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  • Lawrence Bailey

For those who go down to the sea in ships



One of the more rewarding things I managed to achieve during my time in public office was to help secure due recognition to those who have been part of the city’s maritime heritage.


It was one of those typical Swansea things that started with a chat in the local shop and eventually saw the building of a memorial that now stands in Technium Square at SA1.


The late Dave Thompson-Jones, then secretary of the Merchant Navy Association Swansea (MNAS), had long held an ambition to properly mark the role of shipmates who had kept the nation fed and provided for, both in war and peacetime.


We agreed that there would be no better location than the same quayside where vessels from around the globe once moored. Thankfully, the landowners shared our opinion and donated the site.


When I took the Association’s appeal for a match-funding arrangement to a council meeting, it was wonderful to see the proposition receive unanimous support.


I fully expect the same cross-party backing from councillors today when the motion is put that the Association should be awarded the Freedom of the City.


It is an entirely fitting gesture, not to mention a deserved acknowledgment of the contribution and sacrifice made by generations of seafarers.


I’m sure that MNAS stalwarts no longer with us will be smiling down today at how we remain proud as a city to remember those who go down to the sea in ships.


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Leaseholders have grounds for complaint


It’s a hallmark of government how it always seems to be the more readily solvable problems that never quite get solved.


One of these is the long-overdue action needed to sort out the scandal of leasehold rip-offs.

Leasehold is where you buy a house but only rent the land that its built on. In most instances, the annual ground rent is fairly modest and you get the option of buying the lease outright (freehold) after two years.


However, recent times have seen the practice of landowners selling on leases to third parties who then ‘monetise’ the asset. In other words, leaseholds previously available for around £2,000 suddenly jump to something like £12,000 without notice.


In some cases, leaseholders have been charged 10-20 times the ground rent depending upon the number of years left on the lease and the value of the property – and it’s all perfectly legal.


The practice not only creates an impossible financial burden but can affect a homeowner’s ability to sell on the property.


Reform campaigners argue that re-selling leases for residential properties should be banned and that ground-rents must be at a fixed rate linked to property value.


This week, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) suddenly stepped in to announce it has written to four of the country's biggest housing developers after uncovering "troubling evidence”.


The regulator says the firms could face court action if they are found to have misled buyers and trapped them in leasehold agreements.


Some industry observers reckon however that this agency intervention is aimed at diluting a landmark series of reports published last month by the Law Commission. Their investigation was commissioned three years ago by Sajid Javid, then communities secretary, who promised an end to the “feudal practice” of leasehold.


The Commission are calling for new consumer legislation – not just a tightening of regulations.


No-one has explained just how the baton has now switched to the CMA although UK housing secretary Robert Jenrick is backing the action.


The same minister is currently under a cloud for going against the advice of his own planning officers and giving the go-ahead for a £2 billion 500-apartment London housing scheme led by billionaire Richard Desmond.


Contributions from property developers to the Conservatives made up nearly a quarter of the £47.5m in donations received by the party from last July to March.


Call me cynical, but it looks like leaseholders will have grounds for complaint for some time to come yet.


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