As an individual resident, I may not get very far, so urge you to do likewise and to the local councillors if you are unhappy with the plans or lack of consultation. (feel free to borrow any elements of the text as needed )
Further to my initial response and having also spoken with neighbours wanted to respond more fully. Regretfully, this is to express a certain amount of disappointment in the way things look to be going.
This is predominately based upon the site meeting minutes kindly supplied by yourself, so am aware that as I was not present there may be some misinterpretation, or missing detail. However, this in part demonstrates the lack of consultation with residents, with around 90 new households, so expect this to be in the region of 250 residents in addition to the Abbotts Barton residents who have shown an early interest.
The only resident who was at the meeting did so because they saw it happening out of their window!
I appreciate it was intended to be a site meeting, and the HIWWT were present due to the boundary, but to move that discussion on to handing over the meadow area to them and developing plans, without having aired such a possibility with residents, seems premature and ill advised.
The council’s reputation regarding consultations has recently come under heavy criticism, and my hope, following our email exchanges over the past 18 months or so, was that we would be included in them.
I understand there are initial ideas around holding an open event, but it feels as though these may only be to present plans that the wildlife trust have now already developed. Would any alternative developed plans be shown to allow a genuine choice to be made?
Another key point of note was that there were several mentions to exploring the S106 agreements and what their limits were. I understand that budgets are tight and it’s commendable to explore alternative mechanisms. However, based again on recent events, I feel the council is best not operating at the legal limits of agreements but following the original spirit of them. All the new homeowners will have been provided the S106s as part of the buying process and they are relatively clear cut as to the land to be transferred and the calculated sums of money for them to be maintained and a play facility to be built. Homeowners having invested in the development do also have specific rights with regards the managed areas detailed in their title deeds. For the council to now significantly vary these, leaves us and I expect many others feeling disenfranchised.
On some of the specific issues:
Issue 2 – The future of the 4 acre Abbotts Walk Meadow
The HIWWT plans for the field to be used as grazing land looks set to remove residents ability to use the area for other activities such as picnics, kite-flying, field games, etc. They have mentioned the use of electric fences which does not sit well with it being a child friendly area.
The plans and discussions throughout have been for a structured play area for young children, even when they were removed from Redrow’s plans and the commuted payment agreed so that the council could consult on the design. We look set to lose this with the current ideas, and find that unacceptable.
Having not been at the meeting, I am not sure how the term “sterile municipal green space” came about or who used it. I would point to the WCC Open Space Assessment of September 2013 highlights there is a 41.92 Ha surplus of natural green space, and 17 Ha shortfall of play areas, 11.6 Ha shortfall of informal green space, and a 12.82 Ha shortfall of parks space! So if anything “sterile municipal green space” is what is needed! Although, that is never what was envisaged, as the Design and Access Statement that was submitted and accepted as part of the plans talks of meadow species being planted in this area. So it should be informal green space with play area space. To provide additional Natural green space within the settlement boundary in preference to these seems illogical at best!
Issue 4 – Arrangements for the future maintenance of the remaining areas of open space
My concern here is what would happen to the maintenance sum that was apportioned to this area of land? As that contribution will be made from the sale prices of each plot on the understanding that the land would be transferred and maintained. For homeowners, to have to pay further service charges for the upkeep of the same land would be understandably difficult to understand.
I believe there has been some issue in ascertaining the identity of the management company. Perhaps, I can assist here:
Abbotts Walk Management Company Limited (Co Reg 8173000)
St David’s Park
Notably, this is the same address as Redrow themselves and has the same directors. I expect they will outsource the management at some point.
I would also say, that if there were consultation with residents, any homeowner could have provided this from their documents.
Issue 5 – the Pond
The basin has performed significantly better this past winter. However, would like to stress the design was always for a Dry infiltration basin not a pond. I would respectfully suggest that it be independently checked before adoption (which may be difficult as things get dryer) as I’d expect rectification costs to be quite significant if there were an issue.
Once adopted will there be a risk assessment carried out in regards to any potential standing water and accessibility of children.
I apologise if I have not got things quite right, but hope you can understand land ownership can be quite emotive and my genuine hope was that we’d be able just get this done. Please can we go with the original plan as it will also likely be the most expeditious?
