Tonight’s Countryfile: how to rewild a disused quarry – one for Clibton Devon Estates to watch?

“Ellie and Matt are in Cambridgeshire where Matt is looking at a huge project to turn a quarry into the UK’s biggest reed bed. Thousands of tons of sand and gravel are being shifted at Ouse Fen to create the perfect habitat for wildlife.”

BBC1 18.30 hrs

Cranbrook Herald reports on estate rent charges

Owl broke this story on 2January:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2018/01/02/cranbrook-residents-very-unhappy-about-estate-rent-charge-bills/

Now Cranbrook Herald has taken it up:

“The unexpected demand for payment caused uproar on social media, distressing many during the festive break.

One resident said the company which sent the letter was using ‘scare-mongering tactics’.

Another said the matter was a ‘disgrace’.

The estate and asset management company Blenheims sent the bill on behalf of the Cranbrook Consortium and FPCR (which provides the town’s landscape and horicultural services).

In the letter – delivered to all Cranbrook households on Friday, December 22 – Blenheims explained that the annual Estate Rent Charge (ERC), which meets the cost of maintaining the public open spaces and amenity areas had been reviewed.

Previously set at £150 per annum – based on an ‘historic and initial assessment of the annual costs’ – the Consortium had increased the ERC to £231.76, to reflect actual accounting figures. These suggested that the total costs of the 2017-18 ERC were £370,816. Split between 1,600 properties, this came to £231.76 per household.

In many cases, the £231.76 demand was reduced to £194.26, taking into account an initial quarterly ERC instalment paid by residents of £37.50.

The letter implied that the £194.26 needed to be paid in one sum. There was also confusion about when the money needed to be paid, with some residents believing it had to be within 10 working days.

There was no suggestion of being able to pay in instalments (although Blenheims has since said that there are three payment dates – January 22, February 1 and March 1).

Having received their bills, Cranbrook residents found Blenheims had shut for Christmas, and initially there was no one available to discuss the issue.

At the request of Cranbrook Town Council (CTC), the Reverend Lythan Nevard – Cranbrook’s minister and a Belonging to Cranbrook Facebook moderator – offered advice for residents, posting her thoughts on social media.

On January 2, CTC posted its own advice on its website, describing the timing of the letter as ‘unfortunate’, and Blenheims has since issued a ‘frequently asked questions’ (FAQ) document.

“I think the timing of the Blenheims’ letter was poor at best,” said a Cranbrook resident, who did not wish to be named. “Some people were concerned that if they just cancelled their direct debits, they would end up with bailiffs at their door after Christmas.”

“It was a disgrace to receive a letter demanding payment of £231.76 within ten days, and especially at this time of the year,” said another resident.

In its FAQ to residents, Blenheims said the payment demand was issued on December 22 in advance of the next collection date, December 25, and was ‘in accordance’ with residents’ ERC deed.

It also issued advice for those that had cancelled their direct debit or hadn’t returned their mandate and explained why the ERC was being increased and why residents – who are already paying council tax – were being charged for ERC.

Neither Blenheims nor the Consortium have provided the Herald with further comment on this matter.

CTC is currently finalising details of taking over the town’s ERC. If draft agreements are approved, from April 6, 2018, the ERC will be paid as part of EDDC’s council tax, with any increase in the element of the council tax payable to CTC.”

http://www.cranbrookherald.com/news/cranbrook-estate-rent-charge-1-5349929

Cranbrook estate rent charges 2

(See post below also)

From a correspondent:

Wain Homes (55 properties) and Cavanna Homes (19 properties) have their own Estate Rent Charge which will remain in place but they will pay the higher CTC precept

The Town Council had indicated a willingness in principle to take on the public open space on both sites. Wain Homes remain subject to enforcement because of failure to complete the public open space and we met with them in the summer of 2017 to discuss this.

If they complete the work CTC could adopt the public open space. Hopefully local residents on the site will press Wain Homes to do this.

Cavanna have passed their public open space to a management company but undertook to have talks to have the public open space transferred back so that CTC could adopt it. In both cases the ball is in the developers’ court.”

Cranbrook residents very unhappy about estate rent charge bills

Basically a total mess with large annual bills hitting residents just before Christmas. Many residents dispute work and charges.

