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`Deranged' council blocks sale of house three times; Potential buyers `not local enough', insists Gwynedd.

Byline: Kirsty Buchanan

A BEREAVED daughter yesterday attacked a North Wales council that has blocked the sale of her late parents' house three times because potential buyers were not local enough.

The ex-council house in Maentwrog was inherited by Jane Tolfree and Dana Demidoff following the death of their parents, who bought the isolated property as a retirement home 20 years ago.

Gwynedd Council maintains it has a legal right to veto sales and ensure the house remains available to the local community, but Welsh Office Minister Don Touhig has urged the council to lift its restrictions and end the year-long wrangle.

And Buckinghamshire Conservative MP Dominic Grieve branded the authority ``deranged'' for refusing sales even though no local interest was shown despite the asking price being slashed.

Mrs Demidoff, an office manager from Derby, said, ``Our mum died in December 2001, my dad died a few years ago but they had lived there for nearly 20 years.

``I love Wales and I visited my parents regularly. They are both buried in Maentwrog and I just do not believe what has happened.

``Jane has been poorly for some time so I have been dealing with this and it has caused terrible upset and emotional strain.

``I have written to the council on a number of occasions, quite emotionally, but they obviously don't seem to care.''

The house was initially sold with a covenant which gives Gwynedd Council the power of veto unless the potential buyer has lived within a 20 mile radius of the property for at least three years.

The measure, enshrined in the Housing Act 1985, was designed to ensure local people in designated areas were not priced out of the market by those moving in seeking second homes or retirement properties.

The property, Argraig, went on the market in March 2002 for pounds 76,500 and a keen buyer offered asking price but the sale was blocked by councillors because they were not from the local area.

In July, a couple came forward. The husband was from south Wales and his wife from Wrexham. Both had ``basic Welsh'' and the man had a job in the area, but were turned down for insufficient local connections.

The property was offered to local housing associations but was ruled out because it was so isolated and the daughters slashed the asking price to pounds 64,500.

But late last year a third couple were turned down because they lived outside the 20 mile local zone - even though it was less than ten miles from the border.

``In the council's opinion we had not had the house on the market at the reduced price for long enough,'' said Mrs Demidoff.

``I just don't understand. None of these people wanted it as a second home but during this time it has just stood empty, unheated and deteriorating.

``How can that benefit the local community? I find it totally incongruous and it seems like they are abusing their power. I have tried to explain to them the emotional trauma they have caused. We love the area, we visit our mum and dad's graves but I don't want that replaced with all this bad feeling.''

Mr Grieve, the Tory MP for Beaconsfield, was so incensed by the story he has been trying since January to secure a debate in the House of Commons to highlight the daughters' plight. Speaking ahead of that debate last night he told The Western Mail he fully appreciated the need to safeguard local communities but said blanket banning of all comers in the absence of any local interest in a year was ``capricious and beyond rational understanding''.

He added, ``I realise we are dealing with difficult issues here but there has to be a degree of proportionality about this. Gwynedd's behaviour is just deranged.''

A spokeswoman for Gwynedd Council said the council's stance was in accordance with Section 157 of the 1985 Housing Act. That allowed councils to restrict the resale of council houses in national parks and other designated areas to people who have been living or working in the region for three years.

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CAPTION(S):

DISPUTED: The former council house in Maentwrog, now standing empty, unheated and deteriorating. Potential buyers have been rejected for not having lived locally for three years; GRIEVE: Incensed; Comment: page 14
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 8, 2003
Words:720
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