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Not mentioned on any council or public authority or community websites, only this one, is that potential purchasers of residential Sovereign Harbour property need to know in advance that the annual flood defence and harbour charge payable by them is not levied anywhere else in Britain or Europe or the world. A much wider geographical flood zone area than just Sovereign Harbour is involved, affecting more than 17,000 homes as far as Bexhill, yet only 3,700 Sovereign Harbour residents (and subsequent owners) must pay the annual cost, nearly £260 in 2018. A recent Member of Parliament has stated publicly this is unfair and unjust. All business services including management companies and property developers are exempted. An additional covenant applies to owners of some South Harbour properties in the water feature precinct. In both cases, they are in addition to local council taxes, insurance, management fees and ground rents.
By Keith A. Forbes
I write as a one-time U.K. expatriate once based and resident in the West Indies, USA and Bermuda, now in Eastbourne’s Sovereign Harbour. I was an economic journalist and travel editor. Although now disabled and elderly, living in the easternmost part of Eastbourne, I am still active in those areas as a member of the Society of Authors.
It cannot be denied by all fair-minded people that in a number of significant respects there is not one Eastbourne but two.
Eastbourne 1 is the fair and biggest-by-far part of the town, comprising eleven of its twelve wards. There, none of the residents have to pay a Annual Estate Rentcharge. In all those eleven wards there are tree-lined streets, parks or recreational areas, beaches recognized as being a key part of Eastbourne, a tourism centre, hotels galore, frequent buses and trains, cinemas, theatres and more.
Eastbourne 2, in sorry comparison, specifically Sovereign Harbour (part of Sovereign Ward) is the unfair part of the town. Here, we have no cinema, culture, history, hotel, public carpet flower garden, recreational areas, tree lined streets, theatre, or other benefits of the type prevalent in Eastbourne 1. We have two beaches, Sovereign Harbour North and South but despite being in Eastbourne these beaches are not listed as Eastbourne’s. Bus service, which in the rest of Eastbourne is extensive and frequent with many routes is limited. Buses on the 5 and 5a routes between Sovereign Harbour and Eastbourne are only one an hour during the day, less frequent during the evening and with none available after 10 pm.
Sovereign Harbour, however, is a major asset of huge economic benefit to the whole of Eastbourne. Yet others in the town now with over 100,000 residents do not pay a penny to contribute to it. Only we 3,119 Sovereign Harbour residents do, so massively unfairly, in the Annual Estate Rentcharge. When I contacted Eastbourne Tourism I was informed that of the 5.4 million people who visited the town in 2019, more than 3.5 million visited Sovereign Harbour. The harbour since its creation has become the single-biggest attraction to Eastbourne's economy in size and importance. As the largest marina in the UK and second-largest in Europe it attracts yacht owners, yacht charters and their crews and guests from the whole of Europe and beyond.
Unfortunately, what Sovereign Harbour residents have that all the other wards in Eastbourne do not, is the financial expense of the hated Annual Estate Rentcharge. of a type not found in any other seaside attraction and marina in the whole of the UK or Europe or the rest of the world.
We, the residents of Sovereign Harbour have paid - and paid - and paid, dearly, for years. No longer will we do so meekly. We are going international. Our past protests over more than 14 years to councillors and Members of Parliament have been pushed aside and we are fed up. Unlike the residents of the rest of Eastbourne who have paid nothing to contribute to Sovereign Harbour as Eastbourne's principal scenic attraction, we, the 3,119 people who own or lease property in the 300 acres of Sovereign Harbour alone have to bear the Annual Estate Rentcharge per house or apartment amounting to £263.55 in 2020. The landlords concerned are the private Sovereign Harbour owners The Wellcome Trust and Premier Marinas. The UK's Environment Agency is also involved. This annual estate Rentcharge is irrespective of whether a property is worth £160,000 or, as most are, around £260,000 or in very few cases, £1.25 million.
In return for signing a lease or agreement, do we get private use of the land on which our building sits? No. Estate agents tell us nothing about the precise terms in advance. Nor do solicitors or chartered surveyors or the like. We find out later we have no exclusivity rights at all. The general public can use any Sovereign Harbour pathway, walkway, footway, trail, at any time, free of charge, so can cyclists and walkers with dogs off and on leashes, often much to the annoyance of residents many of whom are elderly and/or disabled and must be accompanied side-by-side by carers. Those seaside and harbour side footpaths are often misused by cyclists demanding the right of way that is not theirs to ask, only for walkers. Nor are allowed to have animals, unlike residents of other Eastbourne wards.
