Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Garages - The Full Story

Slough. How depressing.Look. No 'N'. I'm proud of me for breaking that vicious cycle. Now, I know I digress from the topic of motoring slightly with this (and the previous) post, but I simply must tell you how things panned out with the Council(s). And I strongly suspect the local paper would like this too.

Now a garage is a fairly simple structure (see photo - those are actually in Slough, probably most famous for The Office - but you get the idea). A concrete shed with a thin metal door suitable for keeping a car in. Unfortunately, most garages are owned by local Councils and the upshot of this is the bureaucracy and incompetence surrounding their management is often jaw-dropping.

When I moved to Epping last July I intended to take on the tenancy of the garage the previous owner occupied. He had done this five years previous when he took on the cottage himself and didn't seem to think it would be a problem. He informed us the Council tended to give preference to the cottages where I live, because we have no off street parking.

There was just one piece of information missing - he didn't specify which Council. Being new to the town, we assumed he meant the District Council since they have the most imposing presence and fanciest building.

So off I go, bravely and naively in to the realms of local government to try and claim my garage tenancy. Nine months, three letters, multiple emails and telephone conversations later, I am beginning to decipher what actually happened.

Under the impression the District Council rented the garages behind the church in Epping I contacted them first, explaining the situation, telling them I wished to take tenancy of the garage behind the church - as the previous property owner had before - and was this possible? Here's what they said:

No. We'll send you some forms so you can join the list.
And here's what they actually should have said:

We have to confess, we don't have anything to do with that garage site. In fact, it is controlled by the Town Council but I'm sure they can tell you what their policy is if you give them a call.
Bit of a difference, wouldn't you say? If they had told me in the first place the garages weren't actually theirs, this whole saga would never have happened.


The District Council proceeded to send me forms to apply for a place on a garage site they didn't even run. The forms arrived, I called the District Council to ask the proper name of the garage site and was told to put "behind the church" (this was their second opportunity to tell me the garages weren't actually theirs), filled them in and sent them off. There. I'm on the list for a garage in Epping, with a stated preference of the site behind the church. All I can do now is wait.

In the meantime, our good neighbours to the right of our cottage both move to Chelmsford, vacating a garage on the site. One of them popped over and said we should call the Council as there was a garage up and he was sure we'd get it. Again, I called the District Council about the garages behind the church, only to be tersely told to wait my turn. (A third opportunity to tell me they didn't even look after those garages!!)

I gave up at this point, I resigned myself to being on the list until something came up. So imagine my shock when I discover the District Council are saying they have a glut of garages in Epping (see previous post). Now, and only now, do our heroes inform me:

  • They don't look after the garages behind the church - the Town Council do
  • They have loads of garages, but thought we only wanted one on the Chapel Road site
I wanted to scream, cry and laugh all at once. I didn't even know where Chapel Road was! Why would I want a garage there specifically??

But at least there was now light at the end of the tunnel. The District Council immediately offered me a garage on their Springfield 'C' site, which I took because a garage fifteen minutes away on foot is far superior to no garage at all when you want to keep a classic car dry.

I picked up the keys this morning, however the lady I spoke to didn't know where the garages were. Of course! What else should I expect from a local government organisation which kept me on the line for nine months trying to rent me a garage they didn't own?

There are three council garage sites somewhere in the south end of Epping, down the hill - Springfield A, B and C. I drove all over the place this morning and found A. I continued, in and out of every side street, and as I was verging on giving up I found B. I then gave up. I still have no bloody idea where C is and neither do the Council. I've spotted a likely location on Google Maps using the satellite imagery (see the sandy vertical strip in the centre of the shot) which I shall be investigating, as it's the last likely location I can see anywhere in the whole town. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, I finally knew who really did look after the garages behind the church - the Town Council - so I could call them and ask about getting one. The sucker punch?

The Town Council only rent the garages behind the church so can't help. They don't own them. And the County Council (who do own them) have ear-marked them for demolition. Of course, we don't know that for sure yet, because much in the same way as the District Council don't actually know where their own garages are, the County Council don't know what they do with theirs - instead they referred me to a private property management company who look after all that stuff for them. And this company will only deal with me in writing. So that's where my Council Tax is going, eh? Ho hum.

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