March 23, 2017

Bob Bessell hands £7 million of retirement freeholds to the residents

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… and the housebuilder wants an end to ‘feudal’ ground rents, too!

Bob Bessell makes his moving and persuasive speech to the Carlex Westminster roundtable yesterday

Bob Bessell delivers his moving and persuasive speech to the Carlex Westminster roundtable yesterday

Bob Bessell, founder of housebuilder Retirement Security, yesterday pledged to leave his freehold portfolio – worth £7 million – in a trust controlled by the pensioner residents at his sites.

The undertaking was made at a Westminster roundtable organised by Carlex / LKP for MPs, and hosted by MPs Jim Fitzpatrick and Sir Peter Bottomley, attended by civil servants, property managers and other prominent figures in the retirement leasehold sector.

“Not less than once a fortnight I get requests to know whether the company is for sale,” Mr Bessell told the meeting. “In some ways, this is quite flattering.

“But when you go into it, the only reason that people want to buy the company is so that they can make money out of the leaseholders.

“I don’t think that that is what it was set up for.”

Mr Bessell, who headed Warwickshire social services before setting up as a retirement housebuilder, has created a unique business model in retirement housing.

All Retirement Security sites have a fully functioning residents’ management company, controlled by the leaseholders, who can hire and fire the management.

Indeed, Mr Bessell said that his own management has been given its marching orders on a couple of occasions, although subsequently asked to come back.

“This set-up has had its ups and downs, usually to do with personalities, but I’ve never seen a reason to want to change the arrangement that residents control their sites.

“Happy leaseholders fully involved in decision-making will keep the sites fresh and modernised. I think that is the basis of a very good business.

“But what I do find interesting is that absolutely nobody has wanted to copy this model.”

Bob Bessell believes empowering pensioner leaseholders is good business. But 'absolutely no one' has followed his model. The monetising opportunities of playing the leasehold game are too tempting

Bob Bessell believes empowering pensioner leaseholders is good business. But ‘absolutely no one’ has followed his model. The monetising opportunities of playing the leasehold game are too tempting

Mr Bessell continued:

“At the age of 82 even I have got the message that it is time I retired,” Mr Bessell told the meeting.

“The problem is that between my wife and myself we own the controlling interest in Retirement Security.

“We have discussed this with our children and the end result is that we are in the process of establishing a trust that will own a controlling interest in the shares for the benefit of the leaseholders.”

Retirement Securities sites across the country, which total around 1,600 flats, have elected leaseholder representatives.

“I was always of the view that the leaseholders must have the benefit of this, but I was concerned whether they would be able to manage the administrative problems that go with the sites.

“My doubts were totally unfounded. I had no idea that there was such a wealth of talent amongst the people living at our developments.

“Those who stood for election had to produce manifestos, as it were, and they canvassed for election.

“The average age of those elected is a mere 81, but they run rings around me.

“Their experience and knowledge and day-to-day awareness of what is going on at the sites makes me realise that they are perfectly capable of dealing with this.

“Their sorrow at my demise will be ameliorated by the fact that they have got their hands on the wheels of power.

“The value of the company so far as we can ascertain is about £7 million pounds.

“There is a real question in people’s minds: why would anybody want to give away all that?

“The answer is that is what is needed in order that the principles that lay behind the foundation of Retirement Security are protected and developed.”

Mr Bessell concluded his persuasive and moving speech with another blasphemy that will infuriate the leasehold monetisers:

“What on earth is the justification for ground rent?

“The first degree I ever did was in mediaeval history, and I realise that they were all sorts of practices but most have now gone.

“But ground rents are still there as a lonely relic of the feudal system.

“I see no reason why our legislators should allow that to continue.”

Comments

  1. Paul Joseph says:

    Kudos to Bob Bessel. What an honourable and rare beacon of integrity he is!

  2. Sue Stuckey says:

    God bless Bob Bessell. I think he should chair a new government all-party select committee on retirement housing, with MPs Jim Fitzpatrick and Peter Bottomley as founder members.

    Good news, great reporting. Thanks!

  3. Why are there so few like Bob Bessell and so many like Vincent Tchenguiz.

    If anyone deserves a knighthood its Bob Bessell.

  4. I would like to give Mr Bessell are hearty hug.

    To actually have the strength of character to do what I’ve directly requested the minister should look into, which is to abolish the practice of absentee freeholders altogether is remarkable.

    Feel free to share the extract below, taken from what was sent to Brandon Lewis only earlier this month on another related matter:

    You do not want to get involved in individual battles; who can blame you? You would be snowed under in no time at all.

    The saddest reflection of all this is that you appear to be totally ignorant of your position as Minister of State for Housing and Planning in that you somehow believe someone would take the time and trouble to raise this with you as a first point of general enquiry. All channels of enquiry have already been exhausted.

    You are the Minister. You are the last resort.

    The answer is straightforward if not simple to enact; each flat in each block must own part of the freehold or abolish the notion of Freeholds altogether. You already have a legal remedy for any potential issues. It’s called a Residents Association.

    The government is on a mission to create more homes. These will most likely be more flats due to lack of land. More flats mean more leaseholds. This issue is not going away any time soon.

    Furthermore, in response to my comments a local solicitor responded accordingly:

    I do think that you may be right that the answer is the wholesale abolition of absentee freeholders. Without doubt this could be achieved in all new property developments – it could be made mandatory that the freehold company must be owned by the leaseholders. You have made a very good point and now that you mention it I am surprised it has not been done before – it would prevent a huge amount of genuine misery. It would be very very simple indeed to implement !

    I raise my hat again to Mr Bessell and suggest that he be a consultant to Brandon Lewis; something that was also practised under the feudal system, but for the better.

    Perhaps there’s hope for us all yet.

  5. Michael Hollands says:

    Well done to Retirement Security and they do not appear to be members of ARMA.

  6. Trevor Bradley says:

    As ARMA/ARMAQ is infiltrated with so many bad apples I would not want or expect any decent company to be a member of it. If you are a member you would not manage on my behalf