Residents of Heartbeat village in revolt as Duchy of Lancaster claims common land
The village made famous by TV’s Heartbeat is in revolt against the Queen – over being charged hundreds of thousands of pounds to gain access to their homes.
Residents of Goathland, North Yorkshire, claim they are being held to ransom as the Duchy of Lancaster, which provides an income to the Royal Household, has claimed ownership of the common land that runs throughout the village.
The homes of 400 residents are separated by grass verges from the road. In the past, the Duchy granted access rights for a peppercorn rent. But not any more.
The Duchy says it is a responsible landowner interested in the protection and development of Goathland in which it invests much of the cash.
But many villagers hold a different view.
New residents have to pay hundreds of pounds for receiving water through pipes which flow under Duchy land. The Duchy even charges the parish council £50 a year for a memorial bench which sits on the common.
Civic leaders claim such tactics will stifle investment as tourism has slumped since Heartbeat ended, and landowner James Fearnley is calling for Parliament to step in.
Mr Fearnley faces a £40,000 legal bill after allowing one of his fields to be used as a car park, which he claims the North York Moors National Park asked him to open in 1996 to cope with the 1.4 million visitors whose vehicles churned up the village green.
Mr Fearnley, 67, has agreed to pay £20,000 this week and the rest over four years.
“For nine years everything was hunky-dory,” he said. Then the Duchy complained that cars were travelling illegally over the 8ft long strip of land across the entrance, ordered him to shut the car park, and then demanded 50 per cent of the profits. When he refused, the Duchy asked for £25,000 for seven years’ rent arrears.
Mr Fearnley claims his offer to pay in instalments was refused. The legal battle was finally settled at £40,000 in the Duchy’s favour.
He said the problems have got worse since the Duchy registered ownership of the common land with the Land Registry and appointed agents to collect rents.
Adrian Caulder, 55, has accused the Duchy of wrecking his retirement plans and robbing him and his wife Sue of their savings.
They ran Goathland’s Whitfield House Hotel for 12 years before deciding to convert it into four houses.
The Duchy demanded £50,000 for access rights to the properties to cover the change of use, arguing the fee was justified due to the extra traffic across the common caused by the development.
The couple maintained the hotel’s closure would actually mean less traffic. Forced to pay, Mr Caulder has had to return to work for an engineering firm in Gloucester which involves a 484-mile round trip to head office several times a month.
“No one will want to move here and without new families the school will close and we will lose the post office,” he said. “Visitor numbers are now dropping and the village will die.”
One villager Doreen Smith, 71, says: “We’d like to invite the Queen around to tea so I could talk to her, pensioner to pensioner, about what is being done in her name.”
Mr Fearnley has complained to the Queen about the tactics used by those running her estates, but was told Her Majesty is unable to comment.
A public meeting is being called in the village. Scarborough and Whitby Tory MP Robert Goodwill said: “This seems to be a case of ransom strips being used to extract payments from unsuspecting home owners and businesses who had, quite reasonably, assumed that they had a right to access their property from the highway.
“These land agents acting on behalf of the Duchy of Lancaster are using the threat of expensive legal action to force people to pay up.”
A spokesman for The Duchy said it was a responsible landowner, which had made “substantial investments” in improving the village including rebuilding the pavement, creating walking trails and saving the bus service with investment to help create a bus turning circle.
“The Duchy is a commercial organisation and like any landowner, to be able to invest in the village, we have to generate revenue.
“Through our agents, we work closely with people and organisations wishing to use our land for commercial gain and private use, to try to reach a mutually acceptable agreement guided by market value and always take the full circumstances into consideration when negotiating licences, easements and rents.”
Regarding the car park, he said The Duchy had been in protracted talks with the Fearnleys since 2008.
“The use of another’s land for commercial advantage without recompense is not reasonable and the Duchy has merely sought to protect its interests.”
“Licences were offered to, but refused by the Fearnleys, resulting in the necessity for the Duchy to seek legal recourse.”
“The Duchy only applies to the Courts as a final resort. Due to the refusal of the Fearnleys to accept the Duchy’s legitimate legal rights and a litany of delay and obstruction, the Duchy had no alternative but to act.”
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