Adoption issues at Lancaster Park in Hungerford: 30 June 2024 update

This post comprises:

  • A brief summary of the situation at Lancaster Park in Hungerford (20 June 2024).
  • A bit of background about road adoption (20 June 2024)
  • A statement from Bewley Homes (17 June 2024)
  • Comments from a local resident and the Mayor of Hungerford (20 June).
  • Text of an email sent to Bewley by a local resident (30 June 2024).

Lancaster Park

No housing development proceeds without problems. When a company has acquired the land, received the permission, experienced a couple of major PR blips and built the homes, one might reasonably feel that the heavy lifting had been done. There remains only the matter of  deciding what happens to the common parts such as roads, street lights and open spaces and setting up a management company for dealing with these in the future.

This is the situation that Bewley Homes now finds itself in with regard to its 100-home development at Lancaster Park on the southern edge of Hungerford. These seem to be in general well-constructed homes on the edge of a pleasant town with a wealth of infrastructure in the form of shops, leisure facilities and transport connections. These details were just the last knockings before Bewley could move on to pastures new (such as, judicial reviews permitting, Watermill Bridge in Wash Common). All that was needed was an orderly and acceptable transition of these common parts. What could go wrong?

Sadly, it seems, quite a lot. This is still an evolving issue but it appears that there’s a wide gulf between Bewley on the one hand and the the residents and Hungerford Town Council on the other as to three aspects in particular: the adoption of the roads; the landscaping work, which seems to date to have been tardy and incomplete; and the details of the maintenance schedule to be followed by the management company, of which the same comments have been made.

The question of the road adoption is the most complex and potentially the most expensive so it’s worth taking a closer look at that.

Adoption

When a road in a new development is a adopted by the local highways authority (LHA) – West Berkshire Council (WBC) in this case – it becomes responsible for all repairs and maintenance. The LHA always prefers to adopt roads where possible but if it has not built these itself (as is the case in such developments) it obviously needs to be sure that these have been built to an adoptable standard – fair enough.

This is done through what’s known as a Section 38 notice. Once this is in place, the developer will have its work inspected by the LHA at key stages, the aim being that the LHA takes it over when the work’s completed. For local residents, this means that any problems such as cracks, potholes and flooding will be fixed by the LHA. If the roads aren’t adopted, however, the estate’s management company will be responsible and will charge the residents for the work. No council-tax discount is available in such cases, so residents are effectively paying twice. The sums involved can be significant and the commitment is, of course, open-ended. This responsibility will also need to be disclosed to any purchaser of the house.

Section 38 notices are not compulsory although I understand that it is very much the norm that these are applied for by developers. In Lancaster Park, for whatever reason, they were not. Bewley claims that the roads in the estate were built to an adoptable standard. However, without the Section 38 inspections (or other rigorous third-party surveys), there’s no way of proving this.

If roads are not adopted they remain “private roads”. This can convey a number of perceived advantages, depending on how and where the phrase is used. The reality is that the construction standards cannot be verified and repairs need to be paid for by residents.

The Decision Notice for the planning approval of the site specified in Condition 5 that “The road and footpath design should be to a standard that is adoptable as public highway.” This seems to me to be a demand that superseded the voluntary aspect of the Section 38 legislation. In addition, I understand that the sale-and-purchase agreements specified that all the roads would be build to an adoptable standard (there’s also the distinction that some would be adopted and some would not, but given the preceding assertion this seems to be verging on sophistry).

The crucial fact is that WBC cannot adopt these roads as it has no evidence of how they were constructed. Suggestions that that it has not chosen to are thus wide of the mark. Residents can reasonably ask how much money they might be required to pay for any repairs: and, generally, why they should assume the responsibility for these when WBC is unwilling to.

I’d be delighted to be proved wrong: but it’s hard to avoid the inference that the reason no Section 38 was applied for suggests that the roads may not be to the requisite standard. I understand that proof is possible, but the investigations would cost a six-figure sum. If that finds that the roads are not adoptable then all the costs of fixing them still remain.

The other issues – landscaping and there maintenance agreement – are in their own way equally important but can more easily be dealt with. The roads-adoption issue is, however, more complex and potentially much more expensive.

Bewley Homes’ Lancaster Park 17 June 2024: statement by Bewley Homes

On 17 June 2024, Penny Post received a statement from Bewley Homes about these and other matters relating to Lancaster Park. This is provided verbatim below. Below this are two comments from Hungerford Town Council and a local resident. We shall continue to follow developments on this and will do our best to report all sides of the issue.

The Lancaster Park development, built by Bewley Homes, comprises 100 new homes of which 60 units are privately owned and the remaining 40 have been transferred to an affordable housing provider.

The Lancaster Park development contains communal areas and items that will not be adopted by the local authority and will require maintenance. These are known as the ‘managed areas’ and include all landscaped public open space contained in the development, SUDS, woodland, hedges, roadways and all other street furniture; (a plan will form part of the Freehold Transfer document).