And this is interesting:

Double charging because residents pay the full East Devon District Council council tax

EDDC has consistently taken the line that it will not take on responsibility for anything other than its statutory responsibilities and this is not unique to Cranbrook but affecting all other new major developments.
On the face of it this is unfair – Cranbrook residents contribute to all public open space owned by EDDC but the reverse is not the case.

This is why the Town Council is seeking to take on these responsibilities to provide best value for residents of the Town.

It is for EDDC to respond to this point.”

https://www.cranbrooktowncouncil.gov.uk/town-councils-response-statement-re-estate-rent-charge-letters

Another new-build developer scam

Estate rent charges apply in Cranbrook:

Thousands of homeowners on private estates are facing unregulated and uncapped maintenance fees, amid allegations that developers have created a cash cow from charging for communal areas not maintained by the council.

Management contracts for “unadopted” private estates are frequently sold off to speculators and property management companies in the same way as freeholds and ground rents – leaving homeowners with spiralling fees and nowhere to turn.

If a new-build estate is “unadopted” it means communal areas such as roads, grass verges, pavements and playgrounds are retained by the developer. The developer then usually sub-contracts day-to-day management.

These companies then pass on the costs to homeowners (both freeholders and leaseholders) via a deed of transfer which obliges the homeowner, under the Law of Property Act 1925, to pay for maintenance of this land. This is often referred to as an “estate charge” or “service charge”. These are on top of full council tax – even though the council doesn’t maintain their street.

Critics say the system is open to abuse because management companies have no obligation to keep costs down or provide evidence the services they charge for are being carried out. Buyers may find the bills spiral as soon as a management contract is sold on.

Lynn Myers bought her two-bed leasehold house in Penrith, Cumbria, from developers Persimmon in September 2016. The sales agent told her the estate would be managed by Carleton Meadows Management Company with an estate charge of £100 a year per household for grass cutting.

When Gateway Property Management took over in July 2017 it tripled the fee to £308 a year – that’s £17,000 from the 55 residents. Myers alleges that the fee includes more than £3,000 “postage”.

“I am on a lower-end income and ploughed my late husband’s insurance money into this property,” says Myers. “I worry that I will be unable to afford this on top of full council tax etc, and also I will be unable to sell. I have been mis-led by Persimmon and the government.”

Persimmon says the initial costs had been miscalculated and that it was working with Gateway to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, 40 miles away across the Lake District, residents in Church Meadows in Great Broughton are in a similar situation. Richard Elsworth moved into his Persimmon-built freehold property in May 2013. The estate’s 58 residents each pay Gateway a service charge of £125.53 a year, amounting to £7,281 to maintain about 600 square metres of grass.

But Gateway’s charges don’t stop there. When Elsworth’s neighbours sold their home, they were charged £360 for a “management pack” for the buyer, plus £144 for a deed of covenant.

“The only part of the pack that is relevant to the sale is a financial statement so that the service charge information is available to the prospective buyer. As the properties are freehold, Gateway has no responsibility whatsoever for the conveyancing process, other than to receive a deed of covenant from the conveyancing solicitors,” says Elsworth.

Gateway claims it provided an “often exhaustive” amount of information to purchasers’ solicitors when a sale takes place. It said it was common practice for managing agents to charge fees for sales packs and additional legal documentation. It says: “The information we are asked to provide varies from development to development and this is reflected in the amount we charge ranging from £150-£300 plus VAT.

“It is best-practice for the information to be prepared by professionally qualified staff because purchasers are reliant on information being accurate to enable the sale to proceed as smoothly as possible. Typically, a sales pack contains in excess of 25 pages and is tailored to the development.”

Privates estates were debated in parliament earlier this month. Kelly Tolhurst, Conservative MP for Rochester and Strood in Kent, told MPs how homeowners in Hoo bought from Taylor Wimpey and Bellway but are now in dispute with their property management company, SDL Bigwood.

Tolhurst went on to criticise Hyde Housing Association, and London and Quadrant. The latter tried to charge residents at Lodge Hill, Chattenden, for street lamps and street cleaning undertaken by Medway Council.

The Homeowners’ Rights Network (Hornets) is the campaign group fighting for a fairer deal for homeowners on private estates. Its main issue is a lack of a cap on charges and that homeowners don’t have a choice of provider. And, if homeowners have a dispute, there’s no resolution service in place.

