Public Meeting with The Dulwich Estate

An estimated 175-200 people attended the meeting arranged by the Dulwich Society and the Dulwich Estate on 29 September at St Barnabas Hall, Dulwich Village.  The meeting which opened at 7.30pm was chaired by Ian McInnes, chairman of the of Dulwich Society and the Estate was represented by its chairman of trustees Angela Brownbill, its chief executive John Major, its consultant architect John Senter and the administrator of the Scheme of Management Nina Rees.

The representatives were welcomed by the chairman and each made a brief presentation of the origins, purpose and limitations of the charity, an outline of the Scheme of Management and the role of the consultant architect in matters of planning applications. It was stated that the basic remit of the Scheme was conservation. This created a problem as most applications are for change, thus making dialogue   important.  The Dulwich Society was engaged in this dialogue through its planning committee which is largely composed of architects.  The Estate also consults other bodies with schemes of management such as the Hampstead Garden Suburb and Poundbury.

The Society had invited questions in advance of the meeting and the estate was given sight of these beforehand.  A total of 130 questions had been received and after elimination of those which duplicated others, they were posed under a number of headings.

Public Relations

  • What plans does the Estate have to improve its PR, including its relations with those who pay the annual charge?
  • The Estate has suffered some adverse publicity of late, particularly in connection with the Village traders.  How could it engage local people more and drive up levels of public trust and confidence in the charity?
  • What duty of accountability does the Estate think it owes the local community?  Does the Estate regard its lessees as clients?

DE: The Estate was not aware it had a problem with PR (laughter).  It did not consider PR a proper use of charitable funds.  It was the first time they had been asked to attend such a meeting.

It undertook to try to respond quicker to letters but the Scheme of Management office was staffed only by Nina Rees whose salary was paid by the residents through  the annual charge.

Floor; It was not so much about the SoM more about the Estate’s policies generally.  More openness was required – the DE should be required to publish Minutes.  Considered that SoM demand for annual charge should be more informative.

DE Have residents read their recent letter sent with the SoM charge?  Isn’t this an improvement?  There is (unfortunately) much legalise in the Scheme charge circular but this was necessary to satisfy SoM rules.  Minutes of meetings of Scheme are not published because of confidentiality; however, applicants are given extracts covering their particular application.  The SoM Advisory Committee is made up of representatives from the Dulwich Society and two residents’ associations and  meets with the DE three times a year.

DS The Dulwich Society chairman said that he would welcome questions from members and other residents to put to the DE at these meetings.

Trustees and Beneficiaries

  • By what governance arrangements do the Trustees of the Estate abide? Where do the Trustees publish details of membership, minutes etc? What is the mechanism for appealing against decisions made by them?
  • How many of the Estate Trustees live in Dulwich? Do the Trustees agree that taxation without representation is a bad thing and that at least two of the Trustees should be representatives of the taxable base?
  • Who are the co-opted members? Do any of them sit on the Scheme of management Committee? What are their qualifications for 'co-option'? Who co-opts them and from where?
  • What influence does the Estate have on its beneficiaries? Traffic in Dulwich in the morning and the evening is intolerable and the problems are caused by the large numbers of coaches and parents bringing children to the schools.

DE: Charity is governed by the Charity Commission Scheme.  Details of Trustees available from the DE website and the Charity Commission’s website. Until recently 9 out of 14 trustees lived in Dulwich and it was therefore felt resident ‘tax payers’ are well represented. 2 Trustees are appointed by each of the Dulwich schools, one by the Archbishop of Canterbury, one from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and 3 co-opted. All trustees are volunteers. Not feasible to have separate local representation.  

DE: Trustees have no control over distribution of income or how this is spent and therefore have no influence over the Dulwich Schools Beneficiaries generating (nor other local schools) traffic.

Floor: Some aspects of the Foundation could/should certainly be reviewed with a view to getting a change. Some may benefit locals and others the DE.

Floor: What is the mechanism for appeal against a planning decision?

What do the Trustees look for when so-opting a new member?

Why cannot the Minutes of the Advisory Committee be published?

DE: Appeals may be made under the Scheme of Management against the Managers’ decision: See paragraph 17 of the Scheme for appeals procedure. Applicants can seek arbitration. When co-opting new Trustees the DE looks for skills not already covered by other trustees i.e. law, finance expertise..  Some co-opted trustees do sit on Scheme of Management Committee. Currently  thirteen of the fifteen trustees live in Dulwich and serve in rotation on the SoM Committee.

