Tag Archives: Berkshire

Why We’re Not Moving to Milford Grange

Front ViewLooking at the previous post you’ll see that we were getting generally excited about moving into a new house early next year. Unfortunately as a number of people now know, that is now not going to happen as we’ve withdrawn our offer, and to some extent think we’ve had a lucky escape…

So what went wrong? After all the whole point of buying new is that it is a lot less hassle than all this messing about with chains. Certainly in many ways it is easier, but as we discovered it pays to have a good lawyer behind you!

Having bought new before we were already aware of some of the tricks and wheezes pulled by new house builders. They are apparently not as bad as they used to be, but certainly we had a contract where we paid if we defaulted or were late on the day of completion, and we also paid if they defaulted or were late on the day of completion. The original contract also stated that we could not refuse to complete if they hadn’t completed the parking, garage or garden fencing, nor could we refuse to complete if they hadn’t obtained buildings certification that the house had been properly completed. After objecting, both of those clauses were removed.

Where it all came unstuck was over the thorny issue of parking. Now parking problems on new estates are not exactly uncommon. Government policy for a long while was to try and encourage people to use cars less by providing less parking on estates. What is happening now though is that management firms on the estates are taking to clamping to enforce parking allocations so making sure you have the right number of spaces is important.

We’d opted for a house with a garage and parking space, however when the contract came through, that’s not what we were getting. What was on the conveyancing paperwork was only a garage, the space directly in front of our garage door was designated as a shared parking space for use by residents or visitors on a first come first served basis. Our solicitor asked for clarification and the developer confirmed that anybody could park in the space directly in front of our garage. This was ridiculous so we queried, and the developer came back stating that we could have exclusive use of the space in front of our garage, but subject to the management company being able to reallocate the space as required. Again, not good enough, so their final offer was to have the space permanently allocated, but again, not actually our parking space.

At this point I was getting decidedly annoyed, so I looked up the planning details of the site. To the right you can see the sales plan of the development. A particular point to note is that aside from the spaces in front of the housing association properties in the top right corner, every space is allocated to a property, and in particular there are no visitors spaces at all. Also remember here that in Wokingham Borough the parking rules are that two bedroom and three bedroom semi-detached properties have 1.5 spaces each, i.e. some have one space some have two. On this site they all have two spaces. Visitors spaces should be provided on a ratio of one space for every four properties. The planning application for this development stated that it would provide eleven visitors parking spaces, even when challenged, Bewley Homes came back and said there were none. (It is worth noting at this stage that their statement that there were none didn’t really ring true given that they’d previously told us that the space in front of our garage was shared for visitor use). Looking in more detail at the plans, at no time did they actually define the parking allocations, all of the plans indicate the location of the spaces, and in most cases have no indication of allocation, except ironically for the four spaces in front of the garages that we queried in the first place.

At this point I asked a couple of friends who knew about planning issues what the situation was when the written statement and plans did not agree, they all said that they should agree and implied that planning shouldn’t have been granted if they didn’t. I then spent half an hour on the phone with the local planning office, who looked at the plans, the sales particulars and the planning application and agreed it looked wrong, but obviously wouldn’t commit to investigate unless I lodged a formal complaint.

Given the plans it could be said that the plans fitted with the statement on what the spaces were, but equally what Bewley Homes were now selling also agreed with the plans. We then challenged Bewley on the statement but they deftly didn’t clarify the status of the statement and instead just sent another copy of the landscape plan with no space allocations and asked if I could point out where they were violating planning. Of course they are building exactly what the plans say, the query is more subtle than that. The Bewley position quite clearly is that the plans without space allocations were approved, and therefore they can sell all the houses as they wish. From the point of view of a potential buyer that is fine for those properties with drives, but for the eighteen properties on the estate that like ours were being sold apparently with space for two cars, if at some point in the future someone triggered an investigation by the planning department, and that found that Bewley should have provided eleven designated visitors spaces and didn’t, they could very well find that they only had one space not two. If the estate were also to introduce clampers to enforce parking we’d be left with a car and nowhere to park it, not a prospect I relished.

