Tax row puts a black cloud over centenary
PRESSURE is mounting on the Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust after a revolt against its charges led to the resignation of a member of the ruling council. Richard Wakefield has quit over what he says are unfair taxes in a spat that is threat
By Katie Davies
PRESSURE is mounting on the Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust after a revolt against its charges led to the resignation of a member of the ruling council.
Richard Wakefield has quit over what he says are unfair taxes in a spat that is threatening to mar the area's centenary celebrations.
The trust charges a flat yearly rate to pay for its conservation work but over the last two years that fee has been hiked from £40 to £110.
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Now a group of residents are demanding a banding system so millionaires in mansions would pay more than people in smaller properties.
The case is due to be heard at a tribunal on June 21, with dozens joining the fight against the charges, including former trustee Mr Wakefield.
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He said: "I know a lot of people who would fall in the top band and are supporting this because they think it is fairer.
"Last year it went up by £50 and that is a lot of money for some people here. There are small cottages and flats here as well as mansions and a lot of people bought their homes before they cost as much as they do now.
"I tried to get them (the Trust members) to change their mind. I wasn't able to succeed in that so I had to go."
Residents have often had a fraught relationship with the Trust which opposes anyone putting up a satellite dish or revamping homes and gardens in the exclusive enclave.
But this is the first time in history the Trust has faced such concerted opposition and it is even forking out £50,000 on lawyers to make sure it wins the case.
Mr Wakefield, who was elected to the Trust's ruling council in September 2005, continued: "The chairman of the Trust has said the legal support will cost £50,000.
"If we had gone along with the original idea of banding it wouldn't have cost us anything. I don't think a Leasehold Valuation Tribunal is the place for high-powered lawyers.
"I think there has always been something of a barrier between the Trust and residents, which is something that I wanted to break down. I think it still needs to be more open about everything.
"I think the Trust does a great job on everything apart from this issue and I will stand again in the future."
Two separate cases will be made at the tribunal - one for banding and one which questions the fairness of the charge in general.
Trust manager Jane Blackburn said: "The Trust is very sorry Richard felt the need to resign. We are grateful for his input in the Trust and with respect to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal hearing we will wait for the outcome."
Trust Chairman Mervyn Mandell said: "I told the Ham&High that any application to the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal would involve the Trust in expense. The decisions of the Tribunal have long lasting effects on freeholders and the Trustees of the Charity have a duty to ensure that the Trust is properly represented at the Tribunal."