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Ffion Lewis

Stunned residents must pay £82,000 a year to maintain park with climbing frame, picnic table, benches and two bins

Residents of a housing estate in Cardiff have been told they are responsible for paying £82,000 a year to maintain a park built on the estate, despite claims they were not told it was being constructed in the first place.

Residents at The Mill housing estate in Canton, which comes under the Ely Bridge Development, received a letter this week requesting a £102 annual service fee to maintain the park. The letter was sent to each of the properties on the estate. There are around 800 properties there, comprising of flats and houses. The letter claims that they will not be paying more than 1/800th of the cost of the park. Should there be 800 payments of £102, this would equate to over £82,000.

The park, which was opened in July 2021, consists of a wooden climbing frame, a picnic table, three benches and two bins. Tirion Group, which sent the letter, said however, that the money was also to pay for the longer term maintenance and upkeep of the whole of the Riverside Park and amenities, along with ongoing liabilities including the maintenance and upkeep of the flood defence systems. You can get more Cardiff and other story updates by subscribing to our newsletters here.

Read more: Seven-year-old boy launches campaign to improve 'embarrassing' Cardiff park playground.

Residents on the Mill estate are angry after being asked to pay more than £100 each, totalling more than £80,000, to maintain the small park (John Myers)

Residents at The Mill entered into a service charge agreement for maintenance of the estate when they completed on their purchase. However, many property owners said they were not consulted about the addition of the park, nor told about the additional service cost that would come with it.

The letter sent to residents at the time reads: "We confirm that EBDC (Ely Bridge Development Company) is the owner of the Riverside Park and also the Retained Land Communal Facilities. We refer to the Deed of Covenant that you entered into with EBDC on or before the purchase of the property in which you covenanted to pay BDC the service charge. The service charge year shall run for a period of 12 months from 1 April in every year.

"We are notifying you of the estimated Service Charge, which is £102.00 (incl' VAT,) for the period covering 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023 in relation to your property.

"Please note that this is an estimate only of the service charge payable this service charge year. At the end of the service charge year if the actual service charge exceeds the estimated service charge we will notify you of any additional sums to be paid at that time in order to bring your account up to date."

The letter was sent on behalf of Tirion Group, with requests that the fees be paid to the account, 'Ely Bridge Development Company Limited'. Ely Bridge Development Company owns the park.

Ben Jordan owns his property in The Mill and has lived there for over two years. He said that with rising service costs, as well as the cost of living increasing, this additional charge felt wrong to him.

He said: "We've just received another letter where we are going to get a £100-a-year fee for a park somewhere, which I have never seen, apparently, it's just a little wooden frame by the river. And that letter has gone to every property, which is 800 properties, so that's £82,000 a year to maintain one wooden frame."

He said it felt like the developer was trying to take advantage and hope people might not notice because of all the other rising costs. Mr Jordan said that until he received the letter informing him about the payment on Tuesday, March 15, he was unaware about the park itself, and unaware residents were expected to pay for it.

"This was the first I had heard about it, the only reason I know about the park at all is the letter telling me about it. I've gone and found out more about it and it's one little climbing frame, I don't know why that costs £80,000 a year to maintain. I'm 32, I work from home, I live alone, I have no reason to use the park. I know I will never use it. I have no need for a small climbing frame. Even if I did have kids, it's not a very good one anyway.

"What worries me further is that in the contract it says they can increase it at any point. If they are already charging £100 a year now, what are they going to increase it to. I am quite worried going forward. All of the costs were quite manageable for quite some time but now with the rising costs, I'm quite worried about my future here to be honest."

The main feature of the park is the wooden climbing frame (John Myers)

Mr Jordan said the letter also stated that the service charge could increase for residents if the maintenance cost outweighed the initial estimate. The letter also advises that Tirion Group would not be dealing with queries and instead residents should go through their solicitors.

He said: "I knew 100% there were going to be fees, that's part of it, but the amount they keep increasing it, it's been one thing after another. And every time someone tries to reach out, you get told, 'well, you knew this when you signed, this is what you agreed', and it's almost like there's not much we can really do about it.

"There's a part of the letter which basically turns around and says in so many words, 'if you've got any problems we're not going to help you'', it shows how tone-deaf the situation is. They know they can do it, so they are going to keep doing it and pricing people out until nobody can afford to live here."

The letter sent to residents states: "If you have any queries in relation to the Deed of Covenant or Service Charge payment you should contact the solicitors who acted for you when you purchased the property."

