Outdoor Gym, Circle Housing, DS Responsibilities
Proposed Rhodes Estate Outdoor Gym
We have been contacted by our local councillor, Peter Snell, to see if we can help our neighbours in the Rhodes Estate (the estate to our East on the other side of Beechwood Road) with a project that will also be to our benefit. Working with The Great Outdoor Gym Company, the Rhodes Estate Tenants & Residents’ Association is aiming to procure and install outdoor gym equipment of a type that is becoming popular throughout London. They believe that beyond the obvious health benefits, the equipment will also strengthen community ties (the equipment will be available to locals beyond the bounds of Rhodes Estate), thus also boosting security and making the area a safer place to live in. Knowing of our own residents’ gym, and believing it was staffed with fitness professionals, we have been asked if we could give input to ensure the range of equipment they install will offer a balanced exercise routine. Lacking those on-site professionals my question is this: Do we have any fitness professionals in residence in the square who could help, or do any of those who bring personal trainers to the gym with them believe their trainer would be willing to offer some advice? If yes, please contact me at DalstonSquareRA@gmail.com and I will put you/them in touch with the Rhodes Estate team.
Circle Housing 2015 Service Charges
While it is still a mystery how they can produce them before receiving costings from the development management company (Consort), it seems Circle Housing have started issuing service charge bills to their tenants for next year. Unfortunately it seems that there have been some errors in their calculations and some residents have received bills that are greatly in excess of what they should be (over 50% higher in at least one case we have heard of). If you have received your bill and you believe it to be higher than it should be, please contact Circle Housing and ask them to check the figures: Do not contact Consort as they will not be able to help you.
Who Is Responsible For What, In & Around Dalston Square
It seems there is still some confusion regarding who is responsible for what, in and around the square. To help alleviate this confusion I have made a post over at our discussions forum that will hopefully clear this up once and for all: It can be found HERE.
One Last Thing
Fob Recall, Service Charge Bills, And Dalston Futures Meeting
Consort will soon begin the process of wiping the database of the development-wide fob entry system. All residents/fob holders will receive notification direct from Consort to your post-box to advise of the days your building is being reset thus requiring you to visit the concierge to have your fob re-programmed. The reset renders your fob useless until you pay that visit to the concierge where you will need to present your fob PLUS the forms you also received in your post-box, properly completed. The process will begin with Collins Tower next Monday & Tuesday, then make it’s way around the square. Check your post-box regularly for your block’s dates: You should get approximately one week’s notice. A little bit of a nuisance I know, but it should be a quick and painless procedure (completed by the end of the month) and will help tighten security for us all.
Service Charge Bills
By now, all Dalston Square property owners should have received their supplementary charges bills for the financial years 2012/13 and 2013/14 (if you do not yet have yours it should be with you very soon). These charges, fully explained in Consort’s letter I think, vary widely depending on which block you own in and which year you look at (2012/13 sees rebates in excess of £500.00 for some phase 3 residents while some phase 1 residents saw bills in excess of £500.00, and in 2013/14 we see bills, some quite substantial, across the development). This though should be the last time we see supplementary charges like this: After years of campaigning and meetings between the DSRA and Consort, with the DSRA demanding transparency in Consort’s accounting and budgeting processes, the 2013/14 budget was set with the DSRA’s full approval. For the first time our finance committee (a small group of owner-residents who just happen to be professionals in the fields of accountancy and finance) were presented with full development accounts and budget plans, and were able to make sense of them (what has been passed to us as accounts in the past were anything but). Going forward, these newly established practices should ensure that unexpected items and shortfalls are kept to a minimum, and all future service charge rises can be fully explained and justified. It has taken 3 development managers, umpteen area managers, and several different accountants from Consort to give us the financial reports and transparency we have been demanding, but finally during the past 6 months or so, since the appointment of new development manager Gerald Bernard and Senior Property Manager Helen Goldstone (Gerald’s line-manager), we have finally been dealing with people who have not just listened to our concerns, they have acted on them and delivered results where their predecessors continually failed. (See HERE my post from March regarding the 2014/15 budget)
Dalston Futures Meeting & News
A reminder that Dalston Futures’ community organising master-class is tomorrow night at the Trinity Centre, and to pass on THIS LINK to catch up on their latest news.
The DSRA had 2 big meetings last week and I have reports from each to share with you.
Firstly, our Buildings & Maintenance sub-committee had their regular inspection tour and meeting with Consort and Barratt. In brief, progress continues in many areas including news that the replacement canopy for Blues Street will be fitted soon. We also again received a commitment from Barratt that the matters of flooding beneath phase 3 and cooking smells in phase 1 will not be put to bed until permanent solutions have been found. With regard the cooking smells issue, the local council are to be approached by Consort to confirm that all building regs with regard air extraction are being met. Ben Collins’ full meeting report can be downloaded and viewed, as always, from the DSRA-specific section of our forum HERE. The only other thing to mention is the subject of the lifts problem in Thomas Tower. For at least the past year residents of Thomas/Burke have had continual lift outages. OTIS, the suppliers/maintainers of these lifts are now claiming that some very expensive belts need replacing at a cost (because warranties have now expired) of over £9000.00! Consort, armed with resident testimony, are arguing that this issue has been ongoing since before the warranties expired and should therefore be rectified free of charge (the belts in discussion should last for 10 years or more and so should not need replacement after just 2 years). Hopefully OTIS will come around and get this sorted out sooner rather than later.
