Over the last six years, one developer more than any other has come to epitomise the cosyiness that leads many to think/believe our planning system and committee is fixed in favour of a certain developer.
Many personally suspect certain members of the planning committee in Folkestone & Hythe District are under the spell of this local developer, and not the one you might think.
It starts with Grace Hill, Number 15 Grace Hill.
In 2015 Alliance Building Company Contracts Ltd – a company owned by Leo Griggs (pictured), a member of the local Tory party and a donor – paid 105,000 pounds for 15 Grace Hill. The lenders were Lloyds Bank. A rumoured 240,000 pounds was spent on sprucing up the building and sold to the council for £500,000. The property has 5 x 1 Bedroom units and commercial unit, this is rented to Leo’s company, Alliance.
Reed Rains undertook the valuation before the building work was even finished. And the Council have never made clear when they entered into discussions about purchasing the property from Leo. Nor has it ever been made clear when the first contact was made with Leo, by anyone at the Council regarding the purchasing of the property, or vice versa.
The project netted Leo a small profit of approx £150,000.
In July 2004, – Y04/0844/SH – was submitted by Princess Street Property Ltd to build a three storey block of 12, one bedroom self-contained flats, following demolition of the existing building, which was used as a plumbing and heating merchant. The application was refused on the 7th Sept 2004.
In Jan 2005 planning application – Y05/0061/SH – to develop 12 – 14 Princess Street, Folkestone was submitted by Princess Street Property Ltd for 6 -1 bed flats and 4 – 2 bed flats. On the 30th March 2005 the application was declined. On the 19th July 2005 the Planning Inspector informed the Council of an appeal by the applicant. On the 26th Jan 2006 the applicant withdrew their appeal and the planning application was closed.
On the 11 June 2014, the then Resources Scrutiny Committee considered and supported the proposed acquisition of 12-14 Princess Street, Folkestone, on terms and conditions set out in the exempt report – OS/14/07.
Nothing happened on this site for the next four years. More of that later.
In between times, Alliance Building Company Contracts Ltd won a Council tender to build 6 one bedroom flats at Roman Way, Cheriton, in 2016. The estimated value of the contract was £797,000. This contract had some peculiarities as there was a double payment of £795,000 made to Leo’s company – Alliance. Tim Madden then s151 & Chief Finance Officer made it clear the second payment – made by cheque – was cancelled and provided no evidence of this. Also who has heard of a building company being paid for the whole contract up front rather than in staged payments?
Coming back to Princess Street, on the 31 July 2018, Livingston Homes Ltd purchased the empty plot known as 12-14 Princess Street for £280,000, according to land registry documents.
On the 5th Sept 2018, Livingston Homes Ltd secured a loan of £530,000 from Kent County Council for 12 – 14 Princess Street, as the company wanted to build a three-storey block of eight two-bedroom apartments. The £530,000 came from the No Use Empty scheme run by Kent County Council (KCC). Leo’s company also accessed a top-up loan from Folkestone & Hythe District Council (F&HDC) to assist with the project.
According to the No Use Empty Loan Booklet at 3.1, it states:
3.1 Purposes for which a Loan may be applied for
To renovate an empty dwelling to the Decent Homes Standard (as a minimum), so that it is suitable for immediate occupation, whether by for sale (loan to sell) or to let (loan to let). To convert an empty property into one or more units to the Decent Homes Standard, (as a minimum), so that it is suitable for immediate occupation, whether by for sale (loan to sell) or to let (loan to let). Persons applying for the above loans may either be existing or prospective owners, but in either case must be able to supply security for the loan as detailed in Section 5.
At bullet point 5.0: Loan Security it states:
We offer loans on a maximum loan to value ratio of 80%, including the value of the loan registered in favour of the first lender. We will consider loans on a loan to value ratio of 90% on a case by case basis.
At bullet point 8.0 Amount of Assistance it states:
£25,000 per unit of accommodation is available up to a maximum of £175,000.
This begs the question then how Leo received £530,000, even with the top up loan from FHDC.
