We have learnt that Highways England have evidently been sending out lots of letters to people titled ‘Proposed purchase and rights in or over land by agreement’.
These letters are very confusing and unclear as to exactly what is being proposed.
It appears to be in regard to HE stating that they need to create some new permanent rights in relation to diversions of utilities for the proposed LTC.
You may remember the Land Use Maps have the light blue shading which represents ‘Temporary Possession of Land and Permanent Acquisition of Rights’. This is usually used for areas where utilities diversions are proposed. The wording means they would need temporary access to carry out the diversions, rather than actually purchasing the land, but that permanent rights would be needed so that the utility companies can maintain the utilities in years to come, just as they do with all current utilities.
This is an example of one of the letters that has been received, cropped to hide the personal data of the recipient, there do be appear to be variants of this type of letter being sent.
Some residents who have received these letters are not even in or adjacent to the LTC development boundary. We haven’t had any confirmation as to why this is, but we are wondering if it could be similar to some previous cases earlier in the year that were due to the land being registered to the council as a large plot originally, and once some of the houses were sold off some of the rights possibly transfer to the new property owner. It’s a bit more complicated to say the least!
From what anybody can understand at this stage it seems that HE are trying to get people to agree to voluntarily allow HE to purchase the right they require for the LTC project by agreement rather than HE having to do so compulsorarily under DCO (if granted). Please remember that no CPOs can legally be issued until such time as a DCO is granted.
At this stage we, as a group, do not understand these letters any more than it seems anyone who has received them I’m afraid, but we will endeavour to update as we manage to find anything else out, so watch this space!
If you or anyone you know is a legal expert and can kindly throw any more light on this, please do email us firstname.lastname@example.org it would be very much appreciated.
In the meantime if you have received one of these letters please see below on what we suggest you do next please.
What to do
If you have received one of these letters, or indeed any letter from the LTC Land & Property team, and you have questions or need further clarification please do email them email@example.com or call 0300 123 5000 as soon as possible.
Please be aware that you will get a standard email response advising that they will get back to you within 15 working days. Also if you phone you will not be able to speak to someone in the Land & Property team there and then, the operator will simply take your details and arrange for someone to call you back, again you will likely be told it will be within 15 working days.
Please do not let this put you off contacting them. It is important that everyone email or phone, we would recommend emailing if possible so that you have things in writing, as opposed to a phone call.
Whilst we as a group are happy to do everything we can and appreciate being kept in the loop about things, when it comes to letters from the Land & Property team they will only talk to individuals. We need everyone who gets letters to contact HE and ask any questions you have, and to ask for further clarification when needed please, in the hope it will not only get you the answers you need and deserve, but also it brings to HE’s attention the fact their letters are not adequate.
If you wish to copy your local councillor and/or MP into any letters it can be helpful as this will also bring any issues to their attention too, especially if you are experiencing any problems. Please see the ‘Related’ section below for further details on local councillors and MPs.
We have to stress that as a group we are unable to offer any legal advice on this or any matters, and would always advise that you seek your own legal advice if you feel it neccessary. We understand that some home insurance policies can include legal advice, so it might be worth checking your policy!
Update 6 Oct 2020
We received the following response from HE
Thank for your email regarding the letters that were sent out last week. Please find them attached for your reference along with some information below which I hope you will find helpful. (Letter 1 – click to view)(Letter 2 – click to view)
- The LTC Land and Property team have written two versions of letters to 1800 people/companies with an interest in land in proximity to the Lower Thames Crossing. The letters went out on the 29 September.
- The purpose of the letters is to confirm HE’s intention to reach voluntary agreements for the land and rights required to deliver the project. (Compulsory purchase is always intended as a last resort, and compulsory purchase powers are not granted until the project receives a Development Consent Order (DCO). The project will be submitting its DCO application in the near future and the process can take approx 12-18 months).
- The letters ask the recipient to let us know if they’re interested in discussing a voluntary agreement with us (by quoting their reference at the top of the letter and sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0300 123 5000). Once they have expressed their interest, a member of the Land and Property team will review their specific land requirements and contact them with further information about the purchase process.
