Residents on new housing estates in Barnsley have been left feeling “ripped off” by mandatory management charges for public open spaces built as part of their developments but not adopted by the council – with a councillor now suggesting a ‘not for profit’ organisation to take over maintenance work.
Many large housing estates now include ‘green’ spaces to provide play and leisure facilities as a result of modern planning requirements but although they are open to the public many are not adopted by the council, leaving developers to find a way to ensure they are maintained in future.
That usually means a management contract, with each household liable for an annual contribution towards the cost.
But in some areas, residents have been left with bills they never expected when buying their home, with some being triggered only years after housing estates have been completed.
Some charges can be as high as £100 per household and Barnsley Council is now investigating whether ‘caps’ can be applied to such arrangements, to ensure increases in the fees do not outstrip inflation.
Several estates in Penistone are affected and Coun Dave Griffin has researched the issue, finding that one estate incurs an overall charge of £21,000 a year, for a service which involves little more than cutting grass.
More than half of that goes on management charges, rather than the cost of the practical work.
He has spoken to 46 residents and found three quarters found the performance of the contract was poor or very poor, with only around 20 per cent finding it satisfactory.
When asked, some said they "felt ripped off" with others feeling "trapped in the contract", he said.
Some residents were reluctant to report issues which required work, he said, because that would then be billed and added to the charge – increasing costs to those living nearby.
When planning permission is granted, the developer has to satisfy council officials that an adequate management plan is in place.
But many are national companies and were not easy to contact when residents were facing what they regarded as problems, said Coun Griffin.
“They feel they are paying for the upkeep of public open spaces which are free for anyone to walk in and enjoy,” he said.
His concern is that when Barnsley’s Local Plan – the blueprint for development including housing growth – is approved in the next few months, it will signal the construction of 20,000 new homes in the years ahead, with the potential for many new green areas on those developments.
“I am concerned about residents now, but also those who will move into new estates in future,” he said.
“This is another awful result of austerity. These sort of costs, which would have been borne previously by the local authority, are now being borne by residents on new estates.
“It is a good thing we want green space on estates. It is just the mechanism for paying for the maintenance that seems to me to be a time bomb.
“I am speaking to officers in planning and housing growth about the feasibility of a not for profit organisation in Penistone to run future maintenance contracts, asking if that would be possible.”
He believes a community venture would provide a service much cheaper than those provided by commercial enterprises.
He is also enquiring whether residents covered by existing contracts would have any rights to move en bloc from an existing management contract to an alternative arrangement.
“I don’t have an answer, I am waiting for a reply,” he said.
Barnsley Council’s head of planning, Joe Jenkinson, told councillors on the authority’s planning board that work has started to clarify whether the council can impose restrictions on how management charges can be increased once an arrangement has been put in place.