In an unprecedented legal twist, a group of Lewisham leaseholders this week came closer to viewing a contract that they have fought to see for almost five years.
Under a 20 year Private Finance Initiative contract ( PFI ), leaseholders were told they would be expected to pay a fee of up to £10,000 every five years, in addition to annual property service charges. However the council has so far refused the leaseholders access to the document on the grounds that it contains a confidentiality clause.
Now some 25 Brockley home owners have united against costs imposed upon them by the contract (PFI) between Lewisham Council and Regenter B3 which was signed in 2007.
On November 29, at the Upper Tribunal, Mr Justice Bartlett QC ordered a reconsideration of the council’s refusal to reveal the contents of documents pertaining to service charges placed on the leaseholders’ homes.
Residents had cited examples of damp, mould and flooding in their homes since ‘regeneration group’ Higgins, part of the PFI consortium, began to refurbish them.
An independent surveyor had informed the leaseholders that the property’s roof was sound before the repairs. In 2011, a Leasehold Valuation Tribunal called Higgins’ repairs to the property ‘appalling’.
The cost of Lewisham’s housing PFI scheme was criticised by the National Audit Office in 2010 as it was shown to have spiralled from £48m to £116m.
Referring to this during proceedings, Judge Bartlett said to Christopher Heather, the barrister representing the London Borough of Lewisham: “Your case depends on the contents of the PFI.
“The way that you prove what is in a document is by producing it.
“It seems on the face of it there is no justification for refusing to show the document.”
The court then adjourned to allow the council to make a decision on whether to reveal the contents of the PFI or not.
Although a decision was not made on Thursday, Judge Bartlett said that if the PFI is released, the leaseholders must be given sufficient time to consider the document.
Bartlett also explained that he will retire on December 31,2012 and that the case should ideally be finished by then.
Lewisham Council’s representative refused to comment on the case, but the website for the PFI states that:
“Leaseholders will benefit as much as tenants in the longer term as the improvements to the buildings and the environment should make their homes more desirable.”
Luis Rey-Ordieres was forced to leave Lewisham because of problems in his home, and now uses rent from his Brockley property to pay his new mortgage. Rey-Ordieres said: “I had a home [in Lewisham] and it was violated, invaded.”
Steve Mills, one of the two leaseholders representing the case in the Tribunal, called Lewisham’s consultation “a sham because [we] were ignored.”
Mills said that the surveyors sent by Regenter B3 to the property were deemed ‘less than credible’ by the LVT.
Richard Carey, who is also representing the leaseholders, said: “It wears you down.
“Lewisham Council sold us down the river.”