Resident’s call for Government action over housing estate maintenance fees
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
A woman living on a housing estate where residents were asked to pay unpopular maintenance fees has called for the Welsh Government to take action.
Eleri Lewis, of The Mill Living in Canton, Cardiff has launched a petition calling on the Welsh Government to commit to the adoption of the maintenance of new housing estates by local authorities.
So far, the petition has reached 259 signatures – just over the 250 threshold for a petiton to be discussed by the Peititions Committee at the Senedd after the collection of signatures has ceased. For the petition to be considered for a debate in the Senedd, 1,000 signatures are needed.
In March it was revealed that residents of The Mill estate had received a letter requesting a £102 annual service fee to maintain a park on the estate, which consists of a wooden climbing frame, a picnic table, three benches and two bins.
The estate service charge does also allow for maintenance of the site’s flood defences which protect all residents from predicted flood events.
Eleri said maintenance charges were made clear to them before they bought the property. However, she said the maintenance fee for a park came as something of a shock.
“I say it is a park, [but] I don’t even think there is a swing or anything there. It is just a wooden play area, but it really isn’t anything to rave about,” she said.
“Everyone was shocked by that letter we received because nobody told us that when we bought the houses that that would be included in what we would have to pay for.”
The intention of the Mill Living estate – a partnership between Cadwyn, Tirion and Lovell, with support from the Principality Building Society and Welsh Government – was to create a sustainable community with affordable homes.
Eleri added: “Of all the times to hit people with charges, it is really not appropriate to be doing it now. I am quite fortunate [in that] I don’t live on the breadline, but for a lot of people that extra charge [could] push them over the edge. It is really disheartening to think that this was supposed to be an incentive where we would have a community that had affordable housing and [now] people are having to pay for things that they didn’t ask for and that they can’t afford.”
Tirion Homes said they have reviewed and lowered the maintenance charge that was stated in a letter sent to residents in March. A spokesperson for Tirion Homes said: “We understand the concerns of residents and as a result recently reviewed the cost estimates for the Estate Service Charge and reduced the amount payable to £67 +VAT per annum.
“We have also offered the ability for residents to pay monthly via a standing order. We have sent an itemised estimate of all the annual costs to residents and the final cost for the year will be subject to an independent audit. Any further cost savings will be passed directly back to residents.”
Regional Senedd Member for South Wales Central Rhys ab Owen recently asked the question at a Plenary meeting of the Senedd if the Welsh Government would commit to the adoption of the maintenance of new housing estates by local authorities.
He said: “Our programme for government includes a commitment to reform the way in which estate charges are levied for public open spaces and facilities. Current arrangements are over complex and too often unfair. We will bring forward proposals for reform, for both new and existing estates.”
First Minister Mark Drakeford responded after the Senedd Member referenced the Mill, saying that “the charges are not simply for the upkeep of a play area, as has sometimes been alleged. Absolutely crucially, it is also for the maintenance of flood defences for that whole site.”
In response to Mr Owen’s questions, the First Minister added: “We won’t do that, Llywydd. That would be to create a moral hazard for developers of a sort that would be entirely unwelcome.
“If a developer believed that no matter how shoddy the work they carried out, no matter how poor the standard of communal facilities it provided, there was a guarantee that the public purse would pick that up and put it right, there’s no incentive at all for them to do the job in the way that we want it to do. We will reform the system for new and existing housing estates, but the costs are likely to continue to be shared.
“More undertaken by the local authority, I agree with that—there is more that local authorities should do. But the idea that they should solely become responsible, when there are companies that have responsibilities and residents who have responsibilities, I think a tripartite system will continue to be the way in which a better system can be designed for the future.”
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