Another Northampton housing estate calls for transparency over additional maintenance tax fees

Residents on a Northampton housing estate are fed up of receiving multiple maintenance bills for work they say could just be done by just one firm.

Monday, 30th July 2018, 5:45 pm
Updated Friday, 31st August 2018, 5:02 pm
Pictured front left-right: Northamptonshire County Councillor for Sixfields Division Pinder Chauhan with chair of Upton Meadows Residents' Association Nick Alex.

Residents who live on the Upton Meadows Estate pay one estate wide fee costing between £170-£180 payable to The Land Trust, who manage the sustainable drainage system, Upton Square and the children’s playground, one block management fee of about £220, to individual developers, who maintain the different courtyards and parking areas, on top of their expensive council tax bill.Nick Alex chair of Upton Meadows Residents Association said: "Upton was divided into areas according to developer, around ten or so. Each developer then appointed companies to manage each block. Again with no transparency or governance, these companies are supposed to look after most of the rest of the estate.

"And then there are the roads. None of the roads here are adopted. There is a plan for a small number to be adopted, but this has been delayed until at least December.

Mr Alex added: "Add to this the fact that we pay generally higher council tax here, we are paying more for less."The situation is untenable, this model does not work. What residents tell me time and time again is that they want one management company for everything across the estate, or better still, the council to take it all over."

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Councillors and residents want a uniform approach to paying maintenance tax bills.

About a year ago MP for South Northamptonshire Andrea Leadsom called on all of the companies for a round-table meeting to move things on but to no avail, she told the Chronicle & Echo.

The situation is similar to that of the Timken Estate in Duston where additional payments have been in operation since the estate was developed but many residents say they have seen the charges increase by 35 per cent in the last three years, with fees of up to £500 a year extra to pay for maintenance companies to come and cut the communal grass areas and maintain the car parking spaces.

Chair of the Northampton Labour Party, Dale Willis, said: "We estimate that the combined additional tax that residents on the new developments in the NN5 area - i.e. the Duston and Upton area - will be paying for services that are already covered in their council tax will shortly reach one million pounds.

"This is a profiteering scandal and Duston Labour will be helping residents on all developments join together to have a stronger voice."

A spokeswoman for Northampton Borough Council said: “When granting planning permission the council ensures that areas of public open space are maintained and made available for public use throughout the life of a development. Owing to the expense of maintenance in the long term, the council would not usually look to adopt new areas.”

“The use of management companies is a common, and often preferred, practice for developers to use.

"Often in larger schemes, there are more than one developer or landowner who can choose different management companies, which we recognise does involve additional fees and complexity. However, these are matters that residents will be made aware of prior to buying a house in a managed area.”

One resident, who asked for anonymity, said: "It's a lovely place to live but we pay huge council tax and we also then pay two management companies and the estate always looks really tired and run down. There's weeds everywhere, no-one takes any responsibility."

Alan Carter, director of portfolio management at the Land Trust said: “Homeowners currently pay around £170-180 per year for the maintenance of the public open space, which we own. This covers the maintenance of the landscape and fountain areas, as well as a contribution towards the future replacement of capital assets on site, such as the bridges and play area equipment. This fee also covers insurance, regular inspections of the site and communication with residents. Land Trust Residential Services also maintains the sustainable drainage system, which recently helped prevent flooding within Upton and surrounding area.

"We regularly review our costs and carried out a competitive tender process to appoint a landscape maintenance contractor when the existing contract with Frosts expired. Based on that tender process, Burleys offered the best value for money for our customers. We continue to ensure that the contractor delivers on the commitments, which they have made to deliver the contract to the agreed specification. We are in regular contact with both the residents and our contractors and when there are incidents of the contract specification not being met, we take appropriate action.

"In regards to the matter of transparency, we send our customers a detailed budget at the start of each year, outlining all the expected costs, what they are and who we spend them with. This is then reconciled at the year end, reviewed and independently examined by a firm of chartered accountants and made available to all customers along with copies of all invoices.

"We hold annual meetings, which are open to all residents, and meet regularly with the residents association and local councillors to discuss issues and concerns on the site. We also engage with residents on a regular basis via social media and other means to address any matters which have arisen and provide quick responses and regular updates. A survey was recently posted online for residents to provide feedback on the service they receive. At present, we are working on a plan to improve communications further and provide residents with much more frequent updates on activity by Burleys, other contractors and also how we can improve the spaces so that they deliver more social value for the community who live and work around the spaces we own. We are also working with other landowners in the area to do all we can to try and ensure that the wider areas outside of ownership are improved and are managed to the standard we would expect.

"In addition to the service charge Upton residents pay to maintain the public open space, which we own, some residents may also pay fees to third-party management companies for land outside our ownership, typically courtyards and parking areas etc. We would only be able to manage these spaces, and therefore charge for this, if we either owned these spaces, or otherwise had a contract to manage them.”