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 Inside Out - South East of England: Monday January 12, 2004

FIELD OF DREAMS

Paul Ross
Paul Ross investigates the situation

A new breed of property speculator has emerged, snapping up huge swathes of Kent and Sussex farmland, dividing them and selling them off as small building plots. Is it a good investment, or a big con?

Baron Deschauer is one such developer. At 33 he’s already a millionaire. Now he intends to become one of the South East’s foremost property tycoons.

"Innocent people are parting with hard-earned money that they will not see again."
Andy Joad, Groombridge resident

He has purchased 40 acres of farmland in Groombridge, East Sussex, which is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Deschauer says, "I would like the individual to have the opportunity to buy a freehold piece of land, that they can make the decisions of what they want to do."

Opposition

Groombridge residents do not share Deschauer enthusiasm.

Plot map
This is how parts of the South East could be carved up

Anne Jenkins, a Groombridge resident, describes when the land was divided into plots, "We could just see this massive team of men putting up posts, wheeling out the wire... with tractors, diggers and vans."

Resenting the prospect of their peaceful village being turned into a small town, residents have united to fight a common cause.

They are urging people to think carefully before investing in such schemes, arguing that the chances that planning permission will ever be granted are slim.

Andy Joad, a Groombridge resident says, "Remember this is agricultural land, not development land. You will not be able to build here."

Long-term plans

Deschauer clearly states that his land does not come with planning permission at present.

He says, "We will put an application in. They may refuse, but what I'd say is they'd need to refuse on valid grounds.

"As long as they establish what they are objecting to, we can address those issues.

"We will address them and resubmit, we can appeal, we can resubmit. We can keep going until eventually we achieve success."

Profit level

Baron Desaucher
Baron Deschauer: 'I'm in this for the long term.'

Deschauer’s land is selling for £12,000 to £24,000 per half acre.

Michael Wooldridge of Cluttons Chartered Surveyors and Land Agents estimates that Deschauer buys it for substantially less, "The likelihood is the agricultural land being around £2,000 to £2,500 per acre.

"An area such as Bluebell Hill [another of Deschauer's plots], an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has little hope of getting any development for the very long term."

Similar speculators

A company called UKLI also specialise in purchasing and reselling farmland at property fairs and online. They advertise extensively through foreign media.

Patrick Vo decided to invest his savings in land from UKLI. He says, "He [the UKLI sales person] said that definitely in four to five years time you will get your planning permission when you can build or hire contractors to build houses there."

Buyer's Guide

Be suspicious of surprisingly inexpensive land.

Look out for signs of roads and other infrastructure.

Check with the Local District Council’s Local Planning Authority before purchasing any land.

Read the small print of any documentation carefully.

Consult a solicitor for legal advice.

Source: Rother District Council LPA

Newspaper advertisements claimed that the land was 20 minutes from London.

The land was 70 miles from London, near the small hamlet of Brede in East Sussex.

When Patrick went to look for himself, he was shocked to discover that "Buyer beware" notices had been put up by the local council, which had also obtained Article Four orders to prevent any development of the land in question, including its being divided up physically into plots.

Paul Charney from UKLI admits that the adverts were misleading about the proximity of the land to London. He also suggests that UKLI's salesmen were sometimes over-zealous in indicating the likelihood of planning permission ever being granted.

He says, "We would like to say we get it right 100% of the time, but unfortunately we can't.

"When we don't, we will make up to our clients whatever the loss they feel has been."

Patrick was refunded his money by UKLI.

Buyer's guide

Frank Rallings from Rother District Council’s Local Planning Authority says, "We would always advise people to check with their Local Planning Authority before purchasing land for development.

"Nobody needs to buy land without information as it is available."

Mr Ralling’s advice for people considering purchasing land for development is shown above.

There is nothing illegal in what either Deschauer or UKLI are doing, but potential investors should beware of the potential pitfalls of investing in such schemes.

See also ...

Inside Out: South East
More great stories

On bbc.co.uk
BBC News Online: Countryside land sale criticised
BBC Lifestyle: Property

On the rest of the web
Rother District Council

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