This was a well attended meeting with residents and business tenants of the Trust to hear their concerns about changes imposed by the Trust. I then met with trustees at the Trust's offices in order to represent tenants' views and listen to the arguments put forward by the trustees in order to explore any areas for compromise. Concerns discussed were the scale and pace of rent increases, the impact of the change to annual tenancies and the change in the detail of the tenancy agreements. Many residents no longer felt 'at home' and many felt that they would no longer be able to make any improvements. There were concerns that Dartmouth Trust properties would no longer be within financial reach for local people and that a much valued route into affordable local housing would be lost. Businesses raised similar concerns and in addition wanted to be able to negotiate directly with the Trust about rent increases rather than with a commercial valuer. They also called for greater transparency regarding estimates arranged for repairs and redecoration for which tenants were partly liable. There was great concern that a change to full market value would lead to a loss of independent traders and that Dartmouth could become yet another clone town.
It was clear that the Trustees have a difficult task in trying to balance their legal duties to raise money for the beneficiaries of the Trust against the best interests of Dartmouth businesses and residential tenants. I hope that in interpreting their duty to obtain 'best rent' they will take advantage of the considerable flexibility allowed by the Charity Commission in terms of timing and consider whether best rent could also encompass what is 'best for Dartmouth' so that the character of the Town and its commitment to allow affordable rent for local people can be maintained. I understand that none of the Trust's beneficiaries are pressing for the current increases in rents.
Clearly this is a matter for the Trust and tenants to negotiate and I have no powers other than to represent constituents views. I am grateful to the trustees for taking the time to listen to concerns and their commitment to consider the points raised. Our meeting was very constructive.