Empty Homes Practitioner of theYear #2 - Lorna Frost

Today’s piece will recognize the achievement of the joint winner of the Empty Homes Practitioner of the Year Award 2018, Lorna Frost, Environmental Health Officer, at the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council.

The nomination for her award came from her manager, David North, Empty Homes and Loans Manager for the council, who gives the fascinating details of the case in question below. During Empty Homes Week, the local newspaper ran a feature article about the property and the work of the empty homes team .

But it is worth recording that, although Lorna won her award for a particularly difficult case, her career as a practitioner shows many similarities to that of Sue Li, discussed in yesterday’s story.  Like Sue, she has a strong background over many years in bringing empty homes back into use. And she too is both a stalwart of the Network’s Executive and has been a leading light in the Yorkshire and Humberside Empty Homes Forum.  

The Award was generously sponsored by Kent No Use Empty and presented by Steve Grimshaw, the project lead.

Submission in support of Lorna Frost

I would like to nominate Lorna Frost, Environmental Health Officer in Bradford Council’s Empty Homes and Loans Team. This nomination is particularly poignant as Lorna worked closely with the late Chris Skinner from nplaw on the particular case that prompted this nomination, and its success is as much down to his expertise and tenacity as anything Lorna did.

It may seem unusual to make a nomination based on one particular empty property case, but this was an exceptionally difficult and trying case that Lorna handled with perseverance, professionalism and patience over a number of years.

Lorna worked on this case from 2010 until September 2018, when the property was sold and ready for occupation and the case closed. The property was a very large Victorian villa that had been a privately run care home.

An attempt at a CPO in 2012 failed at the Public Inquiry as the Planning Inspector felt that the CPO would breach the owner’s human rights. Of course this was a massive disappointment to the Council and in particular, Lorna. When the property was later being used as a squat by drug users and the Council served a Section 29 notice to prevent unauthorised access, the owner appealed the notice, resulting in a full day in Court. The owner accused Lorna of all sorts of discrimination in the witness box which was an awful experience and a test of her professionalism. The Judge found no evidence of discrimination and dismissed the appeal.

As the property remained empty and a real problem, after careful consideration and consultation with the Council’s Legal Service, a CPO was attempted again in 2014. Again, the owner objected and the matter was considered at a Public Inquiry. This time, Bradford Council asked nplaw, specifically Chris Skinner, to act for us. Chris was involved from the writing of the Statement of Reasons through to presenting the case at the Inquiry. He steered Lorna through the process giving endless encouragement and advice. The owner cross-examined Lorna for over two and a half hours.

Chris Skinner’s well considered, planned, sharp and incisive, yet calm and always very polite style of cross examination and questioning was successful in bringing out the facts of the case and this time the Planning Inspector found in Bradford Council’s favour.

The owner still tried to overturn the decision on two occasions through Judicial Review, and an appeal against the decision not to allow Judicial Review. The Council, and Lorna, were kept on tenterhooks for some time.

The Council were ultimately successful and Lorna was very conscious that there should be no delays in taking possession of the property, making it safe and disposing of it in a responsible way to ensure it was brought back into use in a timely manner and to bring to an end to the problems the house was causing in the neighbourhood.

Lorna worked with colleagues in Estate management and Procurement to progress a preferred bidder method of sale. This was successful in finding an excellent developer that have now completed the conversion of the property to seven high standard self-contained flats. The development took place under lease, to ensure full renovation before the freehold was transferred. The flats are to provide a home for seven vulnerable adults in the very near future. The transformation of the house and the surrounding area is marked.

This case was ultimately successful due to Lorna’s technical skills, experience, patience, resilience and diligence. It highlights that in complex cases, involving court cases and inquiries, the front line Officer not only has to ensure all legalities are complied with but also bears the brunt of the abuse and character assassination and it is fitting that we commend an officer that has been through this.

The case will appear as the subject of an update feature on Empty Homes in the City’s newspaper, the Telegraph and Argus, which will coincide with National Empty Homes Week on the 15th October.

AWARD SPONSORED BY KENT NO USE EMPTY

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