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By Keith A. Forbes and his wife Lois Ann Forbes. Both disabled, they live in Eastbourne and write, administer and webmaster this website. Keith is a member of the UK's The Society of Authors and an activist for the elderly and disabled.
Only on this website, not on any estate agent or council or community websites, is it mentioned that potential purchasers/leaseholders of residential Sovereign Harbour property must pay a unique annual and increasingly expensive flood defence and harbour charge averaging £265 a year on top of local council taxes, insurance, management fees and ground rents. In no other flood area or harbour or marina area or private estate anywhere else in Britain, the UK, Europe or the world does this apply. A much wider flood zone area than just Sovereign Harbour is involved, affecting more than 17,000 homes, yet only the 4,300 Sovereign Harbour residents and their successors are liable for this annual cost, paid via a Sovereign Harbour Trust subsidiary to the Environment Agency. Only residents pay it, not businesses including managing agents and property developers. A recent Member of Parliament has stated this is unfair and unjust but the present MP and local authorities will not help to right this wrong. A second unique covenant is also significant. It requires owners/leaseholders of 369 South Harbour properties in the water feature to pay a further annual charge of £328 in 2018.It is believed to be the only such water feature in the world that makes such a charge to properties overlooking it.
Part of Sovereign Harbour
Presently, due to the following, in terms of real value for money in overall expenditure for management fees, council taxes, Estate Rent charge, beaches concerns and more, it offers limited investment value and 4/10 in value for money. All who live here as owners or long-leaseholders incur the following. Some are distinctly unusual and likely to some unpalatable. Overall, they mean presently that Sovereign Harbour advantages are outweighed by its disadvantages.
See https://wellcome.ac.uk/About-us/. and others. It is Imposed on residents of Sovereign Harbour alone, no other of its UK harbours, by Premier Marinas, owned by The Wellcome Trust. See Estate Rent Charge. Often referred to as harbour charge). Payable only by residents who own or lease their flats or terraced or other homes in the Sovereign Harbour area. The annual estate rental charge - over £256 per household in 2018 - is in addition to management fees, council taxes, ground rents, insurances and more.
The legal mandate authorizing the charge is the "Sovereign Harbour Beaches (Sea Defences) Deed 2001."
Even even when residents