A little light relief from today’s political dishonesty. Delving into the history books suggests that in Bexley nothing much has changed…
At the end of the insignificant footpath off St. Augustine’s Road, Belvedere shown in Photograph 1, lie some Bexley council allotments and they have an interesting history which reveal that law breaking at Bexley council is not a new phenomenon.
The story begins more than 100 years ago which means it mainly concerns Bexley’s predecessor, Erith Council.
The records show that at the very beginning of the 20th century the occupier of 18 St. Augustine’s Road made a speculative purchase of the waste land behind her house and over the immediately following years it was used as an unofficial children’s playground.
Then in 1915, with the Great War sapping the country’s manpower and agricultural effort, Erith Council used their powers under the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 to temporarily use the land for food production in the form of allotments until the emergency was over, a move that the land owner was content to see.
In 1922 with the food emergency on the way to full resolution, another Act of Parliament (see image) demanded that the commandeered land should be handed back to the rightful owners unless they were happy to forfeit it.
Erith Council took steps to fulfill its legal obligations, hence the document above, the minutes of an Erith Council meeting.
That document goes on to list the land owners who were prepared to continue to lease the land to the council for a small rent. It does not include the occupier of No. 18 St. Augustine’s Road.
A month after the decision to abide by the law and return the allotment land to the owner of its title, another minute records that the council considered a petition bearing 50 signatures. It requested that the land should not be handed back to the owner of the title deeds because children might play on it and cause a nuisance.
Continued possession against the owners’ wishes was illegal under the Act of 1908 and its several updates through to 1922.
Nevertheless, Erith council stopped its arrangements to hand back the land and ownership arguments have been going on ever since.
Over the years various affidavits and sworn statements by the people involved all confirm that Erith Council had no right to the land and any that it may have claimed were the result of an illegal act. Even after Bexley council came into being, oaths were being sworn to that effect by people with long memories. See below…
…but in November 1975, after a Registry decision the Chief Land Registrar wrote…
The council was granted Possessory Title to the above site but were not granted title to the rights of way surrounding the same, though the passages and ways surrounding the allotments and gardens giving access to it may have been used in connection with the gardens there is no reason to assume that such user has amounted to possession as opposed to the exercise of a right or privilege. The council cannot claim to have had exclusive possession in connection with the allotment gardens.
So the council triumphed over the little man as they usually do, and their right to confiscate the land was recognised by the authorities - but not their right to the surrounding paths. On 2nd July 2007 Bexley council was forced to admit the true position under a Freedom of Information request. Referring to the paths etc., it confirmed “that we do not have any land registry title in our possession”. It was of course quick to claim within the same response legitimate ownership of the allotments themselves.
And that would appear to be the present situation. The council ‘owns’ the allotments because its predecessor flouted the law 90 years ago and the owner of No. !8 St. Augustine’s Road, owns the surrounding paths and access routes. Despite that, Bexley council has allowed garages and workshops to be built on land it does not own and when occasionally the owner stakes his claim in order to reduce the chances of Bexley council assuming full possession in years to come you can guess what Bexley council does. They call out their uniformed branch to arrest the elderly owner.
I imagine this is a battle that will run and run, the documentation already fills several suitcases. I suspect the land owner will not be pleased to see his claim labelled “light relief’ from the dishonesty of our present council, but I fear that after so many years of trampling on his rights, Bexley council is not about to become an honest institution.
Map of site.