September 18 2014 Latest news:
Jon Vale, West Suffolk reporter
Saturday, July 19, 2014
The saga to bring arguably the worst roads in Suffolk up to scratch could be nearing its conclusion after the Ministry of Justice admitted some responsibility after years of argument.
Roads on the Highpoint Estate in Stradishall have been in a state of disrepair for years, with authorities unwilling to take on their upkeep.
When the estate behind Highpoint Prison was sold by the Home Office, new homeowners had to pay an annual maintenance fee to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
The MoJ has repeatedly insisted this fee was only for street lighting and sewers, with residents owning and responsible for the patch of road directly outside their home.
However, a delegation of Matthew Hancock MP, county councillor Mary Evans and local residents recently proved to the MoJ that their records were incomplete, and it was still responsible for at least 5% of the estate’s crumbling roads.
The MoJ is now getting estimates for the work that is required before deciding how much it will contribute.
Eddie Taylor, a Stradishall parish councillor and chairman of the Highpoint Estate Residents Association, believes that residents over the years have paid £200,000 to the MoJ, and repeated attempts to track the money down have proved fruitless.
“Why didn’t they set-up proper management of the roads in the first place? That’s the big question, and I think the minister of prisons accepts it was so poorly done it was laughable,” said Mr Taylor.
“I would like the Ministry of Justice to make a sensible decision in this matter, that brings about a resolution to making good the roads infrastructure and lighting, at the end of which the Ministry of Justice is able to completely relinquish any responsibility.
“I live in hope to see justice from the Ministry of Justice.”
The estate’s efforts have extended to digging up part of the road and laying down six tonnes of hardcore, given the road surface on top was starting to tilt.
Some residents take torches to work with them in the winter months so they can safely make their way home on dark evenings, while house prices on the estate are also reportedly 20% cheaper given the roads’ poor state.
The estate has 78 houses, and bringing the roads up to the standard of a typical private road has been estimated to cost up to £80,000.
Following the Stradishall delegation’s meeting with the then prisons minister Jeremy Wright - who was appointed as attorney general in this week’s reshuffle - Mr Taylor remains hopeful the MoJ will pay its way, but convincing residents to dip into their pockets for the rest of the repairs could prove tricky.
“Because they have paid in over a long period of time before, they are less likely to want to go down that route,” Mr Taylor said.
“The minister’s final words to all of us at the meeting were ‘I want this dealt with and I don’t want any more meetings to deal with it’. It was this determination that gave us a glimmer of hope.
“If we don’t get any help from the Ministry of Justice, we’ll have to do it the way we’ve done it in the past - on our own.”
The Highpoint Estate Residents Association wants the MoJ to hand over a portion of land close to the estate to a community land trust set-up by the residents.
They would then build a small housing development, which could provide a cash injection to fund the estate’s repairs, with future maintenance carried out by an estate-run and financed management company.
However, the MoJ’s initial response was to reject this proposal and instead put the land up for sale on the open market for housing.
“We felt it was a rather blasé response, a very irresponsible response to a very constructive solution,” said Mr Taylor.
However, following the delegation’s meeting with Mr Wright, Mr Taylor believes the plan could be resurrected with a different, smaller patch of land.
West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock said: “I had a successful meeting in June with the former prisons minister, Jeremy Wright, in which he assured me that the maintenance problems on Highpoint Estate will be fully considered by the Ministry of Justice.
“This is good progress in ensuring infrastructure is improved for the local community. I will ensure I bring the new prisons minister, Andrew Selous, up to speed on the current situation.”
A spokesman for the MoJ said: “Former justice minister Jeremy Wright met with local residents and Matthew Hancock MP last month to discuss this matter.
“The issues raised are being considered and no decisions have been made.”