Our Eastbourne Borough Council and East Sussex County Council not only tolerate this, they also approve it. They do not require estate agents to state clearly on their websites, as they are now required legally to do, that all Sovereign Harbour properties are liable to this Annual Estate Rentcharge. Estate agents are required under the legislation to make the full disclosure, not hide the fact as they do now, that no other harbour in the U.K. or world has a similar Annual Estate Rentcharge. EBC and ESCC councillors and estate agents do not spell out what the rentcharge is or its components but they are legally required to. Instead, estate agents say, glibly, there is a “Harbour charge” implying it is standard for all harbours which it is most definitely not. And they even have a local authority councillor sitting on the board as a director and trustee of the two private trust companies that demand the Annual Estate Rentcharge from all of us who have to pay it.
Nowhere else in the UK or Europe or the world has to pay this kind and price of Annual Estate Rentcharge. Nor does anywhere in the UK or Europe have to pay such a surcharge to the Environment Agency.
For those who do not know it, the relevant pieces of legislation are the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) and the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 (BPRs). The government took this step to reduce duplicate legislation regulating estate agents and other businesses involved in property sales and lettings. The previous legislation, the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991 (PMA), which had made it a criminal offence for estate agents to make false or misleading statements about properties being offered for sale, was repealed on 1 October 2013.
Estate agents and other businesses involved in property sales and lettings have long been made aware - but have ignored, without this ever having been objected to by EBC or ESCC councillors - the fact that the 2008 Regulations now offer far more protection to individuals against misleading sales particulars and advertising than was the case earlier. The Office of Fair Trading publishes specific guidance for estate agents on the new Regulations on what they need to know in applying descriptions on a property. They have been circulated and can be seen at https://www.businesscompanion.info/en/quick-guides/services/estate-agents-property-descriptions. There is also now a specified Code of Practice for all residential Estate Agents and relevant others. See it at https://www.tradingstandards.uk/media/documents/commercial/codes-of-practice/tpo-sales.pdf. The CPRs prohibit all traders from using unfair commercial practices in their dealings with individual consumers, and estate agents in particular are prohibited from engaging in commercial practices that are unfair to sellers, buyers, potential sellers or potential buyers of residential property. The BPRs prohibit traders in all sectors, including estate agents, from using misleading practices in their business-to-business advertisements. This includes misleading marketing used to advertise property for sale. While the PMA only covered estate agents, the CPRs and BPRs are much wider in scope covering letting agents and property managers.
The CPRs prohibit misleading actions that cause or are likely to cause the average consumer to take a transactional decision he or she would not have taken otherwise. A transactional decision is not just whether a consumer decides to purchase a property but also includes such things as to whether to view a property in the first place. A misleading action or omission includes omitting to mention any deeds or covenants or restrictions unique to an area such as those we alone in the UK, Europe and the world have to bear here in Sovereign Harbour. We know beyond any doubt this has caused some consumers, after hearing about the facts from present residents, to neither want to view nor buy or rent or lease any Sovereign Harbour property because of the extra costs and conditions of the Estate Rent charge and other factors that nowhere else imposes.
One. It could be that both residents from other Eastbourne wards and the 3 .5 million or so annual visitors to Sovereign Harbour should pay a token fee of £1.00 each time they visit Sovereign Harbour, of such major economic benefit to the town. There are precedents for this, for example in Portmeirion in North Wales, the third most popular visitor attraction in Wales, where the per-day visitors fee is £10 a time. The result of this proposed change of direction of Sovereign Harbour’s hated Annual Estate Rentcharge could in fact, after some appropriate adjustments for collection of the new harbour charge fee by the collecting agents, the Sovereign Harbour Trust and its Sovereign Harbour (Sea Defences) CIC, be to the advantage of these two companies. Instead getting a revenue stream in 2020 of £263.55 from only each of 3,119 Sovereign Harbour resident property owners they could likely collect in 2021 £1 or more apiece from each of 3,500,000 visitors.
Or Two. It is well-known by the Eastbourne Borough Council, East Sussex County Council and those 3, 119 Sovereign Harbour owners or lessors of residences, but probably not by others, that those Sovereign Harbour residents, who alone have to pay the entire cost, are not the only beneficiaries of the Environment Agency payments by Sovereign Harbour residents . Living in the same flood plains, potentially liable to the same flood damages, are the owners of over 14,000, possibly as many as 17,000 properties in nearby Pevensey, Pevensey Bay and all the 9 miles east to Cooden Bay in Bexhill on Sea. But to date they have been exempted from payment.
Why! In future they must be made to pay their fair share. Or the complete Annual Estate Rentcharge has to cease, be repealed with the help of our Member of Parliament and other MPs.
One of the above two options surely has to be accepted by our Member of Parliament Mrs Caroline Ansell, her fellow Conservative MP in the Pevensey Bay and Bexhill area, other MPs, Eastbourne Borough Council and East Sussex County Council, and U.K. government ministers. It will then represent a significant new dimension to Eastbourne’s Direction of Travel: Issues and Options for Eastbourne.
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Keith A. Forbes
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© 2020. Revised: May 26, 2020