The Welsh Government shouldn’t be leaving residents at the mercy of private maintenance firms
Rhys ab Owen, Plaid Cymru Senedd Member for South Wales Central
Residents of the Mill Estate in Canton, Cardiff were left stunned by a £102 charge to cover maintenance costs for the estate including the upkeep of Riverside Park, an improved strip of land bordering the estate. This charge has since been reduced to £80 following pressure from residents and others, however in my view that is still £80 too many.
Residents on the new estate had been informed that this would be a “nominal fee” in the buying process and later told it would be in the region of £50, so were left shocked at the surge in price. This payment is made on top of a similarly steep separate payment to another private maintenance firm, Ground Solutions UK, for the maintenance of unadopted highways, green spaces and so on. Residents must pay these additional charges because Cardiff Council won’t adopt the maintenance of the estate.
To add insult to injury however, residents must still pay their full share of Council Tax despite the lack of council services provided to the estate. This refusal by the Council then has left residents on the estate paying three times for what they see as very little in return.
In this cost-of-living crisis, the Council should be doing everything in its power to lessen the financial burden on people across Cardiff, including residents of the Mill, many of whom live in affordable or social housing. With the recent news that energy bills are set to rise even higher later this year, with the average annual bill set to hit almost £3,000, it is imperative that the burden of these unnecessary extra costs are lifted from families.
Missing the point
These estate charges are nothing new, my Plaid Cymru colleague Dr Dai Lloyd raised these unfair practices in the last Senedd term, citing the issues of unadopted roads in Swansea and his shock that these poorly maintained roads were not under the council’s authority. Dr Lloyd first encountered this in 1998 and over 20 years on we still receive complaints regarding this kind of practice. My current Senedd colleague Hefin David has also consistently raised this issue with the Welsh Government, calling on them to regulate estate management companies.
I highlighted the practice of private estate charges in the Senedd on Tuesday, questioning the First Minister regarding this unfair practice and specifically raised the example of the Mill, a development previously praised by Welsh Government for its mixture of social housing and traditional freehold purchasing. Whilst I agree there is much to praise regarding the estate, it is imperative that we do not lumber residents with the bad and unfair practices of yesteryear.
In response, Mr Drakeford echoed the praise for the Mill and agreed that more should be done by local authorities, agreeing that the current situation is too complex. Mr Drakeford however stopped short of agreeing that local authorities should adopt the maintenance of these estates. Mr Drakeford claimed that companies and startlingly, that even the residents themselves have responsibilities. Presumably then Mr Drakeford believes that the Mill’s residents shouldn’t pay their full share of Council Tax as they do not receive the same service as other residents of Canton?
Mr Drakeford also claimed that every resident had been provided with an itemised bill, however residents have since contacted me, claiming that this is not the case and they have received nothing. Mr Drakeford’s use of this in response however somewhat misses the point. These residents have been left at the mercy of private maintenance firms who have been emboldened by the Council’s refusal to act. There should be no itemised bills from private maintenance firms as the Council should not allow this to be a possibility. Residents have started a petition calling for action.
The Welsh Government have previously condemned the practice inflicted on residents of the Mill and had planned to address this issue but have sat on their hands whilst people across Wales suffer these punitive charges. As the cost of living increases exponentially now is the time for Welsh Government and local authorities to take action to support residents across the country and end this practice.
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