- Please note, the LTC Land & Property team has already been engaging with landowners that cover approx 85% of the route. Of the remaining 15%, many are people/companies who have an interest in land – this may be a very small section of land or an easement or a right of way, for example.
- With these letters, the team is encouraging the remaining 15% of landowners/land interest holders to contact the team to find out exactly what land and rights are required to deliver the project, and discuss their individual circumstances including whether they would like to reach a voluntary agreement for their land/rights.
- We want to encourage everyone not to worry about these letters and if anyone has questions or concerns, they should contact the land and property team. The team is currently working through a queue to call everyone back.
Further information about the letters
Letter 1 is for all freeholders, leaseholders, occupiers, tenants, wayleaves, easements and covenants who are within the project boundary
- Lower Thames Crossing has a range of land requirements within the project boundary.
- We will need to purchase certain areas of land and occupy other areas temporarily during construction.
- A person may also hold an interest or right in land (rather than owning the land itself) that could be affected by the works.
- We will also need to create some new permanent rights over land to divert overhead electricity cables, gas pipelines or other utilities.
- Once an expression of interest is logged, we will review the land requirements for that particular party and then call them back with further information about the purchase process.
Letter 2 is for all people who own houses adjoining a road which we have included within the project boundary
- We are not seeking to purchase their house.
- The reason why we have written to these landowners is because they may own subsoil under the existing roadway, due to a long standing legal principle concerning land ownership.
- When the subsoil under an existing roadway is unregistered at the Land Registry, the legal presumption is that each house adjoining the roadway owns the amount of subsoil extending directly forwards up to the middle of the road. The subsoil is considered a passive interest because the local highways authority owns and has responsibility for the upkeep of the road surface and reasonable depth of land under the surface.
- Lower Thames Crossing may require use of the subsoil under existing roadways for utility works. These works may consist of installing, altering, repairing, renewing or removing new or existing utilities under the roadway.
- There are lots of examples where projects require subsoil rights, such as tube lines in London.
- Because of the nature of subsoil ownership, projects offer a nominal payment of compensation and payment of reasonable legal fees to register the subsoil easement at the Land Registry.
- Once an expression of interest is logged, we will review the nature of works and respond with further information about the process.
Please direct any enquiries to email@example.com or by calling 0300 123 5000 where a member of the Land & Property Team will be able to help.
Unfortunately the email generated more questions, which we have just replied to them with, and we will keep you posted as we get further response.
At this stage it seems that they are keen to find out who is interested in a voluntary agreement for the land they are after the rights for. The alternative would be that they have to wait until they are granted a DCO (if they are!) and then they would take the CPO route.
We have asked what benefit there is to residents/businesses to agree to this voluntary agreement now. Clearly it benefits HE/LTC, but what is the benefit to those that have received these letters, if any?!
We have also made tentative enquiries into the possibility of seeking an agreed sum of money from HE if needed to cover legal fees for affected residents to consult with specialist lawyers (as a group to keep costs down), if those affected wish to consider the possibility as a group to move forward in that direction.
Update 14 Oct 2020
A further response from HE has been received.
Thanks for your further email and sorry our original reply didn’t answer all your questions.
With regards to any potential benefits to individuals liaising with us now rather than rely on compulsory purchase it is really personal choice on their behalf. Financially there will no difference in settling their claim and rights with us now or under compulsory purchase as the financial terms and reimbursement of surveyor or legal fees will be the same. However it would bring some certainty and clarity for them. From our perspective we have to demonstrate that we are only relying on our compulsory purchase powers as a last resort. We’ve had ongoing engagement with many landowners over the last few years and have a number of significant purchases of land in negotiation at the moment. This recent letter was a chance to give everybody who has not so far expressed an interest in settling matters with us by agreement ahead of DCO a chance to do so.
With regards to your comments about the confusing nature of our letters. As you are aware we try really hard to make these as understandable as possible but complex legal matters are often very difficult to explain in writing and therefore we thank you for encouraging people to contact us. We are currently responding to all the queries or expressions of interest we have had and are trying to get back to people as quickly as possible.