The other meeting was the latest in a long line of meetings between Consort and our Finance group. This report, from Jane Collins, I will share with you right here (a copy will also be stored in the Document Depository over at the forum):
We have been in discussion with Consort over recent weeks regarding the 2014/15 Service Charge estimates.
Our concerns regarding the proposed 2014/15 Service Charge estimates have been:
• Previous estimates for major items had variations between buildings and phases that could not be explained
• A proposal to contract out the cleaning appeared to be very expensive
• All phases had variations in increases that suggested that the original estimates were very inaccurate
• Insurance brokerage is provided in-house
• All phases had proposed increases above inflation, with double-digit increases in phases two and three
We now feel that we have had the opportunity to challenge Consort on these points, and we are more confident that the proposed estimates are accurate. The proposal to contract out the cleaning has been withdrawn and a number of other changes have been made resulting in small savings. We have been given evidence allowing us to compare our Service Charges with other similar properties. We now have proposed estimates for Dalston Square across the phases of the development, which suggest that we are all now being charged the correct, roughly similar, amounts in comparison to each other, based on the charge per square foot.
Unfortunately the large increases in Service Charges in phase two and three seem inevitable as phase two and three charges were significantly underestimated in the first place.
The evidence of past inefficient management of our finances by Consort, particularly the failure to set a realistically increased budget last year, will make this a very difficult year. We have seen evidence that financial management has improved recently but we believe, and asked, that there should be no increase to our service charge this year.
Ground rent demands have been sent and we have been told the new Service Charge demands will be sent in the next few weeks.
When you receive your Service Charge, we urge you to make your concerns known to Consort. Individual personal responses have the greatest impact, and please use the Forum to share these concerns.
One thing I wish to reiterate is that, although phases 2 and 3 will see potentially large increases in their service charge bills when they are sent out in the next couple of weeks (phase 3 will see the largest increases), these charges are correct for a development like ours, with our amenities, in London (around £2.50 per square foot of apartment space). Yes, there have been problems with the way Consort was apportioning costs (mostly now sorted), but the biggest problem has been the way Barratt, and by extension Consort as their agents, have been underestimating and under-billing service charges for the first couple of years of each phases life. Accusations have been made (although denied) that this was a ploy to make selling the brand new flats easier. How can it be that phase 3 was so drastically underestimated when the cost of running the 4/5 year old phase 1 was already known, unless it was done deliberately?
Firstly, we now have a venue and an agenda for this coming Thursday’s DSRA ‘Open Meeting’. The venue is to be the CLR James Library (just ask at the library reception and they will be able to point you to the meeting room), and the agenda can be seen on the flyer at the foot of this post (click the thumbnail image to see it full size). As I mentioned in my last post, of particular interest at this time is Consort’s budget for our service/maintenance charges for the 2014/15 financial year. Members of our financial committee will be present at the meeting to report back on their meeting with Consort last week where that budget was presented to us: The news is not good.
On the 11th October last year I published a post (HERE) advising of a survey Hackney Council was running in order to gauge opinion on the subject of making Dalston an SPA (special policy area). This is used to control last night licensing in areas where a large number of such licenses already exist (if you followed the link I posted in the comments beneath that post, HERE, there was a very sound argument against such a carte blanche policy). Well, in a recent council meeting the council decided to go ahead with the plan. For further reading on the subject, HERE are details on the council’s own website, and two very good reports that give some extra info and interesting stats can be found HERE (Hackney Citizen) and HERE (East London Lines).
Lastly, updates on the two new restaurants that will soon be opening in the Square. First to open will be Nancy’s Pantry (in the space that was once the Barratt sales office): Currently scheduled to open their doors at 10am on Sunday 9th February. This is a restaurant that will be focusing on children and the family so is well placed in a development the size of Dalston Square. Check out their Facebook page HERE to be teased with pictures of items from their menu. Not too far behind them, though I do not yet have a date, will be Le Ziz (in the space below the gym in Gaumont Tower). Their website is still under construction and I do not yet have a great deal of details but what I can tell you is this: It will be a Mediterranean and Anatolian ‘fine dining’ restaurant, with a designated lounge area with a more relaxed atmosphere. They have also said that they will be holding a buffet/cocktail style launch event, just before their official opening, for residents of the Square: Very exciting. More news on that very soon.
One last thing before I finish (whilst on the subject of Dalston Square Businesses), are you aware of ‘The Mayor of Hackney’s Business Awards’? These are annual awards given out to Hackney businesses and business people in various categories. One of these categories is the Peoples Choice Award, and here the winner is voted for, from a shortlist, by the public. And would you believe that two of the list of 30 businesses belong to Dalston Square residents: Fiona ‘Fee’ Eastwood’s ‘Fee Fee La Fou‘ on Bradbury Street, and husband and wife team Murat & Melek Erdal’s ‘Cafe Route‘ right here on the Square. Unfortunately you can only vote once so this could be a toughie, but please do vote and support your neighbours.