Cathy Priestley, spokesperson for Hornets and a freeholder on a private estate, says the private estate model seems to be the norm for new-build estates. “We can only speculate as to why this has happened. The main benefactors are the plc developers who get to keep the estate land, don’t have to prepare it to adoption standards and don’t have to pay for its maintenance or the commuted sums for adoption,” she says. “All councils have to do, under planning, is to ensure there is a long-term sustainable arrangement to maintain the land (under the Town and Country Planning Act). They seem to readily accept assurances from the developers that the management company will deliver this. They don’t appear to have thought about how this affects homeowners.”

While leasehold owners have some (albeit limited) statutory protection, freeholders have very few options. They can take cases to court, but this can be expensive and time consuming. If they decide to simply not pay, they can ultimately lose their home. “Any arrears will normally be recoverable as a debt claim in the county court.

“However, homeowners should be cautious as the rent charge owner may have a number of options including the ability to take possession of the property,” says Adrian McClinton, associate solicitor at Coffin Mew.”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/dec/02/homeowner-freehold-management-fees-unadopted?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Cranbrook attempts to rid itself of the developers’ “estate rent charge”

Cranbrook’s estate rent charge – currently around £150 per year per household – may be scrapped if plans by Cranbrook Town Council (CTC) go ahead.

If approved, the annual charge – for the management of Cranbrook’s public spaces, including play areas and the Country Park – would be replaced next April by an increase in CTC’s element of the East Devon District Council (EDDC) council tax bill.

But the increase won’t be a flat rate.

It would be a banded charge, depending on the rateable value of a property.

However, CTC believes its proposal will save people money. The council says that ‘considerable’ savings would be achieved by ‘cutting out’ expensive collection, legal and administration costs, removing management layers and being able to negotiate maintenance contracts.

In addition, all households in Cranbrook would contribute towards the maintenance of facilities within the town’s boundaries, whereas at present the estate rent charge is limited to those who purchase homes from the main consortium of developers.

“This is a significant step for the town,” said Cllr Kevin Blakey, CTC’s chairman. “The estate rent charge has been a continual source of concern for residents with the threat that the management company may seek to collect substantial back-payments and also raise charges without any apparent checks and balances.

“Some residents may feel this change is unfair, but based on the savings which the town council can make and the fact that we feel that it is fairer for all households to contribute to the maintenance of public amenities and facilities, we believe this is the right thing to do.

“It also provides an opportunity for those less able to pay to apply the current arrangements for council tax relief.

The developers and CTC are keen to reach an agreement.

Cllr Kevin Blakey said: “Both parties are working on the basis that the agreement would provide a clean break between the current estate rent charge position and the future. The town council wants to take control of the estate rent charge, once and for all.”

CTC has issued a Q&A sheet at: http://www.cranbrooktowncouncil.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/170908-ERC-Press-Release-QA.pdf

http://www.cranbrookherald.com/news/ctc-s-estate-rent-charge-shake-up-1-5233944

After freehold leases another scam: unadopted roads

Rumour has it there are many such roads in our part of the world …
http://www.midweekherald.co.uk/news/practical-advice-issued-for-sensible-parking-in-cranbrook-1-3999229
and
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2017/02/20/cranbrook-estate-rent-charges-another-developer-cash-cow/comment-page-1/

Owners of new homes are living on potholed roads with no street lights or rubbish collection as housebuilders and councils shun the responsibility for road maintenance.

Developers can save thousands by dodging the legal agreements that pass the roads on to local authority control, allowing builders to make roads narrower than usual, for example, and leaving homeowners to pay for the road’s upkeep or see it fall into disrepair.

People living on these unadopted streets have been forced to seek approval from road management committees before selling their homes and say it is harder to find buyers.

The government is to ban new houses from being sold on a leasehold basis to tackle onerous ground rent charges, yet owners of freehold houses on unadopted streets are being “held to ransom” by management companies that charge households up to £660 a year for road maintenance.

“We seem to be rewriting the rules on the way that roads are looked after,” says Derrick Chester, a councillor for Littlehampton and Arun in West Sussex.

Normally housebuilders have new roads “adopted” by the local authority through a legal agreement under Section 38 of the Highways Act 1980, while the sewers underneath are covered by a similar Section 104 arrangement. When the road is left unadopted, homeowners on the road are responsible for its upkeep, and often the sewers and facilities such as playgrounds and parks.

