Reforming Leasehold: Discursive Events and Outcomes, 1984–2000

Published date01 September 2001
Date01 September 2001
ISSN: 0263-323X, pp. 384–408
Reforming Leasehold: Discursive Events and Outcomes,
This article uses discourse analysis to explore and explain the limits of
ongoing efforts to resolve the problems experienced by long
leaseholders living in private flats in England and Wales. Attention
is focused on the position of leasehold within the three discourses of
property law, housing, and housing law, as revealed through the
language used in legislation, consultation papers, Law Commission
reports, political statements, media representations, and the accounts
of leaseholders themselves. The implementation gap between
legislative intentions and effects, so often neglected in discussion of
housing policy, is explored. The article considers policy and legislation
in the light of a metanarrative encompassing all aspects of the multi-
occupancy of blocks of flats.
The impetus for this article came from two apparently disparate pieces of
research. One was an empirical study for the Department of the
Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) into the experiences of
leaseholders seeking collective enfranchisement and lease renewal under the
The other
was research for the French government agency, le Plan Construction et
Architecture, which sought to define and assess the implications of recent
ßBlackwell Publishers Ltd 2001, 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
*Centre for Regional, Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University,
Howard Street, Sheffield S1 1WB, England
This article was first presented as a paper at the Conference on Discourse and Policy
Change, University of Glasgow, 3 and 4 February 1999. The authors are grateful to the
participants at this conference, to our colleagues at CRESR, and to this journal’s
anonymous referees for the discussion and comment which has informed this article.
1 I. Cole, G. Gidley, D. Robinson, and Y. Smith, The Impact of Leasehold Reform:
Flat Dwellers’ Experiences of Leasehold Enfranchisement and Lease Renewal
trends in housing tenure in England.
A discussion between the authors, a
housing policy analyst making sense of the experiences of residential
leaseholders living in flats and a lawyer attempting to explain the
complexities of the English system of tenure to a French audience, soon
revealed a shared challenge: to unravel the confusing legal concept that is
leasehold. We wanted also to unpick the complexity of recent attempts in
this country to resolve the issues unique to multi-occupancy buildings, in
which residents share a roof, external walls, common parts and means of
access, which require maintenance and repair. Discourse analysis provided
the key to understanding both leasehold tenure and why reform has proved
so difficult to effect.
This article starts with a brief explanation of the scale and potential
difficulties of leasehold tenure, and the history of calls for reform. A
distinction is made between leasehold reform, which focuses on the balance
of rights between freeholder and leaseholder and is carried out through
reform to housing law, and reform of the underlying property law
framework, which in recent years has focused on the proposal to introduce
commonhold tenure. The commonhold proposals represent a departure from
the existing system whereby both freeholder and leaseholder(s) have rights
and interests in the same property. Under commonhold tenure, a block of
flats would be divided into separate freehold flats with arrangements for
communal management and shared ownership of the common parts of the
block by a commonhold association.
The second section of the article introduces the methodological approach
and schematic framework that organizes our analysis. The argument has
already been made that housing, property law, and housing law are in fact
three distinctive discourses.
In this article we identify and analyse key
concepts, such as ‘ownership’, ‘landlord’, and ‘injustice’, and how they are
used in these three discourses. We examine ‘discursive events’ in the field of
leasehold reform : texts authored by government departments, researchers,
interest groups, political parties (both in official statements and by their
individual members), and by the media. Our contention is that the
contradictory assumptions posed by the different discourses have
complicated attempts to resolve the practical difficulties associated with
leasehold flats. The limited success of repeated attempts at leasehold reform,
specifically since 1984, can be explained by the clash of interests involved,
but we argue that the underlying problem is the lack of a shared discourse to
provide a way forward. This article uses the theory of discourse analysis to
identify policy storylines and to highlight significant silences. It concludes
2 B. Goodchild, B. Reid, and S. Blandy, Acces au logement prive pour les menages
modestes : une analyse des initiatives en Grande Bretagne (Widening access to
private housing in Britain : an analysis of recent initiatives) (2000).
3 S. Blandy and B. Goodchild, ‘From Tenure to Rights : Conceptualising the
Changing Focus of Housing Law in England’ (1999) 16 Housing, Theory and
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