 Shops in the Village:

  • There are constant rumours regarding the Estate insisting on substantial increases in rent at rent review. At a time of recession and negative inflation, how can the Estates Governors justify the enormous rent increases we are told they are demanding of Dulwich Village shop keepers? What are the facts?
  • What is the Estate’s policy regarding obtaining a mix of shops in the area? How does it intend to enhance the character of the area? Would not a more enlightened policy on rents make the Village a livelier place?
  • What consideration is given to the provision of amenity benefit for Dulwich Residents when deciding who should lease shops in the Village?
  • Do the Dulwich Estate governors agree that that one of their (non-statutory) general charitable duties is to “have regard for the needs to maintain a reasonable diversity of retail outlets in Dulwich Village”?


DE: Rumours of high rent rises unfounded.  Lease rents are finally agreed after negotiation.  Try to get a good mix of retailers but can only grant leases to those who apply. Until recently, no empty shops in Dulwich Village.   OXFAM rumour is correct – they were the only contender for the lease for the former Gill Holland, 33 Dulwich Village.(Shame)

Floor: General dissatisfaction about type of shops.  Objection from current shopowners about rent rises who also pointed out that the admission of OXFAM which relies on unpaid volunteers and receives a reduction in Business Rate as a charity presents both unfair competition. The traders were invited by the DE to supply a list of possible shops which would benefit the community – butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers etc and this had been totally ignored in favour of a charity shop which benefited few. (Applause)

Clarification needed from both sides. DE’s assertion that rents in East Dulwich are higher than Dulwich was challenged.

DE: Cannot chose who applies for leases.  Obliged to accept market rents.  Lessees have rights to ‘assign’ lease and the DE cannot reasonably refuse consent. Difficult to balance usefulness with maximum benefit. DE obliged to seek market level rents. Cannot subsidise specific businesses or individuals.

Floor: Thought that this was not the case and that there were legal precedents for landlords to decide what shops they had and achieve a balance of uses – assignments could be objected to. Feeling that DE’s interpretation of their shop policy was too narrow and effectively took no account of any benefit to residents. (Applause)

Development:

  • I understand that S G Smith has planning approval for carrying out various improvement works to their site and that they are being delayed by the Estate’s delay in granting a licence. Why is this?
  • What are the Estate’s plans for the Old Dairy Site on Croxted Road?

DE:  The Estate wants the garage site tidied up and planning approval has now been granted.  SG Smith’s  license granted but client then changed scope of works. Work should start very shortly.

Schemes for Old Dairy site have fallen through because developer pulled out due to the economic downturn.

Floor: Why was the DE so slow to get things done – dairy site empty for 10 years and the flats left derelict?  The Estate is not fulfilling its duty as Trustees.

DE The final lease ran out only 2 years ago.

Floor  General feeling that things just happened too slowly.

Herne Hill Velodrome:

  • Why is the Estate doing such a bad job of communicating anything at all about its plans for the Herne Hill Velodrome when such a level of secrecy is not necessary to protect its commercial negotiating position?
  • Is the Estate still pursuing development proposals on the site and why?
  • Why has the Estate refused to grant a sufficiently long lease to the Velo Club de Londres to enable them to invest properly in facilities for the velodrome by unlocking the public funding for cycling that is available.
  • Is the Estate not aware of the pent up demand for cycling activities at the Velodrome, including several requests from its beneficiaries, which VCdL is unable to satisfy because of the uncertainty of its future at the site?

DE: Long difficult problem.  Was leased by Southwark for 42 years who have left site and buildings in poor condition – discussion over dilapidations have stalled. Three extensions of of a one year lease have been granted  to British Cycling, DE’s aim is to secure the long term future of the site. Ideally wants a building which will provide facilities for cyclists plus other sport/leisure facilities. Difficult to find development partner in the current market.  On advice from traffic consultant, DE informed that two access are required, not the one as at present, in order to get a planning consent for any new building. Southwark still lease a small piece of land required for a second access and are not prepared to release it at a reasonable price. This lease does not expire until 2022.  The DE has  tried to use dilapidations claim as a lever but no effect as different departments of the Council deal with each aspect.  Southwark Council’s Building at Risk Officer had made an application to English Heritage to have grandstand listed which will further delay things and could prevent any development.  Site is designated Metropolitan Open Land – very little can be built on it.

Floor: VCdL did not require another access, considered this a red herring. Why not consider giving longer lease so that investment worthwhile?  VCdL have good proposals but British Cycling cannot raise money for renovation because they cannot get a lease longer than 1 year.  Preliminary suggestions had been sent to DE but no reply, why? Have they been considered?   DE should try harder to reach a solution so that the facility can be improved and enjoyed.

DE: Did not consider the initial scheme from VCdL a formal proposal – three options suggested. Unaware that VCdL has obtained any planning advice for proposals and hence cannot say second access will not be required.