In relation to your request for group funding of legal advice, this is not something we would recommend as each persons financial circumstances and potential compensation claims are unique. The reimbursement of legal fees is not something we would normally contribute to prior to a formal purchase of land being undertaken. However we are willing to contribute towards an individual getting professional advice in relation to properties within the development boundary. The guidelines for what we will and won’t reimburse are detailed below;
We are willing to contribute towards your reasonable costs for a land agent to:
- attend meetings we have instigated to help you engage with us to develop our scheme proposals:
- identify and consider potential scheme design changes (including alternatives), to deliver a scheme that best meets its objectives (eg, reduce congestion at a junction or deliver safety improvements) or delivers better value;
- identify and reduce scheme impacts;
- agree a statement of common ground or a position statement with you;
- exchange information needed or beneficial for the scheme, reducing the risk of delays or extra work;
- negotiating access for surveys.
We will only contribute towards reasonable fees, taking into account the skill and expertise required and the typical professional hourly rates.
We will require reasoned justification for the attendance of partners at meetings and we would require you to submit that justification to us before every meeting for prior agreement.
When you seek reimbursement for work undertaken, we will ask for a detailed record of: time spent; activities undertaken; and justification. As a public body, we cannot repay land agents’ fees without a reasoned justification and we will look to our independent valuation advisers to help us make an assessment of the contribution we will make to your costs.
What we will not contribute towards?
We are not willing to contribute towards your costs:
- if we are providing information and asking for your feedback (except in exceptional circumstances);
- for any meetings taking place between you and your land agent, which we have not instigated;
- for any meeting with us, or other activity, where no part of your land is to be acquired (permanently or temporarily) for the scheme, or suffers no serious effect;
- incurred from consultation activities where a response has not been requested from you;
- associated with you making a relevant or written representation to The Planning Inspectorate (‘PINS’) about the [development consent order] [compulsory purchase order and associated Highways Act orders], including:
- responding to PINS written questions;
- attendance at, and contributions to, hearings;
- other input, as may be required by PlNS as it is PINS stated position that each party should bear its own costs.
I hope this reply answers your remaining queries.
In light of these responses our suggestion would be for those who have received these letters to check your home insurance policy to see if the policy includes any legal advice/cover, as some evidently do. You may find this helpful if you feel the need to seek legal advice. Unfortunately as a group we are not in a position where we are qualified to be able to offer any legal advice.
The point we would highlight is the fact that HE have stated “Financially there will no difference in settling their claim and rights with us now or under compulsory purchase as the financial terms and reimbursement of surveyor or legal fees will be the same. However it would bring some certainty and clarity for them.”
Obviously everyone will need to consider their own situation personally, and seek any legal advice they feel neccessary, but it would appear that the financial deal would be the same now, under a voluntary agreement, as it would be if left until HE find out if they are granted the DCO and have to take the CPO route, which they have to demonstrate that they are only relying on as a last resort.
We don’t see why we should all make it any easier on HE/LTC if we don’t have to! They certainly have done nothing to make any of this any easier on everyone.
Please do contact HE directly with any questions you have using the contact details provided in the letter you have been sent.
If this letter is the first time you are hearing from the HE/LTC Land & Property Team you may also wish to question them about whether or not they have a legal responsibility to have alerted you to this before the consultation period ended, to ensure you were given opportunity to have your say due to the impact on your land rights if that is the case.
Interactive LTC map – https://arcg.is/0LSu4L
Latest LTC maps (issued 14th July 2020) – www.thamescrossingactiongroup.com/lower-thames-crossing-maps-issued-14th-july-2020/
Your Local MPs
Click here if you are unsure who your MP is, or are in a different area to those listed below
Gareth Johnson MP – Dartford – firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Holloway MP – Gravesham – email@example.com
Stephen Metcalfe MP – South Basildon and East Thurrock – firstname.lastname@example.org
Jackie Doyle-Price MP – Thurrock – email@example.com
Julia Lopez MP – Hornchurch and Upminster – firstname.lastname@example.org
Your Property/Land (links to further details for impacted property/land owners) – www.thamescrossingactiongroup.com/your-property-land-ltc/