Halima Ali, 30, and her husband bought their freehold four-bedroom home in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, from Persimmon, the developer, and believed that the road would later be adopted by the local council. Seven years later the streets around the 120 flats and houses remain unadopted and are deteriorating.

“The street lights have not been fixed for years, so there are areas that are in complete darkness; it is quite scary at night. A neighbour has had a problem with a sewer cover, which is in danger of collapse,” she says. “There is a children’s playground and, even though it is a public park, residents are required to maintain it. The public come and trash it and we can be made to pay for its maintenance, which is outrageous, and we are paying council tax on top.”

Another homeowner, 56, bought a three-bedroom freehold house in Kettering, Northamptonshire, from SDC Builders nine years ago. “At the time it was sold to me as a benefit, your own private neighbourhood, which would be passed into the residents’ control once the developer had left,” she says, “but, as an unadopted road, we have no street lighting, the bin men won’t come down and we are liable if anyone has an accident on the communal land.”

She has been trying to sell her home, but buyers pulled out when they found out about problems with the unadopted road.

She says that SDC Builders set up a limited company for managing the development, which was passed to residents, who elected two neighbours as directors. She was not aware that if she wanted to sell her property it would require the directors’ approval, and they have refused permission over what she says is a trivial disagreement about parking.

Christine Hereward, the head of planning at Pemberton Greenish, the law firm, says councils and highways authorities will only adopt roads if they are built to their standards. Section 38 agreements are also backed by a lump sum, sometimes running to hundreds of thousands of pounds, put down by the housing developer as a bond against the road not being finished properly. Developers receive their bond back only when the road is adopted. Ms Ali says: “Persimmon has not built our road to the required standard. The council won’t adopt it.”

Critics say developers are choosing not to enter into a section 38 agreement so that they can bypass local authority standards; roads can be narrower and car parking spaces smaller than regulations require, for example. They also save tens of thousands by not making the required bond payments.

In 2009 the government estimated that it would cost £3 billion to bring the country’s thousands of unadopted streets up to an adoptable standard. “Developers can achieve cost savings and make their lives easier. It does enable them to construct a substandard highway. It is a shortcut. To be fair to the developers, it is up to councils to enforce the standards,” says a source who did not want to be named. “There is very little sanction.”

The public come and trash the park and we can be made to pay for it
Mr Chester says councils and housebuilders are colluding over the issue because it saves both parties money. “It fits into the narrative about local authority budget cuts,” he says.

Phil Waller, a former construction manager who runs the website Brand-newhomes.co.uk, says: “I know of one development where a fire engine was unable to access a fire because of parked cars and the layout of the road.”

Unlike private roads, which are often gated, unadopted roads appear as ordinary streets. Whether the public has right of way can be uncertain. Mark Loveday, a barrister from Tanfield Chambers in London, says he frequently hears from homeowners who did not realise that their property was on an unadopted road. “What very often happens is nothing is done to the road for many years and it is only when potholes appear and someone living on the road says, ‘hang on, someone should be maintaining this road’”, he says.

Buyers of new-build homes ought to check the specifics of the road before the sale. “This is an important thing that should be flagged up by the solicitor,” says Mr Loveday. Those who are unsure about the status of their road can apply to the Land Registry for details.

Steve Turner of the Home Builders Federation, the trade association, says housebuilders are increasingly in dispute with local authorities and planning departments over the specifications of newly built roads, which is causing delays in local authorities adopting them. “The resolution typically involves the authority demanding more cash,” he says.

‘We may have to pay for the road upgrade’

Residents of unadopted streets often need to take out public liability insurance in case someone is injured on the street.

Keith Beattie used the government’s flagship Help to Buy scheme to buy his house in Haydock, near St Helens, Merseyside, from Westby Homes North West. In February 2014, when he moved in, the road was unfinished, with tarmac not properly laid and potholes filling up with water. The housebuilder went into administration in August. “The administrators have informed us that they won’t be completing the road and paths. St Helens council will not enter a section 38 until the road is brought to an adoptable standard, which it is not,” he says. “As residents, we may have to pay to have the road completed to the council’s standard.”

Source: Times, pay wall