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‘Exploited’ home owner threatens to sue States

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AN Islander is threatening to sue the States for tens of thousands of pounds after a complaints panel ruled that he and another landowner were ‘exploited’ by the government during a property dispute.

Former Infrastructure Minister Eddie Noel

Last year, Alan Luce and Julian Mallinson both wanted to sell separate properties at Grève d’Azette in St Clement, but it was found that their land encroached on the foreshore, which belongs to the public.

Mr Luce was forced to pay valuation fees, as well as compensation to the States totalling almost £35,000, while Mr Mallinson paid £25,000.

During the dispute the then Infrastructure Minister Eddie Noel said the land was ultimately owned by the public, which had a right to be compensated.

Both Islanders then lodged complaints with the States Complaints Board, which found that the minister and department had acted ‘against the principles of natural justice’.

In a statement, the board said: ‘Having reviewed submissions from both sides, the board concluded that the actions of Jersey Property Holdings, and thereby the minister, in the cases of Messrs Luce and Mallinson were unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatory and contrary to the generally accepted principles of natural justice.

‘It also appeared to the board that Jersey Property Holdings exploited the vulnerable position that the complainants found themselves in, as owners urgently needing to sell their respective properties.’

The foreshore is the area of land around Jersey’s coast between the low water and high water marks, which was gifted to the public of Jersey in 2015 by the Crown.

Last year, the Infrastructure Department set out new policies under which it said it would pursue compensation for any encroachments on the foreshore because it is now owned by the public.

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The panel found, however, that the policy needs to be more ‘refined’ and made publicly available.

Chairman Geoffrey Crill said that a partial refund to Mr Luce and Mr Mallinson should be considered.

‘We feel when it is approached by a neighbouring owner seeking clarification, or ratification of a boundary, the public has a clear duty to act fairly, promptly and transparently in its dealings with that owner,’ he said

‘We do not consider that Jersey Property Holdings did so in either of these cases. We hope that once a clear policy regarding the fixing of the boundary of the foreshore and the payment of compensation in relation to any encroachments has been adopted, the minister will review the terms concluded with Messrs Luce and Mallinson and refund them any difference between the compensation each of them paid and the amount of compensation that would be payable had the new policy been in place at the time.’

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The panel has asked for a response from the new Infrastructure Minister by August.

Speaking to the JEP, Mr Luce said that he had lost tens of thousands selling his property due to the ‘uncertainty’ caused by the case and is considering legal action against the States to recover it.

‘My property was worth £1.34 million and I had to sell it for £1.2 million, so I lost £134,000 on the deal,’ he said.

‘What this is really about is the trauma that this caused me – they just decided to pick on me and Julian because we were selling properties. The States should be looking after citizens, not trying to harvest them.

‘The panel’s decision was welcome but a surprise because you don’t usually win when you go up against the government.’

He added that the States could face huge repercussions if they try to pursue similar compensation claims against properties along the foreshore.

‘The point is that they cannot say for certain that the public owns the foreshore land,’ said Mr Luce.

‘The argument is that it was not the Queen’s to gift to the public of Jersey because it belonged to the Seigneurs [Jersey feudal lords].

‘This is a can of worms for the States because there are potentially thousands of properties along the foreshore who could make claims.’

Ian Heath

By Ian Heath
author

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