Moving on, the 18th Jan 2019 a non material amendment of Y05/0061/SH was made by Alliance Building Company Contracts Ltd – a company owned by Leo Griggs – for a three-storey block of eight two-bedroom apartments. On the 13th Feb 2019 the decision was made. Seven months later, on the 10th Sept 2019, the loan secured from KCC was satisfied. There is no mention if FHDC got there money loan returned. Then just seven days later – 17th Sept – Folkestone & Hythe District Council, Housing Revenue Account purchased 12- 14 Princess Street from Leo’s company for £1,172,000, according to Land Registry documents.
Leo was the applicant to redevelop Redlynch House in Hillcrest Rd Hythe in Sept 2018.
Then of course there is the Royal Victoria site which Leo was in discussions with the Council about in the second half of 2018. This was prior to purchasing the Princess Street site. This is the site where the Council failed to declare they were to buy 37 properties.
This is the site where the developer, Leo Griggs approached the Council, according to Dr Susan Priest Chief Exec of the Council.
Moving on, in Nov 2020, we informed you that Leo had set up another company called Brookland Corner Ltd on April 20th 2020, according to Companies House. Now we suspect Leo is eyeing up land which is in the local plan 2020 under policy RM13 – Lands north and south of Rye Road, Brookland
Staying on the Marsh, let’s not forget Sandbanks, a former Care Home in Littlestone, New Romney, which Leo has more than a passing interest in.
Planning application 20/0690/FH, submitted on the 22nd May 2020, sought a change of use and erection of an extension to convert the existing Sandbanks care home to 19 one- and two-bed residential flats with associated parking. This came before the planning committee on the 23rd March 2021 and was refused for the following reasons:
The proposed development in the absence of a viability report has failed to sufficiently demonstrate that the existing building is not required for nor suitable for the continued provision of elderly care and as a result would result in the loss of important elderly care provision within the New Romney area. The proposal is therefore contrary to policies DSD and SS3(f) of the adopted Core Strategy 2013; SS3(f) of the emerging Core Strategy (February 2020 Submission Draft); and HB11 of the adopted Places and Policies Local Plan 2020.
However just two weeks later – 6th April 2021 – Leo Griggs the applicant resubmitted the application under – 21/0747/FH. Although the previous application had 84 local residents object, Leo is nothing but determined to get this application through and there is a very good reason for that.
According to Land Registry documents, Belmont Sandbanks Ltd remains the owner. However, the deed also shows a unilateral notice declaring that on the 7th April 2020 a contract for sale dated 7 April 2020, was made between Belmont Sandbanks Limited and Livingston Homes Ltd, owned by Leo Griggs.
There are those who believe “Oportunitas Ltd/Livingstone Homes persuaded the owner of Belmont that higher returns could be made from Sandbanks by converting the site into housing” and given the fact there is a contract to sell to Livingston, makes it possible and plausible.
Who approached who regarding 15 Grace Hill?
Who approached who regarding 12 -14 Princess Street Folkestone
And has Leo’s company approached either the Housing Revenue Account and/or the sole shareholder of Oportunitas Ltd – Folkestone & Hythe District Council about purchasing flats at Sandbanks? Or have they approached him?
These questions have not been asked by any sitting Cllr. Perhaps that might happen. For now the questions remain hanging like the sword of Damocles.
Are Leo’s companies: Alliance Building Company Contracts Ltd and Livingston Homes Ltd boosting their profits via the public purse by being a member of the local Tory party and also a Tory donor?
Nationally the stench of sleaze and cronyism regarding the Tories is mildly interest. What is more interesting is the unanswered questions around the locally led and controlled Tory Council, getting into bed with one of its members and donor’s, who just happens to be a developer.
Let’s not forget, the Chair of Planning for Folkestone & Hythe District Council, Cllr Clive Goddard (Con) works for Leo. Cllr John Collier (Con) who sits on planning has his Son-In-Law working for Leo. And Cllr David Wimble (Ind) Cabinet Member for Planning set up a company registered at Leo’s address.
Move along nothing to look at here then… is what the Council’s monitoring officer Amandeep Khroud will say, no doubt.
Leo Griggs pictured far left