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Last Updated: Friday, 17 September, 2004, 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK
Locals-only rule stalls home sale
Cilla Connor at her home
Mrs Connor says she is being forced against her will to stay in her home
A widow whose sale of her rural Wales home to a couple from England was blocked by a council rule on making homes affordable for locals may apply for a judicial review.

Cilla Connor's solicitors are looking at challenging a council regulation.

The Gwynedd Council directive is aimed at making rural housing affordable.

Gill and Zuhair Chalabi, who are in their 60s, sold their home in Hampshire to buy Mrs Connor's house near Machynlleth for 240,000.

The council has told Mr and Mrs Chalabi that the house can only be sold to a local.

Brunton's Solicitors, in Aberystwyth, confirmed on Friday that a legal move was possible.

Mrs Connor said: "My next step is to ask my solicitor what he thinks. We will talk in-depth about our options."

There is no direct right of appeal for a judicial review, but an application can be made to the High Court.

The Chalabis are now living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and Mrs Connor claims her human rights are being breached.

The three-bedroomed detached former school house, in Pennal, just inside Gwynedd's border with Powys, was originally owned by Gwynedd Council.

We understand why the council wants to preserve the language and the local community but I feel that we have been discriminated against
Gill Chalabi
Tenants Cilla and John Connor bought it in 1982, when it was valued at just over 15,000. They had already been tenants there for four years.

Mrs Connor, who was widowed three years ago, said she understood that if they sold the property the council would have first refusal on buying it back.

But she said she did not know about the restriction which dictated to whom she sold the house.

Meanwhile, Mrs Chalabi, 64, said: "We're now homeless.

"It has been very inconvenient and the council's regulations have put us to a great deal of expense.

"We sold our house in Winchester back in March and we were just about to sign contracts on our new home when Mrs Connor told us about the regulation.

Gill and Zuhair Chalabi
Gill and Zuhair Chalabi are now living in a bed-and-breakfast

"We were permitted to stay in our house in Winchester until 1 September, but now we're homeless and living in a bed-and-breakfast in mid Wales.

"We understand why the council wants to preserve the language and the local community but I feel that we have been discriminated against."

The purpose of this policy is to ensure a continuing supply of affordable houses for local people
Gwynedd Council
Both Mr and Mrs Chalabi said that if they moved to Wales they would consider learning the Welsh language.

Mr Chalabi, 69, a retired software engineer originally from Iraq, said the council should have acted faster if it had wanted to stop the sale going through.

Mrs Connor, 62, said: "I feel as though the council is tying me to this house.

Mrs Connor's house, Delwyn, in Pennal
The house is a former head teacher's home

"This is a breach of my human rights and I feel as though I'm being forced to live here against my will."

She said she has been discriminated against and was adamant she did not know of the regulation which prevented the Chalabis from buying her house.

The dilemma of how to make rural housing affordable for local people is an issue for all parts of rural Wales, where prices have risen steeply in recent years.

There are also concerns in Welsh-speaking areas that the survival of the language is threatened if there are too many incomers.

Councils are allowed to restrict who can buy former local authority housing in countryside areas.

In Gwynedd, a council committee met on Monday to discuss Mrs Connor's house sale, and agreed the transfer of the property to the Chalabis should not go ahead.

A council spokesperson said that, at the time of buying a council house, tenants would be made aware of the restriction limiting sales to people who had lived or worked in the area for at least three years.

"This restriction is made clear to the tenant when they buy the house, and is reflected in the sale price," the spokesperson said.

"The purpose of this policy is to ensure a continuing supply of affordable houses for local people.

"The original sale to Mr and Mrs Connor gave them a tenants' discount and a further discount of 15% on the valuation of the property as a result of the inclusion of a locality clause."

"At that time Mr and Mrs Connor agreed to the proposals and bought their property at a considerable discount on the basis of the locality covenant in the conveyance."

The spokesperson added that the council had responded within 33 days to Mrs Connor's letter informing it of the planned sale.

