No public money to help blighted residents of unfinished Fenland housing estate

IT was always going to be controversial putting 29 homes into a small Fenland village - and residents fought it all the way.

Parish councillor Will Sutton produced a petition claiming it was an urban style housing scheme which had no place in a village.

And he argued that Christchurch, with few amenities ands services, could ill afford to absorb even more housing.

Nearly every villager signed the petition opposed to The Croft but after months of wrangling, in August 2005, Hazelmere Homes won the day and work began.

Six years later, however, the estate is mired in controversy once more after Hazelmere went into administration leaving a backlog of unfinished footpaths, roads and no street lighting.

Special report by John Elworthy and Ed Conlon.

PUBLIC money will not be used to bale out the 29 residents of a housing development where the developer went bust before finishing off the road, footpaths and street lights.

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Confirmation came from Fenland District Council after a two year wrangle with residents of The Croft at Christchurch who claim their lives have been blighted by the ongoing problems.

And, in the most recent twist to events, E.ON has demanded that the 29 home owners at The Crofts, Christchurch, pay an outstanding shared �10,500 bill.

“It’s been a living hell for us these past two years,” said Giles Thorlby, one of the residents on the troubled estate.

Ironically notification that they owed the money came via Fenland Council- the first communication many of them said they had received since being assured two years ago that the council would pay for the estate to be finished.

However a council spokesman said this week: “This issue at The Croft is not FDC’s responsibility: it has always been outside any direct control of either FDC or Cambridgeshire County Council.”

The news will come as a bitter blow to residents who believed the council would help them to resolve the many outstanding issues.

Natasha Allen, who lives there with husband Daniel and 19-month-old son Harvey, said they had tried repeatedly to contact the council for help but accepted “it’s a complete waste of time.”

Mr Thorlby, one of the first to move into the estate in 2006, said: “Over the past couple of years we have had to put up with the road in almost pitch black.

“One resident is blind and this causes trouble for her, and we have had a number of disabled residents having to move out.”

Mr Thorlby claimed a residents group set up with the parish and district council had come to nothing.

“We have been told that Fenland Council is going to walk away from us and are not going to help in any way. One member of the council told me I was dumb and na�ve for buying my home here.”

Another resident, whose daughter was knocked off her bike by a car on the estate, said: “We’ve been treated diabolically by the council; they don’t even pick up the phone to us anymore.”

Problems arose at The Crofts after Hazelmere Homes went into administration before funding the infrastructure.

Another resident added: “I don’t even know what I pay my council tax for. The street lights here haven’t worked since I’ve lived here.”

“We moved here for a better life and now I can’t see a way out, if they cut the electricity off then we’re in total limbo.”

‘Onus has always rested with the residents’

DISTRICT councillor Fred Yeulett met with residents and parish councillors on Tuesday night - but was able to offer little in way of consolation or compensation.

Earlier in the day we handed him a statement from Fenland Council who stated that the “onus for resolving this issue has always rested with the residents. To use public funds to address what is a private matter is not considered appropriate.”

The council believes many of the problems occurred because residents who bought their homes were encouraged or choose to use the developers’ own solicitor for their conveyances.

Had an independent firm of solicitors advised buyers it’s possible they would have picked up on the fact that no bond had been lodged by Hazelmere Homes to finish road in the event of them going into administration.

“The absence of the bond should have been highlighted to the purchasers,” said the spokesman. “If they were still willing to purchase the properties, alternative ways of funding the finishing of the works through retentions should have been considered.”

The issue has been debated by Cabinet but councillors felt that “if FDC intervened in this private issue, it would set a dangerous and expensive precedent if the authority was faced with other unfinished estates in the district.

“Officers firmly endorse this view.”

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