As such I couldn’t really consider the house until the parking was clarified, Bewley are resolutely sticking to their guns that it is approved, Wokingham Borough Council planning department seemed decidedly less sure, so given all of that we withdrew the offer, and asked for a full refund of all monies we’d paid out given that there were queries over planning. Needless to say Bewley came back via their solicitors saying that they would only refund £500, half of the reservation fee deducting a £500 administration fee, and not refunding for any of the extras we’d specified. After comments on their supposedly exemplary customer service via the solicitors they have subsequently moved on that finally refunding £1459 which is refunds for all the extras that have yet to be delivered last week, so whoever eventually buys plot 31 will find quite a few extra electric sockets, and CAT5e cabling around the house courtesy of us – hope they like our choice of tiles and kitchen too.

So is buying a new build a recipe for a hassle free move? Not a bit of it. I haven’t even mentioned the hassles with our current house thanks to an idiot surveyor from Romans Estate Agents amongst a number of “problems” he highlighted with our house were that we had a water butt that would overflow – had he actually looked at it rather than surveying from the back window he would have spotted the drainpipe going down into a drain, problems with the cladding on the water tank in the loft – heating engineer charged us £40 to tighten a few screws, and damp problem at the front of the house – a specialist damp surveyor charged us £220 for a full survey to confirm nothing was wrong. The Bewley house certainly looked to be well built, certainly better than our current Wimpey house was on completion, although without having had a proper snagging survey I couldn’t say for sure, but as our solicitor pointed out the legal side is an absolute minefield so it’s worth getting an experienced property lawyer on your side.

As a friend of ours who lives in the Garrison and is aware of the current legal wrangles over the proposed development here said on hearing about our problems, she really doesn’t trust anybody involved in building houses any more, as they all seem to be trying to pull fiddles or play the system to their advantage. I think I’d probably agree.

 

Bulldozed

A few years ago a Victorian cottage a couple of miles away came onto the market for auction. It was a few miles away in Farley Hill on a quiet back lane, a short walk from the river. The site included a meadow and a small area of bluebell wood nearby. The cottage had a lovely typical cottage garden and a couple of outbuildings. Needless to say the predicted price was way out of our budget at £800,000 and from what I can gather from someone else who liked it and went to the auction it went for a lot more. You can see the house on Google Streetview at the corner of Sandpit Lane and Ford Lane, but since that will eventually update, I’ve grabbed a screenshot.

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Out for a walk today I walked down to Bramshill Ford and thought I’d come back up past the cottage and see what the new owners had done with it – sadly it was this…

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You can just about see the remains of the garden beyond the big hole and the digger. The outbuildings are gone too, replaced by new buildings built of breeze blocks. The meadow also has large piles of spoil in it and a large flat area that looks worryingly like it’s been levelled for another building.

Sad really, it wasn’t a listed building or anything, but it was a really pretty cottage that had stood on the site for decades now gone.

Interregnum

St James'At St James’ we’re now officially in what used to be called an interregnum, but is now somewhat more boringly, (although accurately if you know your Latin) called a vacancy. Although his final service was at the end of July, Rev’d Richard our Priest-in-Charge for the last six years didn’t officially stand down until now, and was nominally still in charge, but now we’re on our own for at least the next few months, probably a year.

The interregnum is always a bit of a difficult and uncertain time for those left behind, especially when a church has experienced a lot of growth under an incumbent just departed. There is always the concern that people were coming because of a personal connection – a connection that goes with the departure of a popular priest. To some extent we won’t know whether that is the case until we’ve looked at the attendance figures a few months down the line. Certainly there were a couple of people who rushed to get services done before Rev’d Richard left, and I have had conversations with other people who are more on the periphery of the congregation who are less inclined to come without Rev’d Richard there, but at the moment I’m fairly hopeful that as a result of having a large team leading services and our popular NSM Rev’d John still very much on the scene things should continue as before.

