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Poorly maintained private housing estates in Wales could be a ‘bit of a ticking time bomb’

Poorly maintained private housing estates could be a “bit of a ticking time bomb” for councils, a planning chief warned.

Simon Gilbert, head of planning at Cardiff Council, gave evidence as part of a Senedd inquiry into estate charges for roads and playgrounds that have not been adopted by councils.

Asked what happens if a management company collapses or fails to maintain an estate, he said the council has the ability to step in as part of legal agreements for new developments. Mr Gilbert told the petitions committee: “This has been discussed in my council a lot because of the sheer scale of new development – all of which have this obligation. Should the worst-case scenario happen and a lot of these assets aren’t being well maintained, the council would be obliged to step in to fix the issue.

‘Life and limb’

“It’s not just about mowing grass on a play area – there could be real consequences in terms of the flood risk if the swales, ditches and ponds aren’t maintained. It’s not just about an amenity consideration – this is potentially life and limb if done incorrectly.”

Peredur Owen Griffiths, the Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales East, asked how the council would recoup charges if it intervened.

Mr Gilbert said: “That would be for the council to seek payment from the residents – separate and in addition to their council tax. Fortunately, in my tenure in the council, that has never happened…. I don’t think any council that I’m aware of has ever sought to recoup additional charges beyond council tax. It is written into the obligations in the legal agreements but I would personally struggle with seeking to double charge a resident.”

Mr Gilbert raised concerns about the risks to councils, telling the meeting on Monday October 23: “We have got a lot of privately maintained open spaces at the moment. Should they all fail concurrently, how on earth would a local authority be able to take on that resource effectively either. So, it’s potentially a bit of a ticking time bomb.”

Retrospective adoption

Jack Sargeant, chair of the committee, said members recently visited the Cwm Calon estate in Ystrad Mynach with Caerphilly MS Hefin David to hear residents’ experiences. The inquiry was prompted by a petition from residents of the Mill, a new estate in Cardiff, who were reportedly hit with a collective £82,000 maintenance bill in 2022. The petitioners urged the Welsh Government to facilitate the adoption of maintenance by councils and remove punitive charges.

In the programme for government, Welsh ministers committed to “ensure estate charges for public open spaces and facilities are paid for in a way that is fair”.

In reply to the petition, Julie James reiterated that retrospective adoption of community infrastructure would continue to be a choice for councils. The climate change minister wrote: “For new estates, we will explore the practicality of using legislation to bring together the various regimes to pay for the maintenance of communal infrastructure into a single approach. This will include consideration of placing a duty on local authorities to adopt communal infrastructure in return for an appropriate payment from the developer.”

In 2020, a call for evidence heard that estate managers can set fees without consultation and developers often do not provide information on charges during the sale of a property.

The UK Government is expected to bring forward reforms to leasehold law – based on a Law Commission report – during the King’s Speech on November 7. Following its inquiry, the petitions committee will produce a report and the Welsh Government must accept or reject each of its recommendations.

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Poorly maintained private housing estates in Wales could be a ‘bit of a ticking time bomb’

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