On Saturday morning we got a letter from the local council regarding trees and/or foliage that they “understood was on our property” that was obstructing a footway in the road that runs along the back of our house. Although according to the boundary plan we got with the house our boundary is exactly on the back fence, we do have a tree that has grown significantly over the past couple of years, and was overhanging the fence. The letter referred to the Highways Act 1980, which required us to correct the problem within 14 days of receiving the letter; otherwise the council would do it for us and bill us for the work. We duly went and cut back the tree as requested, however we then saw one of our neighbours, who has nothing in his back garden hanging over the fence cutting back the foliage from the verge between the fence and footpath, and from talking to him discovered that he had got a letter too. Later that day another neighbour came round with a similar letter, again saying that foliage was obstructing the footpath, and quoting the act. Aside from our tree, all the foliage highlighted was beyond our boundaries according to the plans, and in a narrow strip less than a metre wide between our fences and the footpath. Anyway, having a copy of the plan, and as we are still, after six months of waiting, without properly working streetlights, I wrote a letter to the Head of Environmental Services at the council, and also copied in our local councillor. Our next door neighbours’ mother also works for the council in a different department, and she said that she would go in and query the letters.
It is worth saying at this point that the reason why our streetlights have not been fixed is because at the moment, our road is not the responsibility of the council. When a new street is built it is initially private land, and then once the development is complete ownership is transferred to the council. For some reason, in our case, there was an administrative error and the transfer did not occur, as a result our street is still owned by George Wimpey, the house builder. The council is taking the line that they will not take over the street until the street lights are fixed, and are trying, it seems unsuccessfully to get George Wimpey to come back and sort out the problem.
Yesterday, our next door neighbour came around again, having heard back from her mother. Apparently the letters were “a mistake” and the council say that the narrow strip is owned by George Wimpey, and was deliberately retained to ensure that none of our houses adds a rear access onto the road behind (i.e. a council planning department stipulation). Now it may just be me being cynical, but under the Highways Act, the Council is required to cut back any foliage after the 14 day notice has been issued, and then reclaim the cost from the owner, so after six months of trying to sort out the street lights, which isnÃt a legal requirement to fix, they figured that George Wimpey wouldnÃt deal with the foliage either. So in that case they “accidentally” sent letters to all of the home owners in the hope that we would just obey the letters without questioning whether it was actually our responsibility in the first place. Anyway, is probably just me being cynical, but since the council’s argument over the streetlights is that they arenÃt going to waste tax payers’ money on them because they belong to George Wimpey, you have to wonder if they were trying to not waste tax payers money on the foliage either.
One final point to consider – with both problems it comes back to the development not having been transferred to council control. At the point when control should have been passed over, back in early 2002, the streetlamps were all working, and there wasnÃt a problem with the foliage, so the fixing of the lamps and the cutting back of the bushes would have cost the council money when they occured subsequent to the transfer. So as a result of an earlier administrative error the council hasnÃt had to spend money on maintenance that they otherwise would have had to spend. They have now spent six months arguing the point, for the benefit of their council tax payers. However arenÃt we, the residents left with faulty streetlights and overgrown foliage their council tax payers too?