Wasteful council land grabs

Taxpayers' anger at the wasteful ways of parish councils has reached a peak in West Yorkshire.

‘With a budget of £293,545 and 23 councillors to support,’ says a local TPA supporter, ‘Holme Valley Parish Council (HVPC) has been in the news for more than just wasting money, but for expropriating the land property of local taxpayers in order to sell it back to them for thousands of pounds.’

Holme Valley Land Charity—part of HVPC—was established in 2009 to sell old quarry sites in order to raise money for community projects, but of the £130,000 generated so far, only a fraction of it has been spent on erecting just one bench and providing a prize for a school writing competition. Most of that money has been spent on contesting legal cases involving land grabbed from local residents. One man was allegedly asked to pay £20,000 to buy his own garden back from the council charity.

‘What I want to know is when are the people who have lost out going to be properly compensated for the money they have lost and the distress they have undergone?’ says local campaigner Stephen Green. ‘Having been involved for over five years now I have absolutely no faith in this council to sort this matter out themselves after the shambles they have created.’

As a result of its misappropriation of land, the charity has lost three legal disputes and been forced to hand back seven plots of land.  ‘Local taxpayer victims who have sued the council to get their property back have won in court,’ says a local supporter, ‘but at a significant cost in legal fees to themselves since the council is spending public money to defend its expropriation.’

For three years, Jacqui Duns had to fight the council charity in court over part of her family’s field taken by the charity, which then wanted to sell it back to her for £5,000—it’s actual value being more like £1,000. Mrs Duns produced family deeds showing the land belonged to them but then had to rack up £13,000 in legal fees over two years to win the case. She got £4,000 back, but is now pursuing the council charity for the remaining £8,500 in the small claims court—plus an apology.

‘There was no consultation, public or private, they simply tried to take this land in secret and behind our backs even though the documents they held show that our family had a clear interest in and occupancy of this land,’ Mrs Duns told the Huddersfield Daily Examiner. ‘The first we knew was when they put it up for auction and we had to step in to stop the sale.’

Earlier, the council charity had blundered when it sold land at auction that was Common Land and had to buy it back. The council charity has since been criticised by the Information Commissioner for not answering Freedom of Information requests.

‘I fully support Jason McCartney [MP for Colne Valley] in his call for the District Auditor to be brought in,’ says campaigner Stephen Green, ‘and for a full and public investigation into how this council is operating and I would be interested in what action he intends to take.’

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