A Jersey man was slapped with an unexpected bill of nearly £30,000 when he tried to sell his house following months of what he describes as "bullying" from the States - sparking fears that other coastal homeowners could be faced with the same fate.
Alan Luce (60), who lived at Roche de la Mer along the St Clement's coast was forced to pay up the five-figure sum – and the States’ legal costs – after months battling over a “vague” land law.
After 10 years of living along the seaside strip, Mr Luce was “shocked” to receive a letter from the States just as he was on the verge of selling his property, which claimed that it had encroached on land belonging to the Public.
In it, they said that he would not only have to pay compensation for the encroachments, but would have to agree to pay the price of a valuation and all fees of the public “regardless of outcome.”
But Mr Luce wasn’t responsible for the offending breaches – a balcony and extensions abutting the sea wall. They had, in fact, been placed there by the previous owner, who had done so with full Planning approval before the land fell into States ownership at all.
Pictured: Then and now - the encroachments were already there before Mr Luce moved to Roche de la Mer in 2005 (inset).
The foreshore – ambiguously defined as the area between the “low water mark and high water mark of the full spring tide” – was gifted from her Majesty to the Public of Jersey in 2015. It was only from then that the States were able to start "clawing back" money from those in encroaching coastal accommodation. The sea wall against which Mr Luce’s property was built, therefore, was not a clear marker of where the Public land ended and where his began – the States claimed that more than 8ft behind the wall was theirs.
“I don’t believe for a minute the Queen gave the land to the people of Jersey for [the States] to start screwing around with the people... What they’re doing is going around and monetising encroachments… I bought that problem 10 years ago, and this manifested months after the Queen had gifted the land. They clearly scoured the land, and my property was nestling on the sea wall, and that’s what caught their eye. It’s completely unfair,” Mr Luce told Express.
He said that he was offered no option to use a surveyor of his own choosing or to settle at a “reasonable” sum. Moreover, the whole “prolonged” process saw potential buyers fall through, without sympathy from the States.
“It was completely bullying. Without question, they took the stance: you had to tread their path, that was it. There was no negotiation there was no discussions… The whole leverage was, ‘You won’t be able to sell your house’,” Mr Luce added.
Pictured: Mr Luce says that the tone adopted in the States' letters put much strain on him, even though selling his house was "stressful enough." He hopes that the States won't do the same to other beach homeowners.
Unable to take the “extreme stress” any more, he paid up after more than a year after the original letter was sent in December 2016 - £29,662.50 in ‘compensation’ to the Public and £4,725 in legal fees.
But while Mr Luce reached a settlement, and was finally able to sell his property for just over a million, he has now expressed concerns for other homeowners, and says that he’s already aware of one elderly woman in the area who was left “befuddled” and “terrified” after being told that her conservatory encroaches on the controversial land space.
A spokesperson for the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), who has responsibility for the matter, defended their decision to review encroachments on the recently-acquired land, stating: “There is a need to protect the Public’s interest as a landowner, and other encroachments are regularly dealt with on a case by case basis.”
While no policy currently exists regarding encroachments, they said that this was being developed, and that “the Public” would review new developments close to sea defences in the interim.
So far, they said that three contracts had been passed before the Royal Court since the Public acquired the land, “…with a number currently under negotiation”, but added that they were not the first to address the issue:
“During the Crown’s tenure of the Foreshore, a number of encroachments were in fact dealt with and settlements negotiated with the relevant landowners.”
Pictured: Properties along the sea wall from Havre des Pas to Fauvic, like Mr Luce's, could be affected pending the DfI's review. (Google Maps)
However, they assured islanders that each situation would be treated “on its merits” and form part of a “negotiated settlement with landowners.”
“Where an encroachment has been in existence for a number of years without any action having been taken on the part of the Crown and/or the Public, this may mitigate the settlement figure sought.
“Where there is a material sum involved the Public will engage an independent surveyor to provide a commercial value as the basis for negotiation,” they explained.
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