6 Auckland Road – Cambridge

Thursday, October 30th, 2008. 1:25am

6 Auckland Road - A Terraced House
Cambridge City Council has decided to spend up to £400 000 compulsorily purchasing a terraced house on Auckland Road, Cambridge (Auckland Road is one of the streets which runs from Midsummer Common in the direction of the Grafton Centre). The council appear unhappy that the current owner is taking too long to renovate the house and are threatening to take it off them, that’s not a risk I’ve ever heard Kirstie Allsopp warn those taking on a renovation project on Location, Location, Location about!

The current owner of the house has put the notice entitled: “The Cambridge City Council (6 Auckland Road) Compulsory Purchase Order 2008″ up in the front window. The notice dated the 22nd of September 2008 and signed by the City Council’s Head of Legal Services Simon Pugh, states:

Notice is hereby given that the Cambridge City Council has made the Cambridge City Council (6 Auckland Road) Compulsory Purchase Order 2008 under section 17 of the Housing Act 1985. It is about to submit this order to the Secretary of State for confirmation and if confirmed, the order will authorise Cambridge City Council to purchase compulsorily the land described below for the purpose of returning it to beneficial use as a house.

According to a recent request for information Cambridge City Council has only made seven Compulsory Purchase Orders since 1984 (excepting those related to the Grand Arcade development) so this is quite a rare undertaking for the council.

The below is also posted in the front window alongside the Council’s notice by the person currently claiming to be renovating the house for their own use.:

Some while ago Liberal Democrat Councillor Catherine Smart (Deputy Leader of the Council and Executive Councillor Strategic Housing and Health) recommended that my home should be taken over by Cambridge City Council.

I was NOT invited to her meeting, nor did I know of the existence of this decision until a few days ago.

Indeed the official record of this decision was buried in Council Minutes and only referred to by a letter (“Q”).

The Council intends to waste what I regard as a huge amount (their current budget is £400 000) of our Council Tax to achieve one goal:

“To buy and restore this house so someone can live in it”

It is a good goal but restoring it so that I may once again live in it is exactly what I am doing – and the Council are fully aware of this and have been for some time. So it boils down to how much money will be wasted so that somebody else can live in my house.

I think they are crazy (but that’s me). If you are interested in seeing my the Liberal Democrats want to spend our Council tax this way why not ask her [Cllr Smart].

The Compulsory Purchase Order is listed as “currently under consideration” at:

I would find it very worrying if the council thinks it can compulsorily purchase a house just because they think someone is taking too long to renovate it.

There are many empty houses throughout Cambridge which I agree is a huge waste and we need to get them back into use – this appears to be a very odd and expensive way of approaching the problem though. If the house is gutted inside (as one neighbour told me) then £400 000 is in my view a huge over-valuation for the property.

I wrote to Cllr Smart asking her for details and noting I have been unable to find any information relating to 6 Auckland Road on the council’s website. Cllr Smart replied:

The matter came to the Community Services Scrutiny committee on the 24th July 2008 & I made the decision on that day, immediately after the debate. The committee report reminded members that a decision to compulsory Purchase had already been made on 7th July 2004.

The minutes for the July Community Services Scrutiny committee meeting are due for publication on the 3rd of November. The report given to the Executive Councillor making the decision in 2004 was been declared secret, scrutiny of it was held in secret and the discussion held in July 2008 was held following the exclusion of the press and public. One reason I could find nothing myself on the Council website is the fact the address of the property is not mentioned in any public papers, the property is always referred to as “Q”.

The record of the 2004 decision to make the compulsory purchase is available. It states:

As part of the City Council’s policy on compulsory purchase, such action is only taken as a last resort. Officers take the view that the use of compulsory purchase powers are necessary to bring this dwelling up to standard and ensure its reoccupation as soon as is reasonably possible. This action will contribute to the Medium Term Objective of providing Better Housing and Strong Economy and Attractive Environment.

That the Head of Environmental Health and Waste Strategy, in consultation with the Head of Legal Services and Director of Finance be authorised to use compulsory purchase powers set out in the report, in respect of property Q in order to make it fit for human habitation and bring it back into habitable use. That the revenue and capital resources already approved for progressing a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) on other identified properties are used to progress this CPO, given that other forms of financial assistance are likely to be used to bring these properties back up to the required standard and get them reoccupied.

