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Council moves to end unfair fees

New protections to prevent new homeowners being lumbered with unfair maintenance charges have been put in place by Stratford District Council.

The issue revolves around the maintenance of outdoor community space within new developments, which have landed residents with some unexpected high costs.

When new developments are completed, public open space within the sites is usually offered to local parish councils by developers.

However parish councils do not always decide to adopt these spaces and as a result developers often appoint private management companies, who charge residents this ‘hidden charge’ to maintain the spaces.

Such residents, who already pay their council tax, are then tied to often expensive leasehold maintenance agreements, on land which is not their own, but is open to the general public.

Last week Stratford District Council agreed to step in, adopting a new planning stance stipulating that for all new housing developments, if parish councils are unwilling to take on the community space, they will automatically adopt it instead, cutting outside management companies out of the loop.

Cllr Christopher Kettle, portfolio holder for community services said: “The District Council has listened to the concerns raised by residents about the ‘hidden charges’ and quality of the maintenance work carried out in these public open spaces. Cabinet has taken a decision, subject to Council approval, that from 1 January 2021 in the event that a Town or Parish Council decides not to take ownership of the public open space, the District Council will take ownership and responsibility for the land.

“This new policy will eliminate the risk of future ‘fleecehold’ charges being levied on householders and it will also improve the quality of public open space within new developments.”

Cllr Mark Cargill said: “I am delighted that this has come forward and not before time, I’ve been pushing on this for 18 months now and it’s something I know will be welcomed by residents.”

During the Cabinet meeting members welcomed the announcement.

However Cllr Susan Juned, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat Group, who raised this issue with the council in October 2019, has urged the council to look into how it can go even further to help residents.

During the meeting she asked whether the council would be able to intervene to end unfair management fees within developments that were already completed in addition to all forthcoming sites.

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Juned said: “The Council's Cabinet approved a recommendation on Monday to take ownership of such designated public open space themselves in future, if a parish or town council decides not to take on ownership.

“The problem is that this decision by SDC cannot be retrospective. It remains the case that residents of developments preceding this decision will continue to pay these fees. One such is the Pastures development off Kinwarton Farm Road, Alcester. Their residents Association raised their concerns with the Council and MP in 2019.

“This practice continues and another site in Alcester, in the process of being built, may also be subject to the same practice.”

Cllr Kettle explained that the change agreed this week will become part of the council’s planning process, but he would look into the issue and see what was possible at existing developments.

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