A TRIBUNAL relating to a multi-million pound maintenance project on an Andover housing estate has been heard this week.

Three judges sitting in Winchester Law Courts will consider whether extensive works proposed by Aster Communities to five blocks of flats at Kingsway Gardens to remedy ongoing problems with water ingress are reasonable.

As previously reported by The Advertiser, leaseholders of Saxon, Stuart, York, Tudor and Atholl Courts have been presented with individual bills for the renovation works, some totalling more than £30k, following a 2014 survey undertaken by Aster as the freeholder of the buildings.

Opening the hearing on Monday, 27 November, chair of the bench Judge Elizabeth Morrison along with Judge Tildesley and Judge Bowers conducted a site visit together with other experts and witnesses involved in the case.

Ranjit Bhose, representing Aster as the applicants, then led the submissions arguing that the housing provider's proposals are reasonable and that they have worked with the residents throughout the tender and procurement process.

The leaseholders do not dispute that work to the buildings is necessary but they argue that some of the works planned are improvements as opposed to necessities and that there has been a history of historic neglect on Aster's part.

Mr Bhose described how the blocks were originally built by Greater London Council in the 1960s and underwent renovation in the mid-1980s but haven't seen any major works since.

He then went on to detail how Aster instructed a survey in 2014, the Wellings Report, which set out the catalogue of works deemed to be required and they began a series of meetings with leaseholders in February 2015.

The tender and procurement process took place in 2016 and Stepnell Limited were instructed to do the works which began in spring this year.

Setting out the freeholder's point of view, Mr Bhose continued: "Our position is that we accept that the service charges being demanded are substantial, there is no getting away from that, but the position is the four blocks are in need of these specified repairs.

"[The applicants] have decided to undertake a substantial programme of work to provide a long term solution to the benefit of all. These works are designed to ensure the exteriors are in reasonable repair for years to come.

"It is entirely reasonable and appropriate to look to the future for the benefit of all."

Giving evidence first, Aster Group's property operations director Mike McCarthy told the tribunal that the storms over the winter of late 2013 and early 2014 had exacerbated the moisture problems and highlighted the need to proof the properties against similar conditions in the future, which led to the survey.

Under cross examination, Joshua Dubin representing the leaseholders, presented evidence of correspondence between one leaseholder and Aster representatives which began in January 2007 about problems with rainwater drainage and that correspondence continued through to 2010.

He said: "That would suggest that back in 2008/2009 it was accepted that the rainwater provision was inadequate."

Looking at Aster job request log from April 2007 the tribunal heard that there was no mention of the issue raised by this leaseholder despite him chasing it up again in July 2007 and no further record that issue had been dealt with although other individual guttering jobs were logged.

Mr Dubin also put to Mr McCarthy that there was no record of significant work to clear or repair the rainwater drainage system and gutters, other than minor works, having taken place on the estate between 2007 and 2015.

He said: "The end result is that we have no record of guttering clearance and repair for the period 2007 to 2015 other than what we can take from these few incidents here and there."

Mr McCarthy conceded that was the case.

Works detailed as part of the project include replacement of the patio doors to increase the upstand to150mm which Aster say is to bring them in line with today's standard of doors but the leaseholders say that those works are improvements rather than necessary.

Continuing his cross-examination of Mr McCarthy, Mr Dubin said: "Do you accept that is an improvement?"

Mr McCarthy replied: "From a technical point of view it would be an improvement."

Aster also propose to replace the wing walls to the balcony of each flat which the residents also contend is an improvement to the building.

Mr Dubin said: "The respondents say rebuilding the wing walls is unnecessary, they say weathering and added protection would be sufficient, do you disagree?"

Mr McCarthy responded: "I do."

At the time of going to press the tribunal continues.