We asked for your comments on this story. A selection of responses are published below:

Do not agree with the council's policy. If the council can come up with a local buyer fair enough; if they cannot then the sale should go ahead to Mr & Mrs Chalabi.
e.reade, cardiff uk

I had to laugh at Mike from Cardiff. 240,000 makes you rich enough to buy almost any house in the UK, does it Mike? I live an hour outside London and 240,000 gets you a two-bedroom house if you're lucky. Go into the city proper and it buys you a flat, as long as you don't want anything too fancy. In many areas you won't even get two bedrooms for that - in the UK property market 240,000 doesn't make someone even remotely rich.
John B, UK

The selling restriction is no secret. Mrs Connor knew about it when she bought the house like every owner of a former Gwynedd council property.
As someone for whom getting on the property ladder is virtually impossible, I think its about time that social justice prevailed over individual greed.
Rhiannon Knight, Swansea

Human rights? Right to make a huge profit - more like!
Paul, N. Wales

It is a breach of my human rights not to be able to live in the New Forest village I grew up in. I cannot afford the prices because of people like the Chalabis and totally agreed with Gwynedd Council on this issue. People who buy local homes should be local people!
Gordon, Southampton

I support Gwynedd Council's courageous stance. I think it should be adopted by more local authorities, not just in Wales, but in other areas such as Cornwall, where there is a huge disparity between the spending power of rich outsiders and local people. As someone for whom getting on the property ladder is virtually impossible, I think its about time that social justice prevailed over individual greed. Mrs Connor talks of her "human rights". If that tired old phrase must be bandied about, what about the "human right" of local people to be able to live in their own home towns?
Rhiannon Knight, Swansea

I've been looking to buy a house in West Wales (to live in full time) for several years and often come up against this unjust council system. Why can't I buy these houses? I was born in Wales, have never lived anywhere else and yet I'm not eligible to buy certain properties in my own country. As for the welsh language issue, if the nationalists were a bit more welcoming and less hung up with the whole welsh for it's own sake rubbish, "incomers" would feel more welcome and would be more likely to get involved. My local Tesco has a sign saying "Fac Car" next to "Car Vac" - enough said, loony.
James, Cardiff Wales

Congratulations, Gwynedd Council, as a local I found it extremely difficult to find suitable affordable housing in the area, even though I've lived and worked here all my life - if only we had more rules like this.
Karen Hughes, Aberffraw, Sir Fon

If the council hadn't sold off the local housing for a cheap buck then this situation would never have arisen. Perhaps they should consider building some houses rather than prevent what seems to be a perfectly reasonable transaction. As for the lawyers - well......
David Tivey, Cheshire

this clearly demonstrates that council properties should not be sold at a major discount only to be sold at a vastly increased price a few years later
J, Bristol

Just goes to show that the convayancing solictors on both sides have failed to find something as basic as a covenant on a property. I hope the Chalabis sue sucessfully
Jon, UK

Seems as if the solicitors have made the mistake. Isn't it their responsibility to check on such things i.e restrictions before advising on the sale. Although l feel sorry for the Chalabis, don't blame the Council for this one.
Wayne, Brisbane, Australia

As a guy originating from Gwynedd I applaud the council for sticking to their guns. The village where I grew up the populous now consists of around 25% 'local' people and the rest are either second homes or homes of 'outsiders'. This has to be stopped if Wales has any hope of retaining it's young people for industry or safe gaurding the Welsh language. Cymru am Byth!
JC, London

Mrs Connor is not being forced to stay in her home. I am sure that there are local people who would by the house (albeit at a lower price) and she could sell to them. Even if the price was 150,000 she would still have made a huge proft on the house.
Ian, London, UK

Looking at the human rights act in greater detail, the council are definately in breach of this. I would advise all parties involved to get their solicitors to take action with the council. Everyone has a right to purchase a property where they like. Personally if I was Ms Connor I would move in with friends, stop paying council tax, and see how the council like that. May be the council could save tax payers money by being useful and not obstructive
Gavin, Kent

Just goes to show that the convayancing solictors on both sides have failed to find something as basic as a covenant on a property. I hope the Chalabis sue sucessfully.
Jon, UK

Mrs Connor has been at the very least disingenuous in this affair. She obviously knew of the restriction that allowed her to purchase the house at a knock-down price. 'Breach of my human rights'? Give me a break. The tragedy here is for the Chalabis - as someone who has endured several moves in the past few years my heart goes out to them.
Gary Chubb, Ogmore, Wales

It would be better to subsidise locals than to penalise incomers.
Martyn Winters, Cardiff

Mrs Connor only has to rent the house to the Chalabis for three years via a deed of trust for the 240,000 and she can watch the interest grow . Good luck on this one.
James Chaisty, SW Wales

I am Welsh and lived in Wales all of my life. We would like to purchase a property in west Wales and accept the fact that certain areas have local covenants prohibiting people who have not lived in the area to purchase property. With many small local schools closing and areas such as Newport (Pembs) being almost empty when the 'season is over' I can well understand the local authority stand on this issue. With 240k I am sure there are many areas that they could still look at which are not already ghost/retirement villages.
T.Jacob, Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan

