We have been contacted by a number of local residents about the possible sale of the
green amenity land at the Bishop Fox estate in West Molesey, which have been
advertised for sale by auction on 27 July.
MRA Councillor Mike Axton has discussed this with senior Planning and Legal officers at
Elmbridge Council, and they have provided detailed advice about the implications.
Whilst they fully understand residents’ concerns about the uncertainty associated with
the possible sale of the land, they have confirmed that the potential for a new owner to
develop this land in any way, or in fact to do anything which alters its present amenity
use, is strictly limited by the planning rules that apply to it, as well as by title restrictions
and additional physical constraints (the pipelines which are believed to exist).
Under planning provisions, the land is designated as ‘open space’ within the definition of
the National Planning Policy Framework, and so paragraph 74 of that Framework would
apply, as would section DM20 in Elmbridge Council’s Development Management Plan.
These policies are specifically designed to protect areas of open space from
development and inappropriate use, and their impact on the land would not be affected
by any sale to a new owner. It is also understood that the Bishop Fox estate was laid out
in the current configuration as there is a major pipeline under the open space which
prevents building on it, although a purchaser’s survey would be needed to establish this.
But the title for the land implies that this is the case, as it contains a number of
covenants and restrictions affecting it. Most of these relate to rights/wayleaves for utility
companies in respect of pipes beneath the land and it follows that these parts of the land
cannot be built upon.
Concerns have also been raised about the ongoing maintenance of the land, including
the grass cutting arrangements. As you are probably aware, some time ago the owners
became unable to continue funding these arrangements, and ultimately Elmbridge
Council agreed to take over these maintenance functions, supported by some funding
from Surrey County Council. If a new owner were to buy the land they would also
assume the obligations associated with ownership, including the maintenance costs, and
this is something the Council would need to explore with any new owner. It is possible
that these obligations are reflected in the rather low expected sale price. It is to some
extent also difficult to understand why anyone would want to purchase the land given
Some residents have asked what would happen if travelers were to buy the land. This
would not alter the planning restrictions in any way. They would have no right to settle
there even if they owned the land. In such an eventuality the Council would use its
established protocols for dealing with unauthorised encampments and enforcing
Any decision to sell the land would be a matter for the current owner, and the Council
would not be able to intervene in what is essentially a private matter. But there are
certain provisions that a sale would need to comply with. The land is registered with the
Land Registry under title number SY650437. The registered proprietors are Michael
John Gaston and Walter Kenneth Goldsmith, the trustees of the Charity known as the
Public Open Spaces Charitable Trust. There is a restriction on the register which
prevents a disposition unless the instrument giving effect to the disposition contains a certificate complying with section 37(2) or, in the case of a charge, with section 39(2) of
the Charities Act 1993. The charitable objective of the Trust is to ‘hold various pieces of
land as a public open space to the intent that the same may at all times hereafter be
available to and be used by the public at large for the purpose of recreation’. The Trust
Deed (dated 25 October 1989 as amended by a Scheme dated 18 June 2013) would
therefore need to be reviewed to establish the basis upon which the Trust could sell the
land at auction.
Finally, some residents asked if it would be possible for the Council to purchase the
land. In view of the restrictions which would apply to any new owner they do not
consider that this would need to be considered, but they have confirmed that it would not
be a viable option in any case. The Council has in the past received numerous similar
requests from residents who are concerned about potential development of current open
spaces, and it would not be affordable or practicable for the Council to adopt a policy of
purchasing land in such circumstances.