[UPDATE – Response from WCC]
I am sorry to read your email and learn of your dissatisfaction with the way things are being handled. I would like to re-assure you that the Council is quite determined to see this process through to a satisfactory conclusion for the residents. A conclusion I might add which does not deviate from the agreed s106 legal documents.
I will deal with your points in the order you raise them:
1. The lack of consultation with residents: it is true that there has not been, so far, any formal consultation with residents. This is because the land is still the property of Redrow Homes and the s106 monies have not yet been passed over to the Council. We would prefer to consult with residents once we are in control of the land and the s106 monies.
2. Allowing the Wildlife Trust to manage the Meadow is but one option or possibility which, I took care to stress in my site meeting minutes, ‘would need the full support of the Abbotts Walk residents (before becoming a reality) as the Meadow is after all an open space intended primarily to serve them’. So it is not by any means a ‘done deal’. I would point out however two things: the s106 Unilateral Undertaking of 2009 as amended by the Supplemental Agreement of 2012 does allow for all or parts of the Open Space Areas (as shown in green on drawing number AA.01 Rev C) to be transferred to a body other than WCC; and, the Wildlife Trust, as a neighbour with the responsibility for an ecologically sensitive Nature Reserve, were within their rights to ask the City Council whether they could ‘discuss long term management options for this land’ (WT letter to Planning Department 23 September 2011). However, nothing has been decided and the plans for the Meadow will be subject to resident consultation.
3. It is true that at the site meeting, at the suggestion of our grounds maintenance officer, we reviewed the proposal to transfer the inner greens and perimeter greens to the City Council as they are clearly not public spaces but semi-private or communal spaces enjoyed by the residents and which residents should pay for rather than the public purse. Again, the legal agreement permits this variation, but I stress that the final decision on this will not be taken until we have heard what residents have to say on the matter. The monies from Redrow for the future maintenance of these areas would go to the management company which may or may not result in a small uplift to the service charge. The choice will be yours: Either a fortnightly council mowing regime or a higher quality service more in keeping with the quality of the development. In the meantime it is the City Council’s intention to take transfer of ALL the Open Space Areas to begin with, if only just to get the whole process moving forward swiftly.
4. Your reference to the WCC Open Space Assessment of September 2013 correctly identifies the overall deficits and surpluses for the town as a whole but misses the point that most of the accessible natural green space is over the other side of town. ‘ This wealth of natural green space is, however, only really accessible to the population of the south, east and centre of the town. There are significant areas (mainly to the west and north-west) which are over 700m away from natural green space and which have poor access to these facilities’. Having said that I agree with your reading of the D& A Statement that the Meadow should be a multi-functional green space capable of supporting a wide variety of community activities and benefits, including children’s play. The WT are keen for it to also provide a degree of biodiversity and floral interest but I do not see that this would be incompatible with this.
5. The drainage feature will hold water after rainfall. This is what it is intended to do. Over a couple of days however the water percolates away. The feature has been checked by an independent person – the WCC drainage engineer – and WCC agree with Redrow that there are no longer any issues and it is working as intended. I agree however that a safety audit needs to be carried out before adoption and I will action this straightaway.
There have been delays which are not the fault of the City Council but legal transfers do take time I’m afraid. I would hope that the information I have supplied clears up any misunderstanding or misinterpretation and provides you with some of the missing details.
Stuart Dunbar-Dempsey CMLI
Open Space Project Officer
[And a comment back to them]
My particular concern around the meadow is furthered by emails that were sent on 4 March that were passed on by another resident indicated the intention might be to make the initial transfer in parts, direct to the management company and HIWWT.
I appreciate this position has changed now to a single transfer to WCC for expediency, but it appears the exploration of the possibility and intent was there. This is difficult to square away with the position that “We would prefer to consult with residents once we are in control of the land” as the consultation would need to happen before such a transfer.
Your email of November 2013 also previously stated “The intention would be to ensure that by the time the land was transferred a plan for a facility will have been agreed.“
I note your comment in the minutes. However, the appearance is that the WT are being given a significant ‘foot in the door’ and being asked to develop their plans before residents are even aware of what is happening.