There’s no place like home on Chirnside estate

RESIDENTS at a new housing estate in Chirnside are locked in a battle with the maintenance company appointed by housing developer Persimmon Homes.

Since the first residents moved into their homes on the Heathgrange estate in 2008 they have been dissatisfied with how Greenbelt have maintained the landscaped areas of the estate, and this dissatisfaction has escalated over the last two years. The agreement the homeowners had with Persimmon when buying their properties was that if 75 per cent of residents were in agreement then they were free to change maintenance contractors and make their own arrangements.

The residents took up this option in March this year and a new company took over the maintenance contract after 75 per cent of Heathgrange residents requested the change. However, Greenbelt have persisted in sending maintenance staff to the estate to carry out grass cutting etc despite the new contractor carrying out the work once a fortnight as agreed.

Heathgrange Residents Association secretary, Robin Johnson said: “We set the Residents Association up in August 2011 mainly to tackle the unfair charges and poor standard of work we have been subjected to by Greenbelt Group, who have been forced on us by Persimmon Homes in their maintenance of the open spaces on the Estate.

“We gathered a petition and received support from over 75% of the residents on the estate, and informed Greenbelt after much complaint to them that they were being removed as the maintenance contractor on the estate, and we were appointing our own contractor who was less than half the price of Greenbelt and carries out the maintenance of the open areas to a much higher standard.

“Our battle with Greenbelt is still ongoing, and we have now spoken with Paul Wheelhouse MSP and John Lamont MSP, as well as our local councillor Joan Campbell, who is also the chair of our association.

“On Saturday all residents received a very threatening letter from Greenbelt Group, which we are taking to our MSPs and will be speaking with Lothian and Borders Police due to the threatening content.”

The residents are holding an urgent meeting tonight, Thursday, July 19, in Chirnside Community Centre to discuss what to do next in light of the letters received.

Many of the residents are extremely worried, and even scared by the threats from Greenbelt.

As well as demanding payment the letter states that if the money is not sent within seven days Greenbelt would contact residents’ mortgage lenders to “advise breaches in relation to Title Deeds.”

“What they are threatening us with they can’t actually do,” said Mr Johnson.

“We have told Greenbelt repeatedly that their services are no longer required, as we have the majority required to dismiss them, but alas this is falling on deaf ears.

In a letter to residents Greenbelt acknowledge that the maintenance contract is changing but say: “In the meantime we continue to manage and maintain your development to the agreed specification and our inspector reports that the landscaped areas are in excellent condition. This also means that your annual management charge is outstanding and due to be paid.

“For your information we have not received one enquiry concerning maintenance since March, so that would indicate that maintenance is not an issue.”

But residents say that maintenance is not an issue any more because the new company they appointed are doing a good job.

Mr Johnson admits that most residents haven’t paid Greenbelt for the past two years adding that this is because of “contention of what has been done and what we have been charged”.

“They were supposed to be on site every two weeks but they’ve never done that,” said Mr Johnson.

Disagreements like this between private housing estate residents and maintenance companies are all too common these days and last March the Scottish Government started a consultation on the possible introduction of legislation relating to the maintenance of land on private housing estates.

Greenbelt’s response is that the proposed legislation is “fundamentally flawed” and “not in the public interest”.

They go on: “As policy decision makers the Scottish Government has a duty to ensure that new legislation is based on accurate and credible information and not on the misleading information with which it has previously been provided by a vocal minority of complainers.”

Focus Scotland, the independent consumer champion, however, does not share that view and says: “Despite high levels of dissatisfaction land-owning land management companies do not currently have to improve service quality, or complaint handling. The owners who are billed for land management services are effectively ‘captured consumers’.