The report of the Executive Manager – Communities.
The Executive Manager – Communities delivered a presentation on the Future Maintenance of Public Open Space on Housing Developments, which accompanied the report already circulated with the agenda.
The Executive Manager – Communities provided a brief history to explain how housing and housing estates have developed over the years using West Bridgford as an example. Starting in the 1900’s, where plots were large with generous rear gardens and the street layout was linear, and there was more often than not a large municipal park in close proximity to serve the leisure needs of its residents. Moving to the 1930’s -1940’s and still building on earlier principles, with front and rear gardens and largely linear in layout. From the 1950’s - 60’s plot sizes start to reduce as density rises and the developments move out from the centralised park. There was no local parks or open space provision in this era, although some larger areas feature a local parade of shops and small play parks. In the 1960’s -70’s, plot sizes continue to reduce, more cul-de-sac roads start to emerge with the loss of the linear layout, developments were either on the edge of town or on smaller infill plots. During the 1980’s – 2000’s, developments moved further out of towns, plots were much smaller as densities increase again. The developments during this time tended to be close to larger roads, on river floodplains and previously industrial land. The requirement for small shopping areas, community centres, parks and play areas became an integral part of the design.
The Executive Manager - Communities informed the Group that pre 2000 Rushcliffe adopted all open spaces with no funding. The period of 2000 -2010 commuted sums were introduced to address the pressure on Council budgets in order to manage and maintain open spaces on new developments. However, in some instances developers never provided the commuted sum or transferred the land to the Council resulting in issues of open spaces not being managed or maintained.
The Executive Manager – Communities explained that since 2011 the Borough has sought to address these issues and no longer adopts, maintains or inspects any open space provided as part of a new housing development. The current position is that the housing developer(s) are responsible for payments towards the maintenance of open space on Strategic Sites, Local Plan Part 2 Sites and major windfall sites. Adding, that the developers then pass the cost and responsibility onto residents of the development through a management company as a monthly/annual charge. This charge, which can typically be around £200 per annum, is then payable for the entire time that each property on the development is occupied. Based on the Borough’s Local Plan and approximately 13,000 new homes being built, this could equate to £2.6m per annum paid in management fees.
The Executive Manager – Communities explained that on the Boroughs Strategic Allocations, most include large scale community areas to mitigate the harm of the development examples of these can be seen at Bingham, Cotgrave, Gamston and Newton, all having large park areas available for use by all despite being funded by residents of the new development. The Executive Manager – Communities continued to advise the Group that there could be potential issues with this approach in the long term as the developments age. Examples of concern are:
· The lack of an overall cap on management fees (not regulated)
· ‘Hidden’ fees for residents who come to sell their property or re-mortgage
· The lack of ability for residents to redress any dissatisfactions or shortcomings with Management Companies
· Residents don’t understand the full extent of the costs they are agreeing to pay when they purchase the property
· Resident’s misconception that the areas they are paying for are for their sole use creating friction with other local residents lawfully using the areas.
The Executive Manager – Communities asked the Group to consider a way forward and offered four potential options:
1. Do nothing, i.e. the status quo remains
2. the Council takes on the responsibility for some or all open spaces,
3. Parish Council’s take on the responsibility for open spaces in their ward,
4. Other bodies, such as Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust take on the responsibility of the larger open spaces.
The Chairman highlighted that the Council adopted the Management Company option post 2011 for very good reasons. The spiralling costs to manage and maintain open spaces were becoming a burden to the Council at this time.
Some Members of the Group advised that they had been contacted by residents living on these developments where a Management Company operated and provided examples of some of the unfair fees residents were expected to pay. These included, unjustified increases in the annual maintenance fee, extra charges when selling their properties, extending or adding a conservatory.
Members were alarmed by some of the issues residents had reported and were at a loss as to why this industry is not regulated. Members questioned whether there was an accreditation scheme for the Management Companies and if the Council had any influence on who the developers transfer the management and maintenance of the housing development to. In addition, Members suggested lobbying Government to look into these issues and provide some Government regulations or legislation.
The Executive Manager – Communities explained that further work is required by officers, which will be a challenge, as contracts with the Management Companies will be confidential and therefore difficult to get hold of. He suggested that Councillors in those wards where these developments exist could gather evidence from residents willing to provide it, explaining that householders would have anonymity for reporting purposes. The Executive Manager – Communities offered to pull together a summary table of items included in these agreements and provide members with a list of developments where there is a known Management Company operating for them to seek to acquire copies of any agreement in place with residents.
It was RESOLVED that:
a) Council officers research in more depth the operational functions of Management Companies employed to manage and maintain open spaces on large housing developments
b) Councillors be asked to identify examples of open space agreements in place withn their wards
c) Report back the research information to a later date of the Growth and Development Scrutiny Group.