Dispute over ‘tax’ for access

Dispute over ‘tax’ for access

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Residents up in arms at charge to cross grass verge

Caroline Stevens Rusthall

The battle between the Manor of Rusthall and homeowners with property that borders the Common, has resumed after Targetfollow sent another round of letters demanding payment for access.

It is the latest twist in a long-running dispute first highlighted by the Times in October.

Previously, Targetfollow said it would charge residents of Rusthall to walk over its land to reach their homes – or to access gas, electricity and water running underneath it. Some have labelled it a ‘land tax’ with costs put at £350 per annum with a £300 sign-up fee.

This time recipients of the letter live along Mount Ephraim, near the Spa Hotel. The road borders the north side of Tunbridge Wells common. One resident has described the area as a ‘ransom strip’.

Targetfollow, has owned the title of Manor of Rusthall since 2008, giving it control over the 256 acres that make up Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells Commons.

Rusthall resident Caroline Stevens said: “We have just received a letter from Targetfollow regarding access to our house (built in the 1800s). There is a small strip of grass we cross from the pavement to our house. We have no intention of co-operating with these threatening letters. It’s very unsettling for more  elderly vulnerable residents. What are they up to?”

Carol Gearing, a resident of Mount Ephraim, said: “I have read about the letters from Targetfollow re charging an annual fee to people in Rusthall to gain rights of Common land.

“I have now received a similar letter as I imagine all properties along Mount Ephraim, where I live, have. We are being given one month to prove we have formal rights.”

She later added on social media: “Pantiles owner Targetfollow has now contacted us re ‘services’, such as gas and electric which ‘may’ run underneath their land.

“They are saying if we cannot provide proof we have an agreement to do so then we have to pay for annual licence fee.”

Working out what constitutes ‘formal rights’ has been one of the most contentious issues of this dispute.

Anyone who can prove they have had access to a property over common land for at least 20 years does not have to take out a licence.

They are entitled to ‘prescriptive rights’ which become ‘legally established or accepted by long usage or the passage of time’.

Targetfollow has been criticised for omitting any mention of prescriptive rights from previous letters.

A Tunbridge Wells solicitor previously warned: “The majority of people will have prescriptive rights. It’s whether they realise that or not.

“Prescriptive rights are very important. People need to make sure they don’t give them up by sending money and entering into a licence agreement.”

THE MANOR RESPONDS…

Corin Thoday, Chief Executive Officer of Targetfollow, said yesterday [Tuesday]: “The Manor of Rusthall owns significant land holdings in Tunbridge Wells.

Part of this ownership includes Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons.

“The boundaries of the Manor of Rusthall are large and complex in nature and can extend beyond the area that is designated common land.

“Since purchasing the asset it has received various enquiries from neighbouring landowners asking for licences/easements for access rights and service media.

“These have especially come up when people are selling their properties and issues have been raised on the title documents.

“Previously enquiries of this nature have been dealt with on an ad hoc basis. As part of good estate management we are looking to formalise rights across the commons to clarify the position for the Manor of Rusthall and the individuals concerned.

“A letter has been sent out to various residences where we believe there may be an issue that requires clarifying.

“The same letter has been sent to everyone, however each issue will be looked at on a case by case basis.

“The letter seeks to regularise and formalise access rights in a fair and consistent way for all who benefit from access rights and service media across the Commons.

“We believe that it is in the best interests of our adjoining owners that any legal rights that they enjoy are clear and transparent and not subject to dispute.”