‘It’s not what you know but who you know’ so goes the saying, and it looks as though Hythe Town Councillor Paul O’Connor (below) knew the right people.
Prior to becoming a Hythe Town Cllr on May 7th 2015, Cllr O’Connor purchased a (125 year lease from Nat West, for the space above their building in Hythe High Street for £130,000 (1st and 2nd floors). The lenders for the lease were Kent County Council according to the Land Registry and the lease dated the 18th June 2013. For the next 2 years the property above the bank remained uninhabited.
On May 7th 2015 Cllr O’Connor is elected to Hythe Town Council. It is then that Cllr O’Connor uses his legal right to apply for a refurbishment loan from Shepway District Council and Kent County Council to bring the flats back into being.
On Jan 13th 2016 in a response to a question-no-2 by Cllr Mary Lawes (UKIP) in the council chamber, Cllr Alan Ewart-James (Con) SDC Cabinet member for housing and the man responsible for the no use empty scheme states:
‘In fact yesterday (Jan 12th 2016) I made an inspection of one of the small local one man band type of developer who had partaken of this scheme whereby by availing himself to the loans he had been able convert empty offices above the NatWest bank in the middle of the High Street in Hythe into a number of flats. He told me that had it not been for the loans of the No Use Empty scheme, he would not have been able to undertake this development.’
Now Cllr Ewart James made no mention that this ‘local one man band type of developer‘ was a fellow Hythe Town Councillor. We wonder why that is?
Cllr Ewart James went onto say:
‘The ‘No Use Empty Scheme’ loan scheme is open to the owners of long Term empty homes in the district, as long as they meet the criteria. Long-term empty homes are residential properties which have been empty for 6 months or more. To be eligible, the owners are required to pass a financial viability test and also evidence that they are unable to access the necessary funding for the works through other lenders, such as banks. In some circumstances the owners of former commercial properties may be able to access the loan funding in order to bring their property back into use for residential purposes.’
The no-use empty scheme allows Cllr O’Connor (or any other developer) a maximum of £40,000 per unit (£25,000 from KCC and 15,000 from SDC) However, Cllr O’Connor received £70,666, according to the Home & Communities Agency to bring 4 units back into use.
Cllr O’Connor owns a company called Easthomle Ltd which provides plumbing, heat and air-conditioning installation services. According to the latest accounts (2014) lodged at Companies House, Eastholme had Net Assets of £28,293.
Cllr Paul O’Connor has done nothing wrong. He has used the no use empty scheme and brought 4 units into use. It is strange that almost 2 years after his planning application (24/10/13) the property remained uninhabited and then after he is elected a Councillor to Hythe Town Council he applies to the no use empty scheme and lo and behold is accepted. The property came into use in Feb/March 2016.
Cllr O’Connor has had a little over £200,000 of public money to purchase and refurb the property above Nat West. His flats are full and he will earn an income to pay of his debt and be left with a leased property which will continue to make him a handsome profit in years to come and he hasn’t invested a penny of his own money.
As we said, ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ and why did it slip Cllr Ewart-James memory that the ‘local one man band type of developer‘ was a fellow Hythe Town Cllr? We’ll leave you to decide that.