Park Life In The 21st Century
The 100 or so chalet owners of High Beech Chalet Park are individual freeholders, as per the history of the site set out above. The collective services which the site requires – maintenance of the driveways, steps and walkways; grass cutting and landscaping of the estate; rubbish collection, etc – are provided by the estate owner through a management company, and charges levied on a percentage basis accordingly: 1% for each chalet.
This arrangement is no different in principle from any residential block of flats. But generally such flats are held as leaseholds, and ultimately the collection of service charges can be enforced by central management against non-payers through the threat of forfeiture. There is no equivalent sanction available against freeholders. Those who won’t pay have to be pursued as debtors through small claims courts, and the management costs of doing that may be difficult to recover.
It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that successive estate owners at High Beech have experienced problems in collecting collective funds for adequate maintenance purposes, and have allowed the condition of the driveways and other common parts to deteriorate year on year.
Owners and managers
For most of this century the freehold of the estate was owned by an Eastbourne property dealer, Kim Palmer, who ran it through his own company, Mersell Management. By 2016 he seems to have had enough. From February of that year he engaged a nationwide operator, Carlton Property Management, who rapidly increased the half-year charge from around £150 per chalet (in 2014/15) to £420 in 2017/18.
The individual chalet owners formed an informal association to challenge these charges and potentially to buy out Mr Palmer and take control of the estate collectively. However, in June 2018, after a meeting of this association, which few attended and even fewer seem to have understood, two of their number – Richard Geall and Mary Styles, next-door neighbours within the park – proceeded to negotiate for the estate to be bought by a company which they had set up personally the previous February, High Beech Chalet Park Limited (HBCP). A new management company also co-owned by Mr Geall and Ms Styles, High Beech Chalet Park Management Limited (HBCPM), took over management from December 2018.
The new estate proprietors have not given the chalet owners full details of the purchase price paid to Mr Palmer, nor encouraged any other community involvement. But they have asserted that a sum in excess of £30,000 was paid over to account for collective arrears of service charges up to the date of hand-over, and have since then set about recovery of these sums, including by court action, from alleged individual debtors. This has not made them popular in some quarters, particularly when past accounts from the Palmer era have turned out to be inaccurately recorded.
Ms Styles, interviewed last week, said that Mr Geall, though remaining a director and shareholder of HBCPM, is now leaving all current management issues to her. She maintains that her only concern is to make the chalet park a good place to live, both for herself and all her neighbours. “Bad things have happened in the past,” she acknowledged. “But I’m only interested in making a fresh start. I walk around the park, I see what’s wanted – I know what’s wanted – and I get it done”.
A further legal issue
Whether she will be able to reconcile the costs of sorely needed maintenance of the estate with the willingness (and ability) of chalet owners to pay them remains to be seen. In the meantime there is a further legal issue stirring.
The property deeds of the chalet owners give most, if not all, of them recreational rights over the whole of the original estate beyond the plot boundaries of each chalet. But Mr Palmer did not in fact sell the whole of this land to HBCP. A portion of it had already been transferred separately to David Gould, the manager of what was originally the High Beech Hotel but now styles itself as the ‘Sussex Edwardian Hotel’. (This building, the one-time ‘country club’, now provides temporary accommodation to the local homeless). Mr Gould has fenced off his portion and is said to have sold at least one part of it to an individual chalet dweller as an expansion of an existing plot, and is offering to privatise other parts similarly.
It does not seem that Ms Styles has much interest in asserting collective rights against him. If they want to do so, the individual chalet owners may need to re-assemble a more effective community association.
Read more about High Beach here
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