The Mill consists of around 800 properties (John Myers)

Josh Jenkins has lived in his property for around 18 months and said that while he was aware that the park had been built, he did not know the responsibility to maintain it would be funded by residents.

"I knew that there was a park there, but in terms of it being our responsibility to fund or look after it, this is the first I have heard of it," he said. "When we were going through the process of moving in, we were told there would be a service charge but we were told it would be going specifically to a company called 'Ground Solutions' and they would be doing the grounds maintenance of the entire estate.

"When we had that bill last year that was around £100, so a similar sum. So when we had this letter through I kind of assumed it was the same bill but a different company doing it this year. We have obviously now found out that this is a completely different charge altogether."

Mr Jenkins said he had gone through all his legal documents and could not find any reference to a second service charge. He said he took issue with the fact that residents weren't informed about this additional charge.

"I knew that there was going to be a park but it was just a park. I didn't really think much of it, I've lived next to loads of parks in the past and never been asked to pay for one. Whether or not I'll use it is a bit irrelevant. Even if I was to use the park I'm not sure I would be happy to pay for it, and more than that to not be given the option, just to be told 'here's a park, you have to pay for it.'

"It was out of the blue, I wasn't expecting it. If I was expecting to pay two service charges when I moved in it wouldn't have come as a surprise. I might still have questioned it but at least I would know about it."

Mr Jenkins echoed the concerns of many who were questioning why the small park, with minimal features, would cost such a large sum to maintain. He said: "I'd like to see what is costing them £80,000 a year. I'd love to see where that money is going."

Another resident on the estate, who did not want to be named, said she'd been made aware of her responsibility to pay a service charge for the park, but the recent invoice was for a sum much higher than she was expecting. "The paperwork given to residents who bought here says there will be a fee of around £50 per year for the park's maintenance. Why is the figure on the invoice double that amount? The invoice also states that further fees may be collected later this year should maintenance costs exceed expectations.

"The park is accessible to the public. What happens if someone outside of The Mill community damages the benches, or graffitis the climbing frame? Why should I and the other residents here foot the bill? We had no input on what was being put in the park, or whether we wanted the park in the first place. It's an unfair request to ask us to maintain it when it's not exclusive to this development.

"To make matters worse, Tirion, which is collecting the fees, says it won’t answer any queries from residents. It has said we should contact the solicitor who helped us purchase our homes if we have questions. I haven’t spoken to the solicitor who helped me buy this house in over two years. And they don’t work for free; I’d have to pay them to review my paperwork again."

A spokesperson for Tirion Group said: "We totally understand that this charge comes at a time when there are many other cost pressures that impact all of the residents at The Mill. However, Tirion, as a not-for-profit developer of affordable housing, cannot absorb all the maintenance costs associated with the Riverside Park and vital flood defences and so have to pass it on to the residents in line with the respective agreements.

"The requirement for the Riverside Park was determined as part of the planning consent for the development of The Mill. It was considered by Cardiff City Council and all other stakeholders that the provision would benefit the community now and in the future. The Riverside Park is for the benefit of the whole community and was never intended to be a private park. It forms part of the Ely Trail and provides excellent walking and cycling routes to central Cardiff and Cardiff Bay. Cardiff County Council is also proposing to use the linear route within the park to form part of its network of cycle super highways.

"The service charge is an estimate and made up of certain regular costs (maintenance of the play area, maintenance of grassed areas, emptying of litter bins, etc) and also provisions for the longer term maintenance and upkeep of the whole of the Riverside Park and amenities. EBDC’s ongoing liabilities include the maintenance and upkeep of the flood defence systems in the Riverside Park; adjacent to the railway line; and in Sanitorium Park. The maintenance regime is designed to keep the park in good condition so it can be enjoyed by both residents and the wider community. The current estimate includes all foreseeable events and so we do not anticipate extra costs, other than annual inflation. We will produce an annual independently audited statement for the year to 31 March, 2023. If actual costs are lower than anticipated then a rebate will be applied. There is no profit element for EBDC.

"We will continually review our costs and will be seeking to use best practice and services for all necessary works and will endeavour to keep costs to a minimum whilst maintaining a very high standard of the condition of the park and the flood defences for the benefit of the residents at The Mill and the community.

"Under current VAT rules, this charge carries VAT which we have to levy. So the actual charge that EBDC will receive is estimated at £85 per plot which equates to £1.63 per week."

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