Hello again. Firstly, thanks to those who left us feedback after the last post. You will notice that the first comment was from Lucy McMenemy, Cultural Programme Officer for Hackney Coucil, so you know your voices will been heard. Surely there must be others with an opinion?
This post, as referenced by the title, will give reports from 3 of our sub-committees: ASB, Buildings & Maintenance, and Finance.
ASB – Chris Rivinus has produced a comprehensive document, available for download from the DSRA-specific section of the forum HERE, which contains a review of the last 4 to 5 months of this groups activities, including a summary of progress against the ASB action plan established early this year, and a note from Sean Stone in response to the ASB/Security survey conducted some weeks ago now (results from this survey are also available for download in the same forum post).
Buildings & Maintenance – Jane Collins has produced a report for us on the latest meeting and issues facing this group. Again, this is available for download from the forum, HERE
Finance – Dave Eastwood and team are still working with Consort to finalise the budget for 2013/14. This from Dave:
‘The finance committee is continuing to work with Consort on the 13/14 budget, we had pre-meet with Consort on 6th June to discuss progress against outstanding actions, they were able to provide some clarification on a few items but unfortunately the 2013/14 budget is still not finalised. Consort have promised to update us on Friday 14th June with a date when this will be available for the committee to review, we will then arrange a finance committee meeting to clarify and challenge this. This will then be followed by a full residents meeting where Consort can present this budget to all residents. As soon as we have a draft budget we will arrange for this to be put up on the website.
Various members of the committee are also in the process of reviewing the actual spend since 2010 to check for any inconsistencies in invoicing and charges, this is a very detailed process so it is likely that this will take a while but will keep the RA updated with any major findings as these come to light.’
The only thing to add to Dave’s message is that contact was made on Friday as promised, and Consort have now promised to supply us with all budget info for 2013/14 before June 28th. Progress is slow, but we are getting there.
One last thing before I finish off, a new alert from Consort regarding cleaning of communal area carpeting throughout the Square in the Consort ‘Memos & Updates’ section of the forum HERE.
I believe that is it for now, but will of course keep you all up to date with progress on these and all other Dalston Square related issues as I become aware of them. Have a good week all.
Consort Meeting Reminder
Just a quick reminder that the meeting, arranged by Consort to explain the continuing rise in our annual service charges, is this evening at 6.30pm in the C.L.R. James Library, here in the Square. This is your opportunity to hear what Consort have to say, and to put your questions directly to the team who calculate these charges. As owners you need to be there to hear why our charges will rise again this coming financial year (2013/14) despite rises, in some cases, of close to 300% over the last 4 years (based on actual charges for 2012/13 against estimates given at time of purchase). As renters you need to be there to support owners, as continued cost increases will inevitably lead to higher rents. I realise the timing may be awkward for some who will still be commuting home at that time of the early evening, but please attend if you can.
Updates To Previous Posts
Hi all, hope this post finds you well. The first item is not so much an update as a reiteration. You may have noticed Sean Stone’s note on the notice boards, and should of received your letter from Consort, regarding next week’s meeting, called by Consort, to explain to us all the reasons for the rises in the coming year’s service charges. (Regarding the letter, please note there is a mistake contained therein: Charges will rise from the current range of £900-£3800, depending on block and size, to a range of £1000-£4000. Not, as it is poorly written, an increase of £1000-£4000). Those of you registered with the DSRA (via the forum or by attending our regular meetings) will have today received my email but I will again publish here a note from Ben Collins, Chair of the DSRA, regarding this meeting:
Service Charge increases 2013- 2014Consort MeetingTuesday March 19th6.30 pmCLR James LibrarySome of you will be aware that our Service Charges are due to increase again this April.In some cases, we the Residents Association believe, these could be very significant. (From our estimates this could possibly be more than 25% in the case of some buildings)Leaseholders received a letter this week from Consort Property Management (dated March 12th), which is somewhat confusing. It describes ‘an increase of between £1000 and £4000 per apartment… dependent on the block’.If these figures are correct, they are alarming. They do not reflect the provisional figures the DSRA committee was given in a recent budget review meeting with Consort, but they do confirm the need to attend the meeting next Tuesday, to ask questions.For the past three years the Residents’ Association has asked for greater transparency in budgeting and more accurate predictive information for Service Charges for each apartment, to be sent out well in advance of the new financial year. This is to avoid the surprises many of us have had in past years from late notices of increases, based on unexplained or questionable cost increases in running our buildings.The increase in Service Charges will impact on ALL residents including tenants.We are very concerned about the confused message from Consort and hope that as many residents as possible will attend the meeting on Tuesday March 19th, at 6:30 in the library. We need a strong showing to impress upon Consort that we expect better from their financial management, and better value for money for their Service Charges. If you can, please come to the meeting to make your case.Ben CollinsChairDalston Square Residents’ Association