Council says it cannot take on unadopted land without lump-sum contribution from house builders

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Householders in New Cardington are among thousands in Bedford Borough paying sometimes 'mind-boggling' management fees Image: Google Streetview August 2020
Householders in New Cardington are among thousands in Bedford Borough paying sometimes 'mind-boggling' management fees Image: Google Streetview August 2020

Bedford Borough Council is not in a position to take on the responsibility of unadopted land without new home developers making a contribution to future maintenance, a senior council officer has said.

Jon Shortland, chief officer, planning infrastructure economic growth, told the Environment and Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee (21 March) that councillors had asked for a report on the lawfulness of management charges.

These are passed onto residents by developers for unadopted infrastructure within housing estates, such as playgrounds and roads.

“There are no planning or other legislative controls to require or compel a developer to offer up infrastructure, such as public open spaces or roads within their developments for adoption,” he said.

“[Historically] most developments did offer that up for adoption and that process started changing probably around 20 years ago.

“Developers found that rather than providing the local authority with a 20-year lump sum upfront to cover the future maintenance costs, it was more cost-effective and cash flow efficient for them to not put a big lump of money up front but to pass that responsibility on to the people who bought their houses and make them responsible for it on a yearly basis.”

Mr Shorland said a lot of those homeowners “turn out not to be aware of those facts” when they purchase their house.

“They may have been directed to use a solicitor provided by the house seller, rather than the buyer,” he said.

“But for whatever reason due diligence wasn’t carried out and they’re liable for a charge that they didn’t realise that they were liable for, and one which can increase dramatically year-on-year.”

The committee heard that the borough council cannot compel developers to offer up assets for adoption.

“We would in a lot of cases like them to do that, provided they give us the 20-year lump sum to cover future costs of maintenance,” Mr Shortland said.

“But if they don’t do that the council is not in a financial position to be able to take on that responsibility with no contribution to all the future maintenance.”

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter