Open spaces decision welcomed

ANGUS Council has decided to make it easier for people living in private housing estates to transfer the upkeep of open spaces to the council.

Currently, developers are able to transfer open spaces on housing estates to the council to maintain, provided this is done at no cost to the council and an annuity equivalent to 20 times the annual maintenance fee is paid to the local authority.

However, in recent years, some developers faced with this cost have elected not to transfer the ground and have established a factoring arrangement between themselves, a landscape factoring company and the residents in the development. One of these situations has occurred at West Grange Estate, Monifieth.

A report submitted to the neighbourhood service committee revealed that residents have not been satisfied with the arrangements put in place by the developer and factoring company.

Through legal agreement, they have been legally constituted as a Residents’ Association representing the 131 households and have taken on the factoring role from the company.

The association would now like the council to take over the open space but, as an association, they cannot raise the total annuity of 20 times the annual maintenance cost - over £250,000 - for the transfer of the public open space.

The report revealed that they wish to enter into a contractual arrangement with the council for the council to maintain the public open space within the development. They have also requested that the council consider that for every year of completion of the annual maintenance contract, between the residents and the council, that the multiplier on the annuity payment would be reduced by one.

Ultimately, after 20 years of contracted maintenance with the council, the residents’ association would be able to transfer the ground at no cost to Angus Council.

Councillors agreed that the current policy on open space transfer by developers to the council be amended with an addition to allow residents’ associations to be credited against the annuity multiplier for any years of continuous contracted maintenance with the council. This would provide residents’ associations with a more affordable route to the transfer of land than the current policy.

However, if there was a break in the continuous maintenance by the council then the agreement would fall. Any further request would be subject to approval by the committee or its successor at that time.

It was also decided that, if during the 20-year period the residents’ association was able to raise the finance to pay the annuity, it would be based on the respective multiplier at that time and the re-calculated annual maintenance cost at the time of request.

Monifieth and Sidlaw councillor Jean Lee was delighted with the outcome of the meeting.

Addressing the committee she referred to the “positive outcome” of what had been a long struggle experienced by her constituents now represented by the West Grange Residents’ Association.

She went on: “The background for the residents includes years of stressful disagreement and frustration with large private companies who were not easily held to their side of contracts and yet were often over hasty in applying legal threats and court actions - actions which were not upheld in the courts - but which tested the resolve and sense of fairness of those who stood up against them.

“Some of the residents contacted me as a last resort and over a period of weeks and months we worked together to find a resolution. Since last January officers in parks, business development, finance and roads and the director of neighbourhood services himself have put in effort to progress this case.

“The residents and I have been met with a ‘can do’ attitude at all times - refreshing given that it was always my contention that this was not just about how the council services could be accessed but how that access could be improved and changed to meet the needs of our residents.

“The fairly recent problem of factoring arrangements with private developers was not created by Angus Council - it is a problem across Scotland and few local authorities have found a solution that helps their residents trapped in costly contracts which are not honoured.”