Thursday, 20 February 2020

Nature area on new estate ‘should belong to council’

A NATURE area being created within a new housing development in Benson could be owned by the parish council.

Cala Homes will include the five-hectares of land in the second phase of its 241-home development north of Littleworth Road.

The original plan was for the nature area to be run by a management company established by Cala with funding being provided from an annual management fee paid by the new residents.

But the council’s neighbourhood plan delivery working group and Benson Nature Group would prefer the land to be handed over to the parish council and managed by the group on behalf of the council.

Cala has agreed in principle to gift the land to the council but would not then provide any funding.

A report to the council said relying on the new residents to fund the maintenance of the land was not “equitable” as the area was intended for use by all villagers. It added: “This is also a risk of sub-optimal management or even for the area to lapse into neglect over time if the residents funding the management of the nature area have different aspirations for it than those set out and agreed through the neighbourhood plan and the Benson People and Nature Strategy.

“The latter seeks to establish high quality green spaces with benefits for wildlife and people, with connecting corridors between them enabling the green spaces to operate as a network.

“Rather than the nature area being maintained and owned by a management company, the neighbourhood plan delivery working group would want the land transferred to the parish council and managed by Benson Nature Group on behalf on the council. The nature group would utilise a mixture of volunteer labour and contractors to maintain the site, thereby keeping costs to a minimum, but we feel there would need to be an increase in the precept to cover maintenance of the area.”

The report suggested the council needed to define the scope of the maintenance to be undertaken by the nature group, obtain quotes for the agreed maintenance and calculate the likely increase in the precept.

Council chairman Bill Pattison said that Cala’s management company estimated that the management costs, including servicing play equipment, would be £30,000 per year.

However, the council’s neighbourhood plan delivery team believed the figure would be only £2,000 to £3,000.

Councillor Philip Murray said that if a specific part of the village was funding the area there was a danger those residents would become “protective” of it. “My personal view is we need to gain control of these spaces,” he said.

Councillor Michael Winton said he didn’t think there would be a problem and the council shouldn’t take on the cost.

But vice-chairwoman Patricia Baylis said: “This is supposed to be a community area and we have to focus on that.

“We can’t, I think, both ethically and practically look at a management company managing it paid for by a certain sector of the community.”

She said that if she was one of the residents of the new development paying for the maintenance, she would want the area fenced off for their exclusive use.

“Why would I, as a resident, pay for something that somebody else has use of free?” she said.

Members agreed in principle that the council should own the land, subject to the costs involved.

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