There has been some discussion locally over the future plans for maintenance of the recreational area of Elsenham Vale – known as the Trim Trails.
Originally developed by Crest Nicholson, the developers’ aim was for Elsenham Parish Council to accept a sum of money in return for taking over their maintenance. After careful consideration, the Parish Council declined to do this.
In the following statement, Elsenham Parish Council Chairman Dr. Graham Mott outlines some of the background to this decision, including the original plans for the area.
The Parish Council (PC) was not involved in drawing up the Section 106 (S106) agreement which was negotiated between Uttlesford District Council (UDC) and the developers prior to the commencement of the project. The PC found out what was in the S106 only when it was published.
It provided that on completion Crest Nicholson would maintain the area including the trim trail for a year, and the Parish Council would then have the option to take it over. If the option was accepted, the PC would be paid £130,000, index linked from the date of the planning approval to the date of payment, for the maintenance of the area for twenty years. After that period of time, the PC would be wholly responsible.
Some parish councils decline all such proposals as a matter of policy, but we decided that we would consider each case on its merits. The documents which were available to the PC are a Planting Plan and Landscape Management Plan.
It is not too easy to make out the Planting Plan on the screen, but if you save, rotate and enlarge, it should help. The key on the bottom left shows areas of grass seed, wildflower, native woodland, bulb planting and rough grassland.
It all looks very pretty. But the first problem is that the developers made no attempt before they left the site to follow the Planting Plan. The defect was pointed out to UDC by the PC. There were other problems – for instance the several efforts to stabilise the footpath through the trim trail, particularly near the motorway where it was washed away several times.
The second issue was that the Management Plan is very detailed. It was felt that, even if the area had been brought up to the required standard, the Parish Council would be held to the details as prescribed, and we would need to employ contractors for the purpose. £130,000 / 20 = £6,500 pa, which did not look very generous.
The PC decided, therefore, that there was no option other than to decline to adopt the area. Our understanding was that the maintenance payment that Crest Nicholson was due to pay to the PC was now going to the management company for maintenance purposes, and therefore the residents would not have an increase in their payments for some years. But it seems that did not happen and some lesser sum was made available.
There have been several misconceptions – one resident said that the PC had had discussions with the landscaping subcontractor, but in fact we’d never heard of them. We did have discussions with CN.
Summary: The PC was not party to the agreement that we should have the option of taking over the area. CN made no attempt to bring it up to the standard specified. The Management Plan was very detailed and would have been expensive to implement. Discussions were held with CN but not with the landscape subcontractor.
The PC was under no obligation to accept the area, and members felt there was no alternative to declining the offer.