Letters spark turmoil – but town’s Lord denies sending them

John Sergeant and (below) Coun Liz Oades.
John Sergeant and (below) Coun Liz Oades.

Worried residents across Kirkham today told how they have been left “almost in tears” after receiving notices from the Government over a possible claim to land under their homes.

Hundreds of people across the town have received letters in the past three days from the Land Registry, informing them John Sergeant, who holds the title of Lord of the Manor of Kirkham, was making a claim to preserve his ‘manorial rights’.

Coun Liz Oades

Coun Liz Oades

Ancient manorial rights include things such as the right to mines and minerals under land, which he claims as his.

But the letters have left many people frightened, upset and confused – and local councillors have been inundated with phone calls and emails from constituents worried about what the letters mean.

Today, they have urged residents to download or pick up a UN4 form which can be used as a notice of objection. They say enough objections will mean Mr Sergeant will then have to prove his case.

Yet Mr Sergeant claimed to The Gazette to have no knowledge of the Land Registry sending out the letters. He said: “The Government issued a letter of Parliament stating that all Manors have to be registered by October 13, so I went and registered the Manor.

“Since I’ve been in town today many people have approached me saying that they’re worried that I’m going to take their houses off them, which I have no intention of doing. I’ve told as many people to tell as many people as they can I’m absolutely not interested at all in taking their house off them.”

When questioned by The Gazette, Mr Sergeant, 85, also denied he was registering the land in case of any future financial benefit that could be made should shale gas drilling, known as fracking, under the town be given the go ahead.

He said: “I’m against fracking on the grounds that
there have been strong earthquakes. I don’t think the country needs that yet, but I had a thought myself about fuel.

“Has anybody thought about tapping fuel from volcanoes, you might be able to stick a pipe in there.”

But the letter which has been dropping through letterboxes since Tuesday, has sparked worry and confusion.

Chris Harling, 50, of Shrewsbury Close, said: “There’s a lot of elderly people getting concerned.

“My father is 86 and he’s been on the phone worried somebody’s getting his house and my elderly neighbour was almost in tears.

“I struggled with the wording of it all. He’s basically just trying to confirm his rights.”

Malcolm Darwen, 72, of Bleasdale Avenue, added: “It’s upset a lot of people because they’re frightened about it bringing their house down.”

Robert Swarbrick, 77, of Flaxfield Way, said: “It’s written in typical legal jargon and doesn’t mention anything other than he’s putting some sort of claim in.”

David Lawton, 66, of Preston Street, is a former Land Registry employee. He said: “I don’t think most people need to worry about it. That’s what I’ve been telling people because you own your house and the surface area.”

The letters have been sent to people in Kirkham whose property is registered with the Land Registry.

This is to let them know Mr Sergeant is registering an interest (in this case laying his claim to the land underneath these properties, not the properties themselves).

The depth of the land which Mr Sergeant can lay claim to under his title is ‘two spits’ (the length of two spades). Below that, the land 
belongs to the crown.

The letter informs residents of their right to object if they believe there is no grounds for Mr Sergeant to make such a claim.

Mr Sergeant became Lord of the Manor after inheriting the title from his father, who died in 1990, and had himself bought the title from another family in 1933.

The Manor of Kirkham owns all minerals (except coal, oil and gold - which belong to the crown) found within the town. The Lord of the Manor owns all treasure found within the 850 acres of the Manor.

Land Registry statement

A statement on the Land Registry’s website says: “In many parts of England and Wales it is fairly common that one person will own the surface of the land but someone else will own the land below the surface.

“This land below the surface is usually called ‘mines and minerals’.

“There are varying types of rights and ownership relating to mines and minerals.

“Where someone owns the land comprising the mines and minerals below your property they will continue to own it indefinitely.

“They can apply to register it if they wish but they do not have to and this will not affect their ownership.”

A spokesman for the Land Registry added: “The broad issue about why someone might register these rights is a decision for the person who makes that application.”

‘Intimidating words that left residents in tears’

Kirkham’s representatives on Fylde Council have moved to reassure residents.

Coun Elaine Silverwood said: “I’ve had people in my shop in tears thinking they’re going to lose their homes, it’s awful.

“I am very upset at what’s come through because I feel so sorry for vulnerable elderly residents who got this very intimidating letter.”

Coun Liz Oades added: “My phone has not stopped ringing for two days now. These letters are going out to a lot of people and it’s causing a great deal of distress.

“These Manorial Rights were handed out some seven or eight hundred years ago and really, surely, it’s time to look at these.”

Coun Oades said a solicitor was currently looking at whether Mr Sergeant had a case, but in the meantime they were encouraging residents to object “as a safeguard”.

The letters state anyone wishing to have the notice cancelled can make their views known by downloading a UN4 form from www.landregistry.gov.uk.

Copies of the form can also be found at Kirkham community Centre.

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