Scheme of Management Policy & Guidelines:

  • Do the fees paid by Dulwich residents for the consideration of planning applications cover the costs of the Estate Officers that consider them? What are the criteria applied by the Estate in assessing planning applications? Are these subject to regular review by the Trustees?

DE: Fees are a contribution towards the costs of consultants. No charge is made for tree licences.  The cost of running the scheme is recovered from residents through the Scheme Charge but the Estate makes no profit.  In respect of trees and solar panels etc., the Estate has tried to follow similar management schemes elsewhere. They are detailed in the design guides available on the Estate website.

Scheme of Management Enforcement

  • What systems does the Estate have in place to check whether any building works being carried out have had their approval? How does it check whether licensed works have been completed correctly? What does the Estate do to safeguard the rights of adjoining owners when works take place?
  • What does the Estate do to enforce covenants on house and garden maintenance? Why has the Estate Management allowed the Grade II listed wall in Red Post Hill to remain in a state of disrepair for almost six tears? Does the Management have any intention of taking any action to restore the wall?
  • The Estate granted a retrospective licence to London South Bank University for a new fence around their playing fields on the condition it was painted green. 15 months later nothing has been done. What is the Estate doing about it?

DE: Not all building works inspected on completion but John Senter may inspect some applications during construction.  SOM not always informed when works are finished.  Can insist on things being put right but too expensive to take legal action in every case. Where money is due to the Scheme, the Estate sometimes puts a legal charge on property which would affect future sale. Breaches are often remedied  prior to a sale of a property.

DE: Wall on Red Post Hill very long and complicated saga. DE not prepared to spend £100k to repair when they will not be able to get money back. Southwark Council have finally accepted their legal responsibility – progress has been slow but SC are taking the owner to court at the moment. Have said that once they have the money work can start.  

DE: London South Bank University have finally agreed to paint fence dark green next spring. Estate did not grant a licence for the fence.  

Floor: again general concern about how long it takes to get things done.

Relationships with Southwark Council:

  • Does the Estate have any working relationships with Southwark Council eg. on planning? Does the local council consult the Estate when planning road and pavement works?

DE:  Southwark is not always clear on which land is theirs and which is the Estate’s. Don’t have meetings with Southwark Council.  An area where there is co-operation relates to planning, here SC will not give permission for dropped kerbs if DE guidelines on its various policies such as hard standings, loft conversions etc have not been complied with.

Floor: Suggest better liaison and meetings from time to time with SC.

General Maintenance:

  • The posts and chains through the Village are not always well maintained. Why is the Estate not more proactive on this? Which sections are theirs and which are Southwark’s?  What steps, if any, does the Estate take to monitor Southwark’s maintenance standards?
  • Low Cross Wood Lane – there is a considerable amount of Graffiti on the fences along this pedestrian route from Sydenham Hill Station. Why has the Estate not cleaned it off?

DE: Only responsible for some of the post and chains, SC for the rest.  Difficulty getting Southwark to maintain post and chains and certain grass areas on the Estate.  Constantly asking.  DE would be happy to take responsibility for the maintenance of the areas but SC unwilling to agree to pay for this.

DE: Graffiti on fence in Lowcross Wood Lane – privately owned fence, not DE responsibility.

Floor: suggest better liaison with SC

Post War Estates:

  • The level of maintenance varies from estate to estate. The Estate does not appear to monitor the work of its maintenance contractors. Its only when we ring up the Estate to complain that a surveyor comes round to look. Why does it fall to committees or individuals to constantly chase up repair works? Why does it take so long for the Estate to action items?
  • What are the Estate’s procedures for dealing with complaints from individual residents about any Estate’s contractors’ performance?
  • Why do we have to resort to ringing up Nina Rees at the Scheme of Management office in order to obtain a response from the maintenance surveyors department?

DE:  The estate applies the Scheme of Management equally to all properties within the Estate - tries to maintain properties in original condition.  For post war properties specific policies, Guidelines on window replacement etc. It is accepted that on certain post-war PVC windows are acceptable on some steel frames.

Floor: Some resident association were experiencing difficulty getting the DE to maintain their environments.  Others spoke in defence of the DE and said their estates were well maintained. General consensus was that DE needed to be more proactive over maintenance contractors and monitoring standards.

DE: Residents associations are valued and are effective means of dealing with the wishes of a majority of residents.  Maintenance and gardening is agreed with RAs. DE currently in the process of negotiating new gardening contracts for the Estate.  Complaints procedure on website: write to John Major and then if no response, to Angela Brownbill.

The Meeting closed at 9.10pm  

(See Letters to the Editor)

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