Do L&G Hate the British Countryside?

An Open Letter to the Legal & General Board

Dear L&G Board Members,

We are compelled to inform you that L&G’s Brand and reputation is in jeopardy.  

You state:  ‘Our purpose is improving the lives of our customers, building a better society for the long term and creating value for our shareholders. This shapes every aspect of how we do business. We’re not only a top 20 global asset manager, but also the UK’s largest provider of individual life assurance products and a market leader in managing retirement risk for pension schemes, both in the UK and US.’ But you are now wilfully supporting the destruction of our countryside and treating your customers with contempt.

CSM’s mission is to protect the UK’s precious countryside from destruction by developers and, where necessary, hold those accountable for its preservation to account.

These missions are not mutually exclusive, if L&G’s Board can react appropriately.

Given L&G’s mission statement, CSM were surprised when you announced the acquisition of English Care Villages (ECV) in August 2017 in order to enter the elderly care village development market.  The UK Care Village industry has a very dubious reputation.  ‘Better Retirement Housing’, ‘The Law Commission’, ‘BBC Radio 4 Moneybox’, and ‘The Sunday Times’ have all highlighted concerns about the industry and it has even been described in the ‘House of Commons’ as in urgent need of major reform.

In fact, the Care Village sector has been described by some of its residents as ‘scandalous’, and ‘simply an industry organised to systematically extract money from the vulnerable elderly’.  This issue alone raises concerns about L&G’s judgement as it could be perceived as ‘having looked after your pension and investment savings throughout your working life, we now want to make sure we grab it all back again – and as fast a possible’.    This is, at best, ethically questionable, but it is your subsidiary ECV’s business strategy that is viewed as potentially the most damaging to L&G’s reputation.

ECV are clearly focusing their business expansion plans on development in the countryside, including in areas of ‘Significant Landscape and Environmental Importance’ and of ‘Outstanding Natural Beauty’ with total disregard for local communities.  For example, their planning applications at Beckford (Cotswolds); Thornton Hough (The Wirral); and Sladnor Park (Devon) are in beautiful rural areas and on land that is highly valued by their local communities and designated as protected from development in Local Plans.  But ECV simply ignores these Planning Polices in its drive for profit.

The Beckford planning application by ECV involved the development of a massive Care Village next to a small and remote rural community and on land designated as ‘ Outstanding Natural Beauty’.  The proposed development was contrary to planning policies; would have destroyed the countryside; overwhelmed the population of local community, and being in a remote location was totally inappropriate for an elderly Care Village. Despite being a small community the significant weight of local opposition to the development encouraged Wychavon District Council to refuse the application, but then ECV took it to appeal. Fortunately, the Appeal Inspector saw through all of ECV’s unsubstantiated claims and the appeal was refused, including the rejection of any costs being awarded to ECV.  CSM and Cotswold communities celebrated that, at last, planning policies, democracy and public opinion had prevailed over the uncaring behaviour of a developer.

The lessons of Beckford have clearly not been learnt by ECV. Planning applications, submitted by ECV for inappropriately located Care Villages in the Wirral and Sladnor Park are currently under consideration by the respective Local Planning Authorities, and yet again both are being vigorously opposed by the local communities. If approved, these developments would decimate the precious countryside, and overwhelm these small communities.

The planning application at Sladnor Park Devon is particularly offensive and it is a near mirror image of the Beckford case.  Sladnor Park is defined as a ‘unique and highly environmentally sensitive area; rich in historic character; the home of numerous rare and protected wildlife species, and is designated (in recognition of their international, national and local significance) as part of a UNESCO Global Geopark, one of only 120 in the world’.  It is located next to the tiny village of Maidencombe; one of only two rural villages in the whole of Torquay, and identified by Torbay Council for special protection.

ECV claim that the proposed massive 6 and 9 storey tower blocks in Sladnor Park will blend harmoniously within the countryside; would not harm the rare and legally protected wildlife; would not overwhelm the existing rural community; would not detrimentally impact on the area’s NHS; would generate substantial additional income for local businesses; that residents would give up their cars; that the site is easily accessible on foot or bicycle or bus (would the L&G Board walk 2.5 miles along steeply inclined, narrow and  busy bending road without pavements to the nearest community facilities?)..  All such claims are unsubstantiated and perceived as so ridiculous as to be an insult to one’s intelligence.

Companies that ignore the preservation of our environment and the wishes of their customers rarely succeed. L&G regards itself as a leading UK financial institution, with millions of customers who have, hitherto, trusted L&G to provide financial services such as pension savings; investment share portfolio management or insurance protection. Your association and support of ECV is accordingly viewed as totally inappropriate.

In fact, despite use of the name “Care Village”, CSM doesn’t see a lot of “Care” being included within your strategy. To the contrary, each of the above mentioned developments sends a clear message that L&G simply:-

  • Don’t care about the UK’s countryside
  • Don’t care about our rare wildlife
  • Don’t care about local community views.
  • Don’t care about local planning policies agreed by the LPA and the community
  • Don’t care about the detrimental impact their developments would have on local services, especially healthcare support.
  • Don’t care about the use of unsubstantiated and potentially misleading planning statements.
  • Don’t care that the Care Village industry is viewed as a national scandal
  • Don’t care that elderly folk will have their life saving decimated at an alarming rate, and
  • Don’t care that its core business customers are being treated with contempt by being inadvertently associated with the above.

L&G seem only to care about profit. But at what real cost?

CSM wish to emphasise that we have absolutely no wish to see the brand of L&G’s core business damaged, in fact we actually believe that L&G ‘do care’ about the above issues. However, at the moment your ‘Care Village’ subsidiary group are not operating in accordance with the L&G mission statement and this is therefore placing the good name of L&G in serious jeopardy.

In the interest of your core business, of your millions of customers, and of course our countryside, we suggest that the board of L&G take action.

We publish all right to replies.

Yours Sincerely.

The Editor, Country Squire Magazine. 

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