FED-UP residents of a flagship estate near Bransgore who accused developers of neglecting the open spaces fear it will still not be properly looked after by New Forest District Council even though it will receive a £400,000 payment for maintenance.
A group of up to 30 who live at Heatherstone Grange on the former RAF Sopley camp site revealed their frustration at how it has been maintained over the past year or so.
They say Bellway Homes kept it in a pristine condition while the units were being marketed but after they were all sold by mid-2018 it became “neglected”.
Things got so bad, they add, that 100-plus specimen and sapling trees planted by the developer have died, 7ft weeds sprouted in paths and gaps in driveways, and communal lawns got so long residents mowed them themselves.
Moreover, allotments at the site, which were key to it being approved around four years ago, have not yet been deemed suitable or allocated to people.
Semi-retired couple Vic and Jo Mencner were among the “hugely frustrated” homeowners.
“As residents we have been left in limbo,” Jo said. “We’ve had to cut the grass ourselves and try to save dying trees. Bellway certainly haven’t fulfilled the responsibilities they were supposed to.”
The pair pointed out planning conditions attached to the site include an agreement Bellway would sustain the maintenance there – and that rule would be enforced by NFDC until the council agreed to take over responsibility.
“Basically, the residents have been neglected by the two authorities that are supposed to be taking care of them – that is Bellway and New Forest District Council,” she added.
The couple, who are both former public workers, moved to the site two-and-a-half years ago from Essex. At the time, workers were there constantly keeping the site looking clean, Vic said, adding: “The lawn out the front outside the main house was like a billiard green.”
But referring to what he said was a subsequent “drop-off” in maintenance activity, Vic added: “When you buy a car, the salesman does not want to know you after you’ve left the showroom and I feel the same way about Bellway.”
Lynda Asquith said: “I just want to add my voice to the many to say how upset I am that we have seemingly been abandoned to a site surrounded not by the wonderful green spaces promised by Bellway, and which were included in the terms of the planning permission granted by NFDC, but to a wasteland that is covered in weeds.”
Another condition attached to the site was Bellway would pay NFDC £400,000 upon transferring the responsibility for maintaining it to the council.
The residents say NFDC stressed it would only accept that if it deemed the site an acceptable standard. If not Bellway would have to do work to bring it up to standard.
Over the past fortnight it has emerged while NFDC was not happy with the state of the site, it has now agreed to take over the responsibility.
Residents claim they were told that at a meeting with an NFDC officer, as well as that the £400,000 will not solely be reserved for the site but instead will go into a general maintenance pot. Previously, they add, they were led to believe it would be spent solely on the estate site.
Jo Mencner said: “They [NFDC] have no plan for any remedial works after that, beyond slotting us into their existing grass cutting regime, and won’t be holding Bellway to account for not complying with the approved published plan.
“In effect, NFDC has taken £400,000 from Bellway and won’t be providing any additional services for that money above and beyond what we pay our council tax for. We feel powerless.”
Liz and Gerry Coakes said: “We as residents would like to say how appalled we are that NFDC are to allow Bellway to not meet the agreed planning permission conditions.
“If NFDC are happy to accept the site in its present state, we feel that Bellway must be made to provide the funds to bring it up to the required standard as originally specified by NFDC.
“That is because NFDC have said they do not have this in their budget and therefore the residents will lose out on what was promised.”
Asked to comment, NFDC said: “The planning permission for the development of the site is linked to a legal agreement that requires the developer to pay in the region of £400,000 for the future maintenance and management of the public areas of land which will be transferred to the council.
“We have maintained pressure on the developer to ensure that the land is brought to an acceptable standard before the transfer takes place. Once the land has been transferred to us it will be maintained in accordance with our established practice for various elements of open space on the site.”
Subsequently NFDC offered an updated statement that said: “As with all open space transfers what’s called a ‘commuted sum’ will be paid by the developer to cover the maintenance cost over a 20-year period.
“It is normal practice for us to collect commuted sums to cover the cost of maintaining open space and highways so that there is no additional cost to the council and its taxpayers resulting from development.
“These commuted sums are ring-fenced and are only used for ongoing maintenance. Some of the play equipment that has been installed is at slight variance to the details shown on the approved plan.”
Bellway said there had been a list of “snagging works”, but they were now completed to the satisfaction of the council and the managing agent of the site, Trinity Estates.
“Bellway Homes has spent considerable time and money ensuring that we have met the expectations of our residents and NFDC,” a spokesman for the developer added.
“In terms of the allotments on the development, these were successfully transferred to the parish council on 17th July 2019 following multiple inspections by NFDC.
“We can also confirm that any payments due under the terms of the signed S106 agreement have been made and all future payments will be made at the required trigger points.
“We are currently awaiting the transfer document to enable the legal transfer of the green space to NFDC, at which point they will take on the maintenance liability.
“We anticipate this to be completed by the end of August 2019. In the meantime, Bellway will carry out any essential maintenance required.”