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Held to ransom: Hundreds of Norfolk homeowners told to pay £600,000 or face legal action

PUBLISHED: 08:08 28 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:50 28 February 2019

Russell Hill with a copy of a letter to sent to him by the Flatland management. Photo: Neil Perry.

Russell Hill with a copy of a letter to sent to him by the Flatland management. Photo: Neil Perry.

Archant

A company director is threatening hundreds of homeowners in a Norfolk village with legal action unless they agree to pay his firm more than £600,000 between them.

Houses in the development in Little Plumstead who have been sent letters asking for £2.6K. Photo: Neil PerryHouses in the development in Little Plumstead who have been sent letters asking for £2.6K. Photo: Neil Perry

Letters have been sent to 255 homes in Little Plumstead demanding they each pay £2,621 to Flatland Management Ltd for land maintenance dating back to 2004.

While the vast majority of residents have refused to pay, others have been forced to part with their money in order to sell their homes.

It has led to claims that residents are being “held to ransom” by the company.

Flatland’s director Russell Edwards said his firm is owed more than £600,000 in unpaid fees and warned he would take legal action if they keep refusing to pay.

Now, residents are seeking legal advice themselves on how to resolve the situation.

The dispute dates back to 2010 when Mr Edwards’s other company, Alexander Grace Homes (AGH), took on responsibility for the management of amenity land around The Glade estate.

The work was supposed to be financed through an annual service charge paid for by residents as per a covenant on their homes.

Mr Edwards, who also works as a Jack the Ripper tour guide in London, set up Flatland Management to collect those fees.

Houses in the development in Little Plumstead who have been sent letters asking for £2.6K. Photo: Neil PerryHouses in the development in Little Plumstead who have been sent letters asking for £2.6K. Photo: Neil Perry

But residents claim they have been reluctant to pay as Mr Edwards has not responded to any of their questions about how the maintenance costs have been reached.

There is also no website or contact number for either of his companies.

Others claim they have not seen any evidence of his firm carrying out maintenance of the surrounding woodland and lake.

Russell Hill, who moved into his property on MacMillan Way in 2006, has been pursuing the issue on behalf of residents for several months.

The 44-year-old said his house sale fell through last year because he refused to pay the £2,621.

“Everyone on the estate is in exactly the same boat,” Mr Hill said.

“We know we have to pay this, and we are not being difficult, but we are asking for evidence he [the director] is doing the work and he can’t provide that evidence.

“He will not respond to any correspondence whatsoever.”

Sign for the old landmanagers Cofton Ltd who managed the area in Little Plumstead earlier during construction. Photo: Neil PerrySign for the old landmanagers Cofton Ltd who managed the area in Little Plumstead earlier during construction. Photo: Neil Perry

Mr Hill said residents thought they were being scammed when they first received a letter from Mr Edwards in 2013 seeking maintenance fees.

He said: “When we did some research and looked for the website address, it didn’t exist.

“Nothing could be found, so you take it as a scam and think someone is trying to extort money out of people.”

Residents received another letter on April 6 last year stating they were “duty bound” to pay an annual fee for amenity land maintenance.

The letter, from Flatland Management, said if £2,621.54 is not paid in full, the company would look to start legal proceedings to recover the amount.

Mr Hill said the title deeds for homes built at The Glade state owners must pay £80 per year for maintenance, plus inflation.

He believed some people had already paid this fee, but it was not reflected in the letter as everyone was ordered to pay the same amount.

In response, Mr Edwards said his company Alexander Grace Homes had carried out management work at The Glade.

The location of the estate in Little Plumstead. Photo: GoogleThe location of the estate in Little Plumstead. Photo: Google

He said this had been done free-of-charge since 2010 as no one had paid their fees.

While cheques had been received from some residents for previous bills, Mr Edwards claimed they were not cashed in as “it would not have been fair” because 95pc of residents had not paid.

However, he said about five households had been forced to pay the full amount in order for them to sell their homes.

Mr Edwards claimed his company had set up a website with contact details to begin with, but it led to him receiving abuse.

He said: “The first time we sent an invoice out we were getting calls in the middle of the night with death threats.

“We were told just to go through email because we did not want very irate people calling every two minutes.”

He said he wanted to resolve the situation amicably, adding he had attempted to organise meetings with residents, Broadland District Council and Plumstead parish council.

Responding to complaints he was charging some residents for maintenance fees before their homes were built, Mr Edwards said the figure would be amended once they contact him.

Russell Hill with a copy of a letter to sent to him by the land manager of their housing development. Photo: Neil PerryRussell Hill with a copy of a letter to sent to him by the land manager of their housing development. Photo: Neil Perry

He said: “If your house was built in 2006, we will bill you from 2006.

“If no one pays we will have to take them to court for the money.”

Broadland council: land management has been ‘sporadic’

The Glade was originally granted planning permission on appeal in 2003.

As part of the development, applicant Cofton Ltd was to manage the surrounding woodland, lake and open space with an approved maintenance scheme.

But in 2009 the Cofton Group went into administration.

Management of the amenity land was then transferred by an administrator to Alexander Grace Homes in 2010.

Broadland District Council said management of that land has been “sporadic”, adding officers contacted the company in regard to it meeting its obligations.

A council spokesman said: “AGH had indicated to the council that not all properties had been paying the annual management fee, which had impacted upon their ability to effectively manage the land.”

The council said it was seeking a meeting with Flat Land Management, the local community and Great and Little Plumstead Parish Council.

£60,000 of taxpayer’s money

The financial fallout of Cofton Ltd going into administration is still be being felt by taxpayers today.

As part of the original housing development, the company was to provide play areas and transfer them to Broadland District Council with money for future maintenance.

Development of the estate started in conjunction with a main house builder, and the play areas were provided and managed for a liability period by Cofton.

But ever since the company went into administration in 2009, Broadland said it had been working with administrators to take a transfer of the play areas along with money.

A decade on and this process has still not been completed.

As a result, the council has spent £60,000 maintaining these areas to keep them open and available for residents to enjoy.

Alexander Graces Homes did not take on responsibilty of the play areas.

What other residents said

We spoke to multiple people living on the estate who had all received the letters.

One resident, who did not want to be named, said they moved into their house in 2015 and were being billed from 2004.

He said: “My partner had a hand delivered letter with invoices going back to 2004 that were unpaid and required 14 days to pay.

“That’s when we knew it was a complete waste of time, my house was not even built until 2007.

“The only way to respond was a gmail address.

“I wrote my letter asking who they were, stating that if they can prove the work has been done then I would be prepared to discuss payment.

“Of course, no response.”

Those who received letters from Flatland Management included social housing tenants.

Minutes from a Great and Little Plumstead Parish Council meeting in October last year said a resident who attended claimed sellers at The Glade were being “held to ransom”.

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