The over-arching principal is to establish a Residential Management Company (RMC) that will be known as “Lancaster Park (Hungerford) Management Company Limited”. The RMC is set up to take responsibility for the maintenance of these areas and items, with each property owner becoming a member of the company and ultimately, once the development is completed, the residents will have control over all management matters.

A RMG has been appointed by Bewley Homes to act as the management agents, but in the interim period, during this phase, Directors of Bewley Homes will act to ensure that the Management Company is properly administered.

Up to now, Bewley Homes has undertaken maintenance/management of the managed areas, but at some later date, it will handover management to RMG and will then arrange for contractors to undertake maintenance as set out in the Estimate of Service Charges. In return, each owner agrees through their legal documents to pay an annual service charge to contribute towards all associated costs of the services. All homeowners will be informed when handover is to take place.

The managing agent, acting on behalf of the estate, will accrue a sinking fund collected through the annual service charge to provide for adequate future maintenance for all items within the estate boundary.

The estate roads, street lighting and footpaths have been designed to an adoptable and/or NHBC standard. However, this has not been offered to the local highway authority for adoption. This will be transferred to the RMC, which will provide the funding of the maintenance of the roads, street lights and footpaths.

The estate lighting will be on an unmetered supply agreement which will be entered into with SSE and this agreement will be transferred to the management company on handover. Energy charges will be paid by the new residents as part of the charges of the development.

The areas of land that will be transferred to the housing association, including their parking courtyards, will generally be managed by the RMC as per legally agreed with the Housing Association and RMG.

Public landscaped areas including perimeter hedgerows and trees areas are subject to the requirements of the ‘Landscape Management and Maintenance plan’ (LMMP) which has been included within the design drawings, but also a LMMP has been produced which mirrors this information in document form.

Surface water drainage located within common areas, such as the public open space, will be transferred to the Management Company. These drainage solutions may include, but not exhaustive of: swales, culverts, ponds/basins, attenuation tanks and pipes.

Soakaways and drainage located within private curtilage of individual dwellings will be transferred and maintained by the residents/owner.

Surface water from the highway will travel through gulleys into an adopted surface water S102. This will extend to the discharge point (basin/ponds) and include the headwall only. The pond/basin will be owned by the Management Company.

In addition, Bewley Homes is committed to ensuring that the on-going landscape works at Lancaster Park are carried out according to the plan and approved drawings.

Here is an overview:

Landscaping

Firstly, it is important to recognise that there is a vast improvement on the site with the large amount of planting that has taken place. To ensure complete transparency for all parties and to prevent multiple lines of communication, Bewley has instructed Aspect & Site Line Surveys to conduct an independent audit of the completed works.

Should any areas be identified as requiring further remediation then Bewley will instruct this work. Bewley has already been in contact with the Local Authority and this audit will then be submitted to them for review to show that we have delivered in line with our approved drawings.

Maintenance

As previously noted, Bewley has already issued a Landscape Management & Maintenance Plan and has made an amendment and it will be fitting around four lockable watering points around the development which will be on a metered supply for the landscape company to use as and when required.

Any further requirements for landscape maintenance would need to be directed to the Managing Agent who will support and co-ordinate this along with any additional costs items that are agreed by Lancaster Park residents.  All cost queries would be for the Managing Agent to advise on and provide.

Bewley will be meeting Frontier on site to walk areas that were noted on the recent visit to ensure these are addressed as part of the current maintenance (costs being incurred by Bewley) so that it is handed to RMG in a condition for them to maintain moving forward.

Pumping station

This will be adopted under a Section 104 agreement and any remedial works to this will be carried out by Bewley until the pumping station is adopted.

Summary

Bewley Homes is keen to ensure that it remains on board to close out the final items whilst the transition over to the management company takes place.

Bewley has now contacted all residents to ensure that they are aware of progress, and that it is working towards transferring the maintenance of the development to RMG from 1st August 2024 with a view that Bewley will remediate any other items picked up in the audit period.

Until then Bewley will continue to work with and manage the landscape company who are attending currently. Prior to the handover to RMG, Bewley will carry out a site inspection with them to ensure that areas are in a condition for them to take on the onward maintenance.

Once RMG has taken on the maintenance, Bewley will then complete the final adoptions for the development and commence with the land transfer to the Residents Management Company. This can take up to one year. Bewley staff will therefore still be involved during this period to ensure that RMG is meeting its obligations.

Comments

“Most of the concerns that Hungerford Town Council had, and which we thought had been allayed by a meeting with Bewley in February, still remain,” Hungerford’s Mayor Helen Simpson said. “This statement doesn’t really advance matters. HTC is still not satisfied that all of these issues, including the road adoption, the landscaping and the details of the maintenance schedule, have been addressed to the satisfaction and benefit of the residents of Lancaster Park. HTC will continue to remain actively involved in any discussions to help produce the best possible outcome for them.”

It was in many respects a disappointing document and, in due course, I will address each of the issues it raises,” local resident Stella Coulthurst (who is also an HTC Councillor) observed. “Certainly, the statement does not touch on all the topics we raised with Bewley, for example the failure of “Spaciable” (leaving residents with no access to the suite of documents concerning their homes that they might reasonably like access to).

