The legal challenge against Croydon Council’s landlord licensing scheme, a flagship manifesto policy which helped get Labour elected last year, has been rejected by a High Court judge, a decision greeted by one senior council figure as, “A great day for Croydon and particularly our residents.”
Tony Newman, the council leader, said: “Those developers and landlords who have sought to exploit the vulnerable and attack Croydon’s Labour council elected with a clear mandate to deliver the PRS licensing scheme have been sent the clearest possible message.”
It can only be hoped that Newman is equally forceful and bullish on behalf of the people who elected him when he next meets the likes of landowners the Whitgift Foundation, their £1 billion developers Westfield, and their managing agents, or the lobby group Develop Croydon.
It is not clear immediately whether the judge will award Croydon Council’s legal costs against the Croydon Property Forum, the shadowy body which brought the case.
If the judge does not, it means that Croydon Council Tax-payers will be saddled with the bills for defending the case, which could run to an estimated £30,000 or more.
The Croydon Property Forum said, “Our barristers have advised us that we have good grounds for appeal.” Presumably, these are the self-same lawyers who advised that the Forum had a strong case in the first instance, and who are “on the clock” as long as the case continues… The Forum has also posted an appeal for funds on its website: “… we would be grateful for contributions so we can afford to pay our barristers for representing us excellently and continue to offer advice and update our supporters as a community”.
There remains the possibility of the Forum lodging an appeal against today’s ruling: a scheme in Enfield was overturned by the courts, but only after an appeal against the initial Judicial Review judgement.
An application for a Judicial Review – basically a request to have a judge independently assess key aspects of the scheme – was heard in the High Court a week ago by Mr Justice Silber. The Judicial Review was brought by the Forum, which is registered in Lancashire, and which has refused to disclose the identities of those it claims to represent.
The Forum had assistance in bringing its case from the Croydon Tories. Dudley Mead, Croydon Conservatives’ deputy leader and a long-time member of the governing board of the Whitgift Foundation, wrote to local Conservative Party members inviting them to join the group legal action.
Croydon Property Forum claimed in court that Croydon Council had failed to consult developers about its landlord licensing scheme.
Among those giving evidence in court last week was Richard Plant, a partner in Stiles Harold Williams, the property estate agents, whose landlord clients include the powerful Whitgift Foundation. In another capacity, Plant also happens to be the chairman of Develop Croydon, a body which represents developers and works closely with the council. After giving evidence in court against the council, it remains to be seen whether Plant or his colleagues consider his influential position within Develop Croydon to be untenable.
Croydon Labour’s landlord licensing scheme was a key proposal in their 2014 manifesto. Since the legal challenge was announced, the council has continued to encourage the borough’s landlords to register for the scheme, which is due to come into effect on October 1.
Those landlords who do not register before then face paying a £750 five-year registration fee for each property that they let.
Under the scheme, the standard and quality of properties on the private rental market will be regulated by the council. Unregistered and sub-standard rented property could see the landlords responsible facing fines of more than £10,000.
12.05pm: This post was updated to include comment from Croydon Property Forum
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