Homeowners vent their anger at Westhill meeting

LOCAL politicians are demanding a company responsible for the upkeep of three housing estates in Westhill improves its service following a heated public meeting this week.

Over 110 residents attended Monday's meeting to discuss the work carried out by the Greenbelt Group at the Meadowlands, Dawson and Leddach Grange estates.

Alex Middleton, managing director of the Glasgow-based firm, was heckled at the meeting by angry residents.

The firm's responsibilities in the estates include grass cutting, picking up litter, pruning and planting of shrubs and weeding.

Councillor Ron McKail organised the meeting and gave a slideshow presentation highlighting examples of the firm's poor performance in the town.

Mr McKail hoped the meeting would lead to a marked improvement in the upkeep of the land by Greenbelt.

"There was a lot of anger and frustration at the meeting and Mr Middleton did receive a bit of a grilling from the local residents," said the Westhill and District councillor.

"He assured us that things would improve in 2009 and we certainly hope this will be the case. The residents only want the service that they are paying for, which they are currently not receiving. My hope is that the MSPs present at the meeting can take this issue on and try to find some way that can allow the Council to get involved if the contracted company is not carrying out the work adequately."

Mike Rumbles, one of four MSPs who attended the meeting, vowed to do all he could to support the residents affected.

"There are two solutions to this problem - a short-term one and a long-term one," he said. "The short-term solution is for Greenbelt to start carrying out their responsibilities to a satisfactory standard. The long-term solution is to get the common areas of land taken over by the Council. The Council have said they are willing to do that and Greenbelt have said they are willing to consider a transfer of ownership if that is what residents want.

"I dealt with a similar situation with constituents from Portlethen who managed to raise the capital needed to invoke the transfer of land and everyone was satisfied with that outcome. I will be working closely with the representatives from the three housing associations to find a solution to this problem."

Currently residents in the Gladedale housing development at Leddach Grange pay 130 per annum for the service provided by Greenbelt, while the residents of the Stewart Milne development in the Dawson estate pay 120.

Householders who stay in the Meadowlands development do not make any payment as the developers Cala paid Greenbelt a bond to maintain the public areas.

Fellow MSP Alex Johnstone said the housing developers – Gladedale, Stewart Milne and Cala Homes - must accept part of the blame for the performance of Greenbelt.

"While it would have been much better if ground maintenance was in the hands of the Council, the developers made the decision to bring in Greenbelt because it would save them money," he told residents at the meeting. "For this reason, the developers themselves must accept a great deal of responsibility for the situation you find yourselves in.

"While the best option might be for you to take over the land and pass it on to the council, this will be difficult because it would require the agreement and full cooperation of all the residents of each estate, which would be difficult to achieve, and it could also be an expensive option.

"The truth is that people don't mind paying for a service if the service is delivered and they feel they are getting value for money. The problem in this case is that Greenbelt has failed to deliver anything like the service you expect to get."

Mr Johnstone added: "I will work, together with colleagues, in the Scottish Parliament to ensure that this process is properly regulated in the future, that the hand of the home owner is strengthened to make sure that you are in control and, ideally, that this responsibility falls to the local council in future, unless a more affordable and reliable alternative which is acceptable to householders can be put in place."