The minutes of the 2004 scrutiny meeting state:

Decision 040707/h&h/07)

The Committee agreed the recommendation for the Executive Councillor by 5 votes to 0.

The Executive Councillor agreed the recommendation.

It is not at all clear what decision Cllr Smart was being asked to make in July 2008, given the decision had already been made in 2004, presumably given the delay she was being asked to confirm the earlier decision.

In 2004 the National People’s Congress in China added the wording “A citizen’s lawful private property is inviolable” to their constitution. The BBC reported: “The amendment should help stop state officials from requisitioning property and private possessions.” However while China moves forward, property rights in the UK are being eroded under the current government. The “right to property” is critical to the functioning of the country. That this whole process has been conducted in secret, apparently without fully informing the owner of the property is worrying. It may well be justified, and genuinely in the public interest, but the information released to the public does not enable me to reassure myself of that. I would also like to see evidence of the Council’s plans to recoup the public money it plans to spend on the property.

5 comments/updates on “6 Auckland Road – Cambridge

  1. Czapska

    Here is my letter to the Cambridge News regarding this and the hypocrisy of CCC in this matter.

    Sheer hypocrisy
    IN response to Dr Tribe’s question (Letters, May 12), Simons House is owned by Cambridge City Council. No surprises there, as the council in fact owns the majority (43 per cent) of the 371 empty homes in the city (2008 figures). If those are added to the empty homes owned by the local housing associations, a staggering 80 per cent of empty homes in the city are owned, in effect, by those in charge of dealing with empty homes. For further detail on these figures, please see:www.emptyhomes.com

    In 2007, the council chose Cambridge Housing Association and Flagship Housing to “redevelop” Simons House, but as yet, we have seen no progress.

    And still the council have the effrontery to serve us with a compulsory purchase order on our sole property and sole asset, on the grounds that it is empty and they are desperate for housing!

    When we are financially strapped, desperate to fix up the house and move in, but struggling to get the money to do so. Instead, we have to waste the little money we have and a lot of time and effort defending ourselves against their actions, while they use their £400,000 “compulsory purchase budget” to harass us. Yet they are the ones who own the majority of empty homes in the city? Wow, what hypocrisy.

    From: http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/cn_news_letters/DisplayArticle.asp?ID=418258

    Czapska, Cambridge

  2. Thomas

    You live nearby the property. Stop procrastinating, either do it up properly over the next six weeks or sell it immediately. There has been no progress with this house over the last few years. Our new property has been built at the bottom of the road in the meantime and a new property has been built on the top of the street. Many of us are frankly tired of this and will write collectively to “Strategic Housing and Health” asking they recommend that the Council expedites a Compulsory Purchase Order. This is a kind and polite request to you: Please demonstrate that you are doing something with the house and stop wasting your time fighting this.

  3. Czapska

    Thank you for your comments, even though they caused me great sorrow.

    I am sorry that, for reasons I cannot understand, this is causing “many” of you problems. You can’t imagine the nightmare all of this is for us (and absolutely none of it being procrastination-related either).

    At the time of the CPO notice, and since then, we have made a point of speaking to all the neighbours on the street about the situation and, with one exception, most are still deeply shocked that the council even has these powers and would use them in this case. The exception was a group who were only interested in buying the property asap. (As an aside, the property cannot be sold while there is a CPO on it.)

    In any case, I respond here simply to explain that there is no point wasting your time writing to the council or anyone else to speed things up. The matter is out of the council’s hands now and in the central government machinery. As it is a strict legal process with fixed deadlines, we all have to follow the drawn-out steps and timetable, and it must run its course. There is nothing anyone – you, us, the council – can do at the moment as it has to, by law, follow their timetable. In fact, on average I believe most CPO actions last about 2 years, although I’d be surprised if this did. At this stage, I’m afraid, the only thing the council is entitled to do is withdraw their application; everything else is out of their, our, and your hands.

  4. David Vincent

    With empty Council properties, the question isn’t how many are empty, but for how long they are empty. If there were never any empty Council properties, there would be no-one ever moving into a Council home. As far as I know, the average time for a Council home to be empty is about 5 or 6 weeks, which is pretty good (of course, the private sector probably does it faster – by not doing any repairs before new tenants move in and by bullying old tenants out, rather than taking the proper legal steps.

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