There is also a big fear of change amongst many, which often manifests itself as a desire to not change anything for however long the interregnum lasts. Obviously that isn’t going to happen for a number of reasons. Firstly going from having a full time incumbent to running a parish such as ours with no full time staff – the duties of the incumbent get split between our part time NSM and the Churchwardens mainly – it is inevitable that you can’t run things the same. It is also in my opinion unhealthy to try and resist change. Like any organisation a church is in a continual state of change different characters in different roles, even down to the people turning up to services affect how the organisation operates in a wide spectrum of ways. Rev’d John is a different person that Rev’d Richard, and whilst we’ll continue with the service pattern as before, he will obviously do things subtly differently. In actual fact it took all of a week after Rev’d Richard’s last service before I had a “I don’t like the way this place is going” conversation with somebody! The church community doesn’t just wrap itself up in bubble-wrap until the new Rector comes along, obviously you can’t decide to kick out the choir and the organ and bring in a band for all the services when an incumbent leaves, but equally you have to keep moving forward.

On a personal level, my Church workload, along with a number of other peoples workload goes up quite a lot during an interregnum. I have to say I’m really rather glad that I’m not one of the Churchwardens at this point, as they take a lot of the load on their shoulders. Being a Churchwarden and working full time is a lot of work in a normal year, but during a vacancy it would be nigh on impossible. In my current role as lay deputy chair of the PCC the main additional workload is being in the chair for PCC and Standing Committee meetings. It’s a bit dependant on the incumbent, but up to now although I’ve been lay  deputy chair of the PCC for a number of years, I’ve only ever actually chaired a meeting twice when Rev’d Richard was ill. Now I chair every single meeting until a new incumbent is in post.

There are also a number of extra meetings on the cards. One of the more complicated aspects of this interregnum is that the Diocese is taking the opportunity to do some pastoral reorganisation. Our neighbouring parish, St Mary and St John California is also in a vacancy following the retirement of their priest in charge in June. Their electoral roll is now such that in the current climate they would not get a full time incumbent, and ours is such that we are allowed to have two. Effectively what they are proposing to do is to merge the two parishes into one, and appoint two clergy to the parish. It is worth highlighting at this point that many years ago St Mary and St John started life as a daughter church of St James’ set up amongst the new housing that was being built to the north of the village. As that congregation grew ultimately it was separated and became a parish in it’s own right – not without some drama that I will not rake up here – and the church has been charting it’s own path for a number of years. However of late it has been between a resurgent St James’ and of late the brand new Finchampstead Baptist Church next door – the Baptists having seen increases of 40% in their congregations since opening the new building – St Mary and St John are facing some real challenges.

What is really important is that this mustn’t be some sort of ecclesiastical assimilation – some sort of take over. St Mary and St John are a very different congregation, and with very different goals and focus. For example St Mary and St John took the decision not to have a church building, and hold their services in the local school, whilst we at St James’ have just spent in excess of £0.5 million keeping our grade one listed building a safe and usable environment for our congregations.

Somehow the two PCC’s have to meld our very different vision and goals into a job spec and profile for whoever will come and be our new Rector and associate priest. There are big decisions about how closely the two congregations work together. It all begins with a joint PCC away day, but I’m sure it will be a long road ahead.

So here we stand at the beginning of the next stage of the journey. Various people keep hoping for a quick interregnum, but being realistic we’re looking at probably this time next year before we’ll be getting a new person in post. With working around school schedules for any priest with children, much as happened with Rev’d Richard, whilst we may appoint in the early part of 2011, if they are based outside the local area, they won’t be able to move before the summer. Hopefully then we will still be the vibrant and growing church we are now, ready to move on into the next era at St James’.