Land wars loom over UK Domesday II
office at evnuk.org.uk
Tue Apr 10 17:24:37 BST 2007
Guardian readers will have missed this important Easter Monday story -
serves you right ;-)
see also 'biggest estates' sction below
Who owns Britain?
Biggest landowners agree to reveal scale of holdings
By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor
Published: 09 April 2007
A complete picture of who owns modern Britain is to be created as part
of the biggest survey of land ownership since William the Conqueror
commissioned the Domesday Book nearly a thousand years ago.
But the task is enormous as 40 per cent of land in England and Wales
has not been registered by its owners. More than half of all rural
land and rural buildings are unregistered.
Under the ambitious scheme sponsored by the Government, some of the
country's oldest and most secretive families are to reveal the full
scale of their private estates. The Queen and the Prince of Wales are
among the biggest landowners who are co-operating with the Land
Registry's attempt to plot every acre of land in England and Wales.
English aristocratic families, including those of the Duke of Norfolk
and the Duke of Bedford, who between them own 70,000 acres in the Home
Counties, are also believed to have given details of their land
Ministers have given officers for the Land Registry permission to
consult on tightening the rules for compulsory registration, which
they hope will lead to all land in England and Wales being registered.
Land that has not been sold or mortgaged does not have to be
registered and so many landowners whose property has not changed hands
for a hundred years have been able to keep their ownership secret.
Since the time of William the Conqueror there have been various
attempts to write a full account of the ownership of Britain. But it
was not until the 19th century that the state began to take a serious
interest in collating the details of the ownership of property.
Despite the introduction of a series of new registration laws,
millions of titles to land have escaped legal registration - much of
this property is owned by the aristocracy and those families who were
once referred to as the landed gentry.
The Land Registry, a government agency, intends to finish the job
started by William the Conqueror. By adopting a combination of
compulsory and voluntary registration systems, the Land Registry hopes
to avoid having to implement a fully mandatory scheme to force all
landowners to register their titles and their legal interests.
Peter Collis, the chief land registrar of England and Wales, said he
believes up to four million land titles remain unregistered. "We have
managed to increase registration by 12 per cent [in the past five
years] and so are reaching our targets. But it may be that we can't
persuade some landowners of the benefits of registration. Then we have
to ask what should we do in that situation."
Mr Collis said the registry had taken legal advice about bringing in
legislation to force all landowners to register their land. But he
said: " It would be difficult to see how you could make this
human-rights compliant, especially if the sanction would be the
confiscation of the land from the owner."
The new proposals would only extend compulsory registration to cases
in which trustees of either land or property were newly appointed.
Mr Collis said the registry had successfully persuaded some of
Britain's biggest landowners, including the National Trust, the Church
of England, some Oxbridge colleges, the Forestry Commission and the
Ministry of Defence to surrender details of their land. Nevertheless,
it is thought there is a stubborn rump of refusnik landowners who may
find it difficult to prove they have title to property or believe the
land is subject to a competing claim from another family member. They
will want to avoid public registration. Other landowners, particularly
very private celebrities or aristocrats, may not want to give details
of their properties and land which would be made available on a public
The register not only reveals the owner of the land but also shows
details of registered mortgages and other financial burdens, covenants
and easements which benefit or adversely affect the property. When
Tony and Cherie Blair bought their £3.6m home in Connaught Square,
London, two years ago, details of their mortgage were only made
available through inquiries to the Land Registry.
But Mr Collis says landowners need to weigh up the perceived threat to
privacy or a possible challenge to title against the greater
advantages of registration. "Once the land is registered, it means the
title is guaranteed and the land is legally protected. Having all land
registered will bring a comprehensive database to the property market
that benefits everyone."
Now officers working for the registry have begun targeting groups of
unregistered landowners by offering them incentives to encourage
voluntary registration. Those registering land for the first time are
being given a 25 per cent discount on fees.
While most of urban Britain has been registered, countryside ownership
remains largely unmapped. Without a comprehensive database of land
ownership, the Land Registry will be unable to support its online
search service, which it is planning to roll out across the country.
The Land Registry in England and Wales is the world's largest property
database, helping to underpin the economy by guaranteeing ownership of
many billions of pounds worth of property. As the government
department responsible for maintaining the Land Register for England
and Wales, its mission is to provide the world's best service for
guaranteeing ownership of land and facilitating property transactions.
The biggest estates
THE DUKE OF NORFOLK
The current Duke of Norfolk is His Grace Edward Fitzalan-Howard, 18th
Duke of Norfolk, who succeeded his father, Miles
Stapleton-Fitzalan-Howard, 17th Duke of Norfolk, in 2002. These
Catholic estates run to 16,000 acres mostly around Arundel Castle and
are the largest in Sussex. The Duke owns a further 30,000 acres
outside of Sussex. They have never been documented. A spokeswoman for
the Duke said that he was co-operating with the Land Registry but was
unable to say how much work had been done in registering the land.
DUCHY OF LANCASTER
The Duchy of Lancaster traces its origins back to 1265, when King
Henry lll made a grant of land to his son Edmund. Valued at around
£341m, the estate is held in trust for the sovereign of the day in his
or her role as Duke of Lancaster. Its 18,700 hectares across England
and Wales range from the Savoy Estate in London to the Goathland
Estate in Yorkshire and include urban developments, historic
buildings, farmland and areas of natural beauty. The Duchy expects to
register all the land within the next two years. Completed
registration includes the Salwick Estate and the Myerscough Estate (1,
100 hectares). Vyrner Speakman, register development manager at Land
Registry's Lancashire office, has worked with the Duchy of Lancaster
for several years. "I had suggested a method of dealing with
encroaching registrations on the tidal creeks to the Duchy and they
were very keen to explore it," she says. "They were also receptive to
the idea that registration would better protect their interests."
Durham Cathedral and its holdings are the latest properties to be
mapped under the registration programme. The dean and chapter own 2,
470 acres across the diocese, between the Tees and Tyne rivers,
including the prime cathedral site on Durham's central peninsula.
Although ownership has remained largely unchallenged since the
building of the cathedral more than 900 years ago, the dean and
chapter has decided to register with the Land Registry. The chapter
land agent, Jon Williams, said: "Durham Cathedral has owned property
for hundreds of years. While we don't have any doubt about the
ownership of the land, this is making it watertight and ensuring its
availability for future transactions, not that the dean and chapter is
preparing any particular sale."
DUCHY OF CORNWALL
The Duchy of Cornwall's 54,764 hectares are spread across 23 counties,
mainly in the south-west of England. Created in 1337 by Edward III for
his son and heir, Edward the Black Prince, the Duchy provides a
private income for the Prince of Wales (last year £14.1m). Tax is paid
on a voluntary basis. Its assets are currently valued at around £561m.
The voluntary registration of the estate has been under way since 2003
and is more than half completed. Dartmoor was fully registered in
summer 2006, by which time the Isles of Scilly were almost complete.
The Duchy of Cornwall declined to say how much of the estates had been
registered or how much Prince Charles intended to register.
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