THE long running dispute around who pays for the maintenance of ex-council housing estate land and amenities in the Forest of Dean took a step closer to a conclusion following the appeal decision at Bristol Crown Court on August 10.

The judge made it clear that the legal issue has a double dimension and, to a large extent, rests on the link between payments on the one hand and use, rights and interests on the other.

Now two judges have indicated that to avoid contributing to estate maintenance costs, the defendants must demonstrate that they never have and never will have any interest in the estate environments in which they live.

The law relating to the rights and responsibilities of owners on stock transfer estates is clearly complex but seems to come down to the idea that you pay for what you get. To pay nothing you have to show that you get nothing.

No matter what is the outcome of a final trial, I believe that home owners really do have an interest in the location of their homes. The costs of maintaining a well-kept estate (averaging 60p a week) get capitalised back into the value of their properties. Similarly, a poorly maintained estate devalues their properties.

Owners have a real interest in how the estates are managed: whether or not ball games should be allowed; what parking arrangements should exist, how the estates should be developed and so on.

It would be wonderful if we could see an estate as a 'community of interests' rather than a group of opposing factions. I genuinely believe that we all have a common concern to create living environments that are fairly administered and lead to 'pride of place'.

My personal preference is to avoid legal action and seek some form of negotiated settlement that will respect the concerns of home owners and protect their interests.

If we have to, we will, of course go to trial, but I fear that in such circumstances, whoever wins will enjoy only a pyrrhic victory (no one will win but the lawyers).

Maybe we could establish some sort of 'service charge forum' that could monitor how receipts are invested and audit accounts to guarantee that charges are genuinely based on the cost-recovery principle (no hidden charges)?

I am sure that there are many other ways in which we can work together to respect the interests of all residents and enhance the value of the homes of owner-occupiers.

I have always argued that service charges feel like 'double taxation'. "If I am paying my council tax, why should I be charged again for environmental maintenance?"

There is an obvious solution to this issue staring us in the face – why can't we persuade the council to provide the services that many people believe they are already paying for?

Dr David Garnett