Land row costs thousands

A DISPUTE over a piece of land has left one prospective owner with a legal bill for more than the site is worth.

A DISPUTE over a piece of land has left one prospective owner with a legal bill for more than the site is worth.

Peter Cook is faced with paying more than �6,000 in costs for the solicitor employed by Barry Harding, who also wanted ownership of the land just off Felixstowe seafront and objected to Mr Cook's claim.

In the end, neither man has secured the site after the real owner came forward at the last minute.

Mr Cook, 64, who runs a guest house with his wife Betty, 73, in Manning Road, said he was astonished and angry at suddenly receiving the bill for costs following an independent adjudicator's decision after the matter went to the Land Registry's appeals tribunal.

He said: “I didn't know costs could be awarded in this way and it was a shock when this notice suddenly arrived.

“When the owner Mohammed Usman's representatives arrived, I agreed it was their land and not to take it any further.

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“I could understand it if I was asked to pay their costs because they had to come to the tribunal, but not someone else who was after the land and didn't get it either - I would have thought we would just pay our own expenses. I cannot understand it at all.”

The land in question was occupied by a house until the late 1980s when it was demolished.

Mr Cook said the land was then used for fly-tipping and so he decided to clear it up and keep it tidy, even using it to grow some vegetables - doing so for nearly 14 years until Mr Harding bought the bungalow next to the plot in Beach Road West.

Mr Cook said: “The Land Registry told me the value of the land is only about �6,000 and yet the legal costs I am being charged are �6,800! It seems so bizarre.”

Mr Harding said he had cleared the site and looked after it for nearly a year before a council officer suggested he claimed ownership. He wanted to turn the land into a sitting out area for people in nearby old people's homes and a play area for children.

“It was a right mess and we were worried about rats on it. I cleared five skips of rubbish and paid a man to assist me,” he said.

In her report, adjudicator Ann McAllister said Mr Harding was entitled, under the provisions of the Land Registration Act, to object to Mr Cook's application for ownership and “it seems to me that there is no reason in principle” why he should not be awarded his costs.

Have you successfully gained ownership of land? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail

DID YOU KNOW? According to the Land Registry, 36 per cent of land - some 340,835 acres - in Suffolk is not registered as being owned.

FASTFACTS: Claiming unregistered land

If a person has occupied or used a piece of unregistered land for 12 years without the real owner's consent or objection then they can stake a claim with the Land Registry to take over ownership of the site.

Any contact between the person taking over the land and the real owner would see the application fail because the claimant would have acknowledged they were not the rightful owner.

The rightful owner would need to show the historical title deeds to prevent the land being taken.

Usually someone claiming a piece of land fences it off and also has to show that they have looked after it.

Around 15,000 claims a year are received by the Land Registry - including farmland, empty potential development sites and unoccupied homes.