council has said: “The council is not able to provide details on individual cases.”
But housing minister Mr Pincher replied to Mrs Farris conceding that “the levy process can appear complex to people not usually involved in the planning process”.
Significantly, he went on to state that, while he was unable to comment on specific cases, a levy charging authority “is able to serve a revised liability notice, at any time, irrespective of whether a review or appeal has been requested, if they think it appropriate to do so”.
Mr McCabe said: “I was told the High Court, which I couldn’t afford, was my only option.
“This shows that it isn’t and that West Berkshire Council still has the opportunity to do the right thing by me.”
District councillors Tony Vickers (Lib Dem, Newbury Wash Common) said: “The Liberal Democrats are considering whether this is a matter that should be brought before West Berkshire Council’s overview and scrutiny management commission or the governance and ethics committee.”