News and other Busyness
Lords Back Holtsfield
Residents win but developer becomes landlord reports Andy Johnson
Squall 15, Summer 1997, pg. 8.
A PROPERTY DEVELOPER is facing costs of up to £100,000 after losing an eight-year battle in May to replace a low-impact village with a housing estate.
Five Law Lords ruled unanimously that a wooden chalet in Holtsfield, near Swansea, belonged to the land on which it was built.
But the battle to save Holtsfield, a low- impact community in the Caswell Valley, is far from over. The Law Lords' ruling means the property developer is now the landlord of the families and individuals who live there.
Developer Tim Jones, a solicitor who heads property firm Elitestone Ltd, bought the land on which the 26 chalets stand for £175,000 in 1989.
He then sought to evict the chalets claiming the residents did not own the land on which they stood and therefore had no legal right to remain there.
A Swansea County Court judge initially ruled that Jones was wrong, but this decision was overturned by Jones at the Court of Appeal.
Two residents, Judith Sked and Dai Morris, challenged this decision again in the House of Lords - the highest court in the land.
Judith Sked told Squall the issue at stake was whether the chalets were "chattels", ie moveable, or permanent fixtures. The Law Lords ruled they were a fixture thereby preventing Jones from continuing the evictions he had started.
"But the ruling means he's become our landlord," Ms Sked told Squall. "It's bizarre."
But the issue is more complicated. The House of Lords' decision affects only one chalet, that owned by Judith Sked and Dai Morris, but should be applicable to another eleven. This leaves 11 chalets without the same protection because the residents are not classed as permanent - they use it as a holiday home - or did not have an agreement with Mr Holt (the original land-owner) before 1985.
Jones also successfully evicted one chalet after winning at the Court of Appeal. Two residents left of their own accord. Residents repelled the attempted eviction of a fourth.
Holtsfield was declared a conservation area in 1990. The wooden homes do not impact on the environment, there are no street lights, roads or cars. At least one resident has lived there since they were built in the 1920s.
Although Jones has become the legal landlord, Judith Sked and Dai Morris are protected under the tenancy act. But Jones has acquired, overnight, 26 chalets worth £10,000 each. In the local paper he said he will claim damages for eight years' unpaid rent and threatened to evict anyone who opposes his legal right to evict the other half of the community.
The community has not given up. Hope remains that the local council will compulsory purchase the land (although this is a long drawn out process) or that they will be able to raise enough money to buy the land themselves.
Judith Sked said their real hope, however, was that Jones would go bankrupt.
The Law Lords ruled he must pay full costs of the case and three quarters of the costs of the previous Appeal Court hearing. Combined this is thought to amount to £100,000.
"What we want to stress," said Ms Sked, "is the role of Barclays Bank who loaned him £800,000 without interest. They lent him money to buy the land, and to buy a house which he wanted to demolish and build a road."
Donations can be sent to The Holtsfield Fund, 6 Holtsfield, Murton, Swansea, SA3 3AQ.
Holtsfield - A Community Under Threat - A small south Wales community faces eviction from developers Paul O’Connor and Mel Gunasena report. Squall 11, August 1995.
Chalets Shall Stay - Holtsfield community in South Wales wins right to stay. Squall 16, Summer 1998.