The project I am speaking about is the rear of the five blocks of flats that number 54-112 Barns Road an area that I have lived in for more than twenty years and that has been neglected for far too long. It consists of a drying area that was unsafe not only to walk on but also not safe to leave hanging washing out for fear of being stolen, washing lines were vandalised and with all the trees and current location of the storage sheds it has been a haven for anti-social behaviour.
The first thing I would say is that before the project started there was a distinct lack of consultation between Oxford City Council (OCC) and the Residents of the project 54-112 Barns Road (There was Great Estates work carried out at other in Blocks in Barns Road and I cannot speak for them re how they were consulted). In my opinion the placing of letters in the foyer of blocks requesting responses doesn’t work as most people just don’t bother reading them.
To overcome this it would be better to perhaps write to all Residents irrespective of Tenure and try and get a nominated person from each block affected to be liaison between the residents in their blocks, OCC and the Contractors appointed.
I also suggest that perhaps on a Monday morning there could be a brief meeting between the Contractors and the appointed liaison tenants to discuss the timetable of works for that week
For me as a Leaseholder there is going to have to be a variation of lease which is going to be done after the project is complete, I would have thought that this should have been done before?
I also had an issue where I was asked to empty my storage sheds as they are to be demolished and replaced with new ones which is great but the Council had not even sought a planning application at the time I was asked to empty the sheds prior to the planning application being submitted and the consultation date ending this seems to have been premature.
I was offered storage of any items by OCC but this would be in a container (supplied by OCC) and I would not have been able to access them until after the project is completed this would not have been a problem for me but for residents who have children or rely on bicycles for getting to school or work this isn’t feasible and has resulted in items like this now being left in foyers and on landings.
Located behind this scheme there are 59 garages of which currently there is approximately a 50% occupancy OCC in my opinion could have offered empty garages to the affected Residents at a nominal rent for the duration of the works and this would have solved the storage problem and allowed access to items.
For any future projects I think it is essential that OCC ensure that if any planning permissions are required then these are applied for before any scheme is started, with regard to Leaseholders and the Variation of Lease there must be more openness with Leaseholders as to what these variations may be for example am I going to be incurring any costs for the scheme or any increase in service charges and when they will be implemented, in the current situation these Variations are not being implemented until after the scheme is finished.
The worry I have is about when this excellent scheme is finished is the maintenance of the area I have repeatedly asked for a schedule of maintenance but nothing has been forthcoming, I think we should know how the maintenance is to be implemented, is it going to be weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly.
Is it going to be incorporated within current maintenance schedules for grass cutting etc. I would also like be given details of who the go to person will be if I feel there are problems with the maintenance. I also would like to know how often the scheme will be monitored for damage or vandalism and who I would report this to should I discover anything.
The other issue I have had personally is that I have suffered some abuse from other residents over the fact that when I purchased my flat from OCC I bought area bordering my property at the rear and fenced it in so I had a private garden and of course that fence will be staying with some adjustments after the sheds have been demolished, where as other tenants of ground floor flats in the scheme laid claim to what has always been designated communal areas and fenced them off have now been told that there fences will be removed. I have been accused of doing private deals, not giving a dam about other residents although I have held meetings with residents and our local Councillor (all the time observing Social Distancing requirements)
For future schemes when letters are sent to residents informing them that work is going to be done that a paragraph should be included that some things might differ due to the different Tenures of the residents in the proposed scheme, in my particular case it would have been helpful if after it was established that I do in fact own the land that I fenced in as a private garden and that my fence is staying a letter could have been sent to all residents.
My overall view is that OCC have done the best they can in these difficult times to do what is right and improve an area that has been much neglected in the 24 years that I have lived here and I commend them for that.
When finished the scheme will be more secure, accessible and benefit every resident regardless of tenure and that is a point I have tried to make to those who were opposed to the scheme and as one resident stated -
“ When completed you are going to hear something that hasn’t been heard in this area for 20 odd years and that is the sound of children chattering and laughing whilst playing in this new environment.”