Friday, December 15, 2017

In a hole over land registration

August 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Clodhopper

VillageChurch

The Church of England’s attitude towards mineral rights is less than Christian, says Clodhopper

I have never been a churchgoer. Having been forced to sit through end of term services, awards and carol services, once my school career had finished, stepping inside my local church again never really appealed.

After learning that the church appears to be one of the biggest contributors to the stock market – alongside their large investments in land and property – my eagerness to support my local church roof appeal has taken a backward step in the last few years to nothing.

With church land recently gaining planning permission for local housing, not to mention their agents pushing up farm rents, imagine my disgust when a letter from the land registry dropped on the door mat telling me a percentage of my land comes under the chancel repair claim.

Having recently moved house, the chancel repair liability reared its ugly head and was settled using a small insurance policy for less than £100 to cover any subsequent claim.

But this claim on the land is somewhat different. It is a right to claim the minerals that may or not be under the top soil. Some landowners have a duty to pay for repairs to the chancel of their parish church. It was somewhat overlooked in the past. But interest has quickly gathered pace. Why?

About a decade ago, the land registration act 2002 was passed. Midnight on 12 October 2013 was imposed as a deadline for any interested party to lodge a right against unregistered land.  To sum up, if a chancel repair liability is registered before 13 October, all future owners of that land will know that in this case the church has taken action to protect its interests.

So having read all the paperwork and noticed the words mining, coal and challenge, I duly contacted my solicitor. Having now entered the land of fee paying, I find that insurance is not an option to protect my position as I have already received notification of a claim.

What is so annoying is that these notices can be sent without any firm evidence that a chancel repair exists – hence the word unilateral. It is up to me or you to prove otherwise. So all of the costs are passed to the current landowners to prove liability or not. Instead of the church doing all the legwork and incurring most of the costs, I find myself with a £550 bill to get absolutely nowhere!

I take the legal advice and challenge the notice. On 15 acres of land, a strip measuring about 40 metres by 15 metres is claimed for mineral rights. The reply comes back not only very quick but worded that if I wish to continue the church has strong evidence.

The church claims it is lord of the manor and can therefore claim mineral rights. No evidence can be found to question this. The question is whether the minerals stayed with the lord of the manor when the land was converted to freehold in the 1920s.

The information returned suggests no transfer ever took place. So the minerals remain with the church. So the church remains in a strong position. But in order to access the minerals, they still need the consent of the landowner.

This in itself is not a major problem The likelihood of the church ever wanting the minerals – if indeed they exist in the first place – is rare. But if the land was ever sold for future development, this could cause problems.

So the land registry in light of the church’s submission asked if I wanted to continue. If yes, then it may end up in front of the adjudicator or in court, which means more costs – not only my own but some of the church’s as well.

An alternative would be to try to track down any old records to see if there are special conditions that give the mineral rights to the tenants, But this would cost more money and time. So I paid the final invoice and gave up, hoping the question of mineral rights never rises its ugly head again.

My hands will remain firmly in my pockets the next time my local church asks for a donation for the roof or whether they can use my small grass field as a overflow car park for their latest fund raiser. The field will remain out of bounds – just in case any cars damage my underground minerals.

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