“Two principal topics stand out – the adoption of the roads (and related lighting) and the future obligation to maintain the landscaping – and I asked my own solicitor to take a look.  In both regards, Bewley gives the appearance of wishing to side-step its obligations and pass risk and liability to a resident Management Company.

“The statement asserts compliance with the relevant standard but provides no proof.  If such proof existed, West Berkshire Council would, no doubt, be willing to adopt the roads; there would be no reason not to. Residents are in no position to accept an open-ended liability that the local council is not. Bewley needs to accept and fully deliver on its obligations.”

Update 30 June 2024

The following email from Stella Coulthurst was sent to Bewley, Hungerford Town Councillors, local residents and others on 30 June 2024. She wrote this in an individual capacity and not as a member of Hungerford Town Council.

In my email of 19 June I promised to pick up all the matters addressed in our February meeting not covered in that email and I now do so, as follows:

Landscaping

The issues relating to landscaping and Bewley’s seeming effort to side-step its planning obligations is addressed in the earlier email below; the planning permission obligation on Bewley to maintain the landscaping and replace any dead planting remains with Bewley. It is not, as you seem to suggest, an obligation that transfers to the Management Company. Kindly confirm your understanding that the 5-year planning permission obligation continues to reside with Bewley.

Not specifically touched on in the earlier email, we have seen no remediation of the wildflower areas. The main area, in Pidden Mead, is full of ox-eye daisies (which often take over when everything else has failed) but, other than a few docks, nothing much else. Kindly confirm that you intend to remediate the wildflower areas as discussed in February.  Likewise, the problem of site-wide ragwort remains to be addressed.

We understand that you have instructed various surveys that you intend to demonstrate compliance with your planning permission.  In emails to Bewley, residents have made clear that you have not planted in accordance with the planning permission, you have been sent photos of dead trees and a cursory glance at the site shows enormous areas of dead grass (mostly alongside curbs and pathways) that have never recovered since last year, notwithstanding months of rain. You have, plainly, not delivered in line with your planning permission.  Kindly confirm your plan to remediate.

Maintenance plan

You have inserted a paragraph about water pipes under “Maintenance”. This was not the subject of February’s discussion. In our meeting, you showed a draft document, prepared by Willow Services, which was promised for circulation the following week. It has not been circulated.  The sale / purchase contracts between Bewley and individual residents contained an estimate of costs (at £350/year).  We have made the reasonable request to see an updated costing. Kindly provide that, including the aspects of maintenance that the current “clip out” of the planning permission does not cover (e.g. who to contact should there be a site issue/emergency).

Other issues

  • Road adoption. The issues relating to roads adoption is addressed in the earlier email[see comments above]; we await your response in respect of demonstrating that the roads have been constructed to the adoptable standard.
  • Street lights. In our February meeting, you stated that street lighting will be passed to SSE “likely by summer”. Have you back-tracked on this?
  • Sustainable drainage system (SuDS). We have variously discussed SuDS – in our February meeting and variously with Bewley staff. I am aware that one resident is in regular contact with Bewley’s Adoptions Manager, who had indicated to individual residents, including me, that it was intended to correct the “problem” SuDS, beside the footpath to Priory Road, by connecting it by pipe to one of the nearby SuDS. No such work has been completed. I can confirm that as at yesterday, with no rain for quite some time, there was a volume of water (maybe 20cms?) in the problem SUD. Is it Bewley’s intention to leave this defective SuDS as is?
  • Management Company. The Management Company and its responsibilities are set out in the sale/purchase agreement between Bewley and individual residents. In our February meeting, you indicated that Bewley did not expect to hand over the site for another year.  The process you describe in your letter of 14 June (and, indeed, your email to an individual resident last week) does not appear to accord with the contractual process or your expectations three months’ ago.  Kindly confirm your intention to conform to the sale/purchase agreement.
  • In our meeting in February and in other conversations, notably with Bewley’s Head of Customer Experience, residents (and, separately, I) have been promised a briefing on structuring an effective Management Company. (Model Articles of Association only go so far). If you are also back-tracking on that commitment, perhaps you can direct us towards an existing site where you have passed responsibility to a resident Management Company and we can take some learning from them.

Complaints procedure

Kindly outline that changes to your Complaints procedure that were promised in our February meeting.

Spaciable

[This refers to a third-party website for sharing information, tips and announcements from Bewley for and storing all the information and documents about the individual homes.]

Bewley’s Head of Customer Experience has indicated privately that the “Spaciable” experiment has failed; it can’t be made to work. Instead, it was suggested that residents simply ask for the information that was supposed to be held in Spaciable.  You have not advised residents of this. Kindly confirm that you will prepared full information packs and give these to residents.

Site water supply

Residents have expressed concern that the four water pipes will be a target for vandalism and, possibly, theft. Perhaps you could update residents on your plans in this regard.

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