Green spaces – use them or possibly see them flogged off

Owl says: health benefits of public open spaces? Pah! Flog ‘em, flog ‘em!

“ Corporate Green Space policy 1 –

Survey, plot and categorise all council managed green/open space across the district (including housing land, and allotment sites)
assess sites based on a range of criteria including;

strategic importance,
accessibility,
alternative or additional use,
levels of use, amenity value,
ability to protect our outstanding environment and cost.

Identify which sites are suitable for retention, community transfer or disposal taking into account our corporate policies, our Local Plan and open space study.

http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/2319199/170118-joint-overview-scrutiny-agenda-combined.pdf

EDDC: “More open spaces to be closed for private events, say council”

And all for £35,000 … our PUBLIC open spaces paying for their new HQ?

Or planning a money-spinner for Grenadier?

“East Devon District Council agenda papers say the authority is planning to close public spaces like Manor Gardens and Exmouth beach for privately-rented events.

Exmouth’s beach, parks and gardens could be closed to the public for privately-rented events such as weddings and festivals, under new proposals.

According to East Devon District Council (EDDC) agenda papers, the authority is considering hiring an events officer to ‘actively market’ its open spaces.

Previously, Exmouth’s Manor Gardens has been closed to the public for private occasions such as weddings and an open-air cinema. An area on the seafront was also used for the observation wheel last summer.

Proposals in the joint overview and scrutiny committee agenda say that these sites could be used for a big screen to show sports and music events.

There could also be Christmas markets, food fairs, and beach volleyball or surf lifesaving championships.

The agenda, for the meeting taking place on Wednesday, January 17, also says £100,000 could be set aside from EDDC’s capital reserve and that charges would be ‘in line with the private sector’.

EDDC says all parks, gardens and beaches are being considered as host venues and that town and parish councils will be consulted.

An EDDC spokeswoman said: “As part of the council’s objective to develop an outstanding economy through being more commercial, we have been making steady progress in improving our events offer and rentals of our assets such as parks and gardens.

“Last year we increased events income from £10,000 to £35,000.

“This has already included a wedding in Manor Gardens, Exmouth, the Exmouth Observation Wheel and other ticketed events such as open-air cinema, where the park or area was closed to the public.

“We consult with the local town or parish council and elected members before such events go ahead.

“Any East Devon District Council parks, gardens, beaches or open spaces will be considered by the council for events bookings or private functions.

“Charges will be in line with the private sector and anyone interested in making a booking, should contact the council on 01395 517528 or visit http://eastdevon.gov.uk/events.”

http://www.exmouthjournal.co.uk/news/exmouth-beaches-parks-rented-out-privately-1-5351545

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

Two councils, two very different approaches to retirement housing

It is interesting to compare the Millbrook development in Exeter with PegasusLife’s at the Knowle, Sidmouth.

At Millbrook [the retirement complex in Exeter, Exeter City Council being the planning authority] the development was considered to be C3 (dwelling houses) and therefore attracted affordable housing provision which consisted of a payment to the Council of £5.65 million plus the transfer of land at no cost to enable the Council to construct a public extra care facility on the site. In addition the developer contributed almost £300,000 towards sports facilities and £35,000 towards archeological recording.

And what are PegasusLife, who are backed by Oaktree, a billion-dollar equity giant with offshore tax-haven connnections, contributing?

Answer: nothing, whether the development is adjudged to be C2 (residential institution) or C3. Unless of course, you include an information board to tell you where the elegant lawn terraces in the public gardens used to be.

So how many “affordable” houses (or other provision) is East Devon losing out on?

New Cranbrook Play Area – a muddy situation

CRANBROOK TOWN COUNCIL FACEBOOK PAGE:

NORTHWOOD ACRES PLAY AREA – OPENING CEREMONY POSTPONED
East Devon District Council is sorry that the opening of the Northwood Acres play area has been postponed, so won’t now take place on Saturday 18 November.

This is due to safety concerns and poor ground conditions following heavy rain which will delay the opening by up to 3 weeks and allow outstanding landscaping work to be completed safely.

COMMENTS ON CRANBROOK TOWN COUNCIL WEBSITE:

Perhaps in those 3 weeks they could move the gate to the park so it doesn’t open directly onto a road?

I live opposite the park gate and have raised this as a concern since day 1, I know how fast some people come round that corner and it is an accident waiting to happe

Jeremy Corbyn on green belt development

I feel very strongly about the principle of the green belt, because if you take away this cordon of green space and cleaner air around big cities, I think you have the danger of massive ribbon development. So I am somebody that is very sceptical about building on the green belt. I see that in some cases there are land swaps that go on, where a piece of open space is created somewhere else in return for it. That obviously is a trade off that can be looked at.

But I just think as a society we all need a bit of open space around us. We all value our parks. You don’t go to them every day, but it’s good for you to know they are there and good for everybody else if they want to go and use them. So I am concerned about encroaching on the green belt.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/blog/live/2017/nov/06/cbi-tells-may-that-business-needs-clarity-over-brexit-transition-by-christmas-politics-live

The scandal of “pseudo-public space” – coming soon to a development near you?

”City administrations in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and seven others decline to outline the spread of privately owned public areas, or their secret prohibitions – which may include protesting or taking photos.

Many of Britain’s largest cities are refusing to reveal information regarding the private ownership of seemingly public spaces, the Guardian has discovered, fuelling concerns about a growing democratic deficit within local city government.

A Guardian Cities investigation earlier this summer revealed for the first time the spread of pseudo-public space in London – large squares, parks and thoroughfares that appear to be public but are actually owned and controlled by developers and their private backers – and an almost complete lack of transparency over secret restrictions imposed by corporations that limit the rights of citizens passing through their sites.

The Guardian has since requested data on pseudo-public spaces, which are sometimes known as privately owned public spaces (Pops), from the country’s biggest urban centres beyond the capital. …

… Following the Guardian’s initial investigation, national political leaders including Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democrats’ Vince Cable and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party all spoke out on the subject.

Shortly thereafter, a motion was passed in the London Assembly urging Khan to take a firm stance on the issue.

“Being able to know what rules you are being governed by, and how to challenge them, is a fundamental part of democracy,” said Sian Berry, a London Assembly member for the Green Party who proposed the motion.

“Increasingly, London’s public space is in private hands and there is very little transparency around which individuals and groups can have access,” added Labour’s Nicky Gavron. “These are Londoners’ outdoor living rooms and it is appalling that access can be restricted.”

Several assembly members pointed out that City Hall itself is located on open but private land controlled by the sovereign wealth fund of Kuwait, which refuses to allow journalists to operate in the area without corporate permission.

The Mayor of London has vowed to establish new guidelines covering privately-owned “public” sites, designed to “maximise access and minimise restrictions, as well as enabling planners to establish potential restrictions at the application stage for new developments.” …

… Ultimately, some experts conclude, any widespread challenge to the spread of pseudo-public spaces may come from citizens themselves rather than top-down institutional leaders.

“The planning process is supposed to be democratic,” Adam Fineberg, an expert adviser on public services, observed. “The people responsible for drawing up planning policies and sitting on planning committees are elected representatives. So if citizens are concerned about this issue in their local areas, they can campaign and put pressure on representatives through the ballot box and try to ensure that future planning applications by developers are required to meet clear and strong conditions regarding public access and open governance. There’s nothing stopping planning authorities making approval dependent on those conditions being met. It’s a question of local democracy.” “

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/sep/26/its-really-shocking-uk-cities-refusing-to-reveal-extent-of-pseudo-public-space