I'm shocked by the decision of the council. Although I think it is important to protect the Welsh language and culture this should not be used as and excuse to discriminate against others. We are supposed to be a multi-cultural society, and the Chalabis are evidently buying the house as a home, not as a holiday cottage.
Gary Slegg, Wrexham, Wales

Surely it's the responsibility of the solicitors to identify such restrictions before the sale is in such an advanced stage. Don't blame the council for following procedures. But all sympathy to the Chalabis, I hope they do find a suitable property in Wales.
Brian Cardiff.

Even if Mrs Connor returns the 15% discount to the council, how can any local on low income afford 206,000 for a house?
Robert Marshall, Carmarthen, carms.

I am against state interference of this sort on principle, but if the sellers had agreed to the restriction and got a price discount in return for accepting it, it seems only fair they should be held to their bargain. Another avenue of challenge would be that this is a restriction on the EU citizens' right of freedom of movement. The UK would have to justify the rule to the European Court of Justice. I think the point is at least arguable.
Bruce Manford, Monte Carlo, Monaco

I can understand the reasoning of Gwynedd Council, and there is much to merit the approach in preventing second home buyers. However, I don't think stopping someone from moving to the area permanently is a particularly good idea. It would be better to subsidise locals than to penalise incomers.
Martyn Winters, Cardiff, Wales

A clear case of discrimination on grounds of national origin. If they want to be self sufficient no more tax subsidies from England.
bma, Ashtead UK

Hands up everyone who instantly thought "This is a local house - for local people. Nothing for you here!". Royston Vasey's truer than we thought...
Colin, Exeter

Gwynedd Council's sales restriction is more than simply reasonable, it is essential if rural housing is to be affordable. After all, this was council housing until the present owners were allowed to purchase it.
Adrian Hardhand, London, UK

This unfettered property profiteering is genuinely damaging people's lives and it's good to see some limits applied. This should be extended, if possible to encompass more than just ex-council housing stock. The families these houses were built for [at taxpayers' expense] in the first place have no hope of living in them any more. A few years of this will drive out so many locals - usually against their will - and destroy communities.
BW, Powys

Hands up everyone who instantly thought "This is a local house - for local people. Nothing for you here!". Royston Vasey's truer than we thought...
Colin, Exeter, UK

I support Gwynedd - and this rule or similar shouldn't just be applicable to council houses. Consider Denmark: in an area designated as 'Holiday', people can buy 2nd homes. If they buy a home in a non-holiday area, it has to be occupied 9months of the year, or the local council can cause it to be rented out to people of their choice. Rural communities have to be protected to keep them a community
Kit Kilgour, Cambridge, UK

Congratulations Gwynedd Council, you've made the right decision - llongyfarchiadau gan Cymry i gyd.
Richard Evans, Abertawe, Cymru

The seller was in full knowledge of the discount she received when purchasing the house and therefore cognisant of the terms. The local council should take back the discount on the house sale if they have no local person to purchase and use the money towards affordable housing. As for the buyers, they should have first completed teh purchase of a new home prior to completing the sale of the existing home. They have only themselves to blame for being homeless. Affordable homes is crucial to young and older people.
Annette Goyette, Florida, USA

You would have expected a lawyer to pick that up when search title and history of the property.
Martin, Canada

To be fair to the Chalabis, the restriction on local housing would run with the title to the property and this should have been pointed out the them by their solicitor before they exchanged contracts on their own property. If they have any complaint it should be directed towards their own legal advisor. You cannot blame the council for sticking to a contract willingly entered into in 1982 by Mrs Connor.
David , Denbigh, Wales

This demonstrates a part of the policy, missed by many, that prohibits not just the purchase of houses in certain areas, but also, in certain circumstances , prohibits the sale of a property. What next, prohibiting the sale of properties to non-Welsh speakers, or to Pakistanis?
Peter, Swansea

