Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A bit of Local History

When we bought our new house in Lancaster we were surprised to see that the house and garden were conveyed separately with each having its own entry at the Land Registry. Talking to a neighbour, we've found out why -  and I think its a tale worth repeating.

The houses were built on what was once railway land - they back onto the West Coast Main Line just south of Lancaster station. For some reason the gardens remained in railway ownership when the houses were sold and they remained in the benign ownership of British Rail and its predecessors with residents allowed full use and access.
In 1994, British Rail was privatised and the gardens became owned by Railtrack, a property company that maintained the railways as a sideline to its main business of making money from land until a series of serious accidents caused by poor maintenance saw it forced into administration and replaced by Network Rail.
At an early stage in its history, Railtrack announced that it was selling off our gardens. Requests from residents for a private sale were refused and the land was put up for auction. At this stage, one concerned owner - our new neighbour - organised residents to set up an association to bid for the land, which would then be sold back to each householder. Arriving at the auction, conveniently held in London, with a fund of £3,000 they were personally offered £5,000 by a firm of property developers not to participate in the sale. But the group stood firm and eventually outbid the developer even though they had no idea where the money was going to come from at the time. (It was eventually raised by our neighbour's house being re-mortgaged).
The association then went about the task of selling off each plot back to the householders. Some, of course, had chosen not to participate and others took the view that as they were continuing to enjoy the use of their gardens there was no need to pay up after all! It took six years in total to recover the money and a recalcitrant few were only brought into line by threats to sell "their" garden to the next door neighbour! (Even so, some residents now own more than one garden).
Sale of the gardens to the developer would have left each house with only a tiny back yard and probably by now a row of houses where the trees that border the line now stand. We would have lost our view of the line and the trains - except that we wouldn't, because without the garden we wouldn't have bought the house in the first place.

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