This decision by Gwynedd Council seems completely fair. If Mrs Connor bought the house at a reduced price because of this clause, then it seems that she has no grounds for complaint now. It is a shame that the Chalabis have been inconvenienced by this, but that should not affect the decision of Gwynedd Council. There is a crisis in rural housing for locals in many parts of Wales. Cumbria and Cornwall have locality clauses, it is not insular of Welsh councils to adopt similar measures. In the absence of centrally directed laws or guidelines, councils like Gwynedd are left to make decisions that they feel will best protect the heritage and character of their areas. I feel it would be unfair and unrealistic to accuse Gwynedd Council of having made their decision with anything put the best interests of Gwynedd at the forefront of their minds. Anyone who believes they took their decision to spite people not originally from the area would seem to be missing the wider picture and only focusing on a sensationalist element of the story. This would not be an issue if there were measures protecting these fragile rural communities and it would seem that until there are such rules in place, that this story will sadly become more and more common. G J Brough (non-Welsh speaker, non-Gwynedd resident)
G J Brough, Paris, France

Surely if no locals have come forward wanting to buy this house then the owner can sell it to whoever she likes?
Susan Hughes, Ruthin

It's not Gwynedd being parochial. The locality rules are contained in the Housing Act 1985 which creates the right to buy. Locality rules are available to any rural area designated as such by the office of the deputy prime minister. Such designations are found in England as well as Wales. To those who claim Wales is insular I say stop being so paranoid. I'm Welsh but not from Pennal so I couldn't buy the house.
David Davies, Ellesmere Port Cheshire

I definitely support the council on this one - I wish we had similar local covenants in Scotland. I've lived in rural Perthshire for 5 years where there is virtually no affordable social housing to rent or buy... this forces my family into the private sector with insecure and overpriced rentals. Without security of tenure, every new month means we could be just 30 days from homelessness - not an ideal way to bring up a family... I did have a council home for a while but with 3 kids a bedsit wasn't really practical!!
Eddie Smith, Crieff, Scotland

Good for Gwynedd Council for making far sighted regulations to try and stem the out of control housing market. The freedom to live where you want should not be limited to those with the most money. It is easy to make glib statements about insularity and isolationism. The real scandal and the issue that must be addressed, is the thousands of families in Wales and the rest of the UK who cannot afford a home, not the plight of a rich couple who can afford to buy almost any house in the UK.
Mike, Cardiff

In 1982, a 15,000 house would be a real bargain. $240,000 in 2004 is anything but a bargain. I am sure many people, like me, are fed up with ex- council tenants making outrageous profits on the sale of property. How many locals in rural Machynlleth can afford 240,000? Precious few...which is why the rule was set in the first place. Mrs Connor should be given the fair market value (less the % discounts she was originally given) and the council should sell to a local family (with no council connection!)
JanB, Exeter UK

As my ancestors emigrated from England to escape the tyranny of the British crown, I find it amusing to see the petty infringements upon the rights of others continuing in the UK.
Tar Taric, Boston, Massachusetts

We do not know all the facts of course but on the face of it, it does seem difficult to understand that in a multi-racial, multi- cultural society that we purport to have in the UK that a local council is permitted to act in such an insular manner notwithstanding a covenant in its favour over the property. It seems to me that a council would have a duty to its constituents and as such might consider that as Mrs Connor took advantage of the additional 15% discount when purchasing the property then she compensates Gwynedd Council to the value of 15% of the sale price (240,000 x 15% or 36,000) in order to be released from her covenant.
Andy Coles, Leamington Spa, Wawwickshire

Rampant house price inflation may not be unique to rural Wales but the Welsh language and culture is. It is now not uncommon to find that the majority of a villages houses are second or holiday homes whilst young locals are forced to move away just to find a place to live-if measures like this prevent the lifeblood of our culture draining away then i am all for them.
Steve, Powys

Surely it can't be legal. I strongly advocate protecting local language & culture (I am a fluent speaker of Catalan) but don't agree with this "protectionism" which can only isolate & divide communities.
Anthony Jenkins, Barcelona, Spain

I would definitely support the Gwynedd Council ruling! Low cost housing in Wales is far too susceptible to outsiders with huge profits from over-inflated house sales in England, coming in and excluding locals from gaining their own house due to the prices outsiders can offer.
Paul Mathews, Port Talbot, Wales

Surely this can't be legal. Do we really want to be insular and isolated? I wish the Chalabis and Mrs Connor the best of luck if they should consider seeking recompense via the courts.
Doug Evans, Cardiff, Wales

Surely if no locals have come forward wanting to buy this house then the owner can sell it to whoever she likes? I am afraid this does not surprise me, however. Wales is quite an insular place and until people here learn to welcome everyone, not to fear them as 'incomers' things can only get worse. Having lived here for 10 years I am still made to feel like an outsider at times, as are my children who were all born here.
Susan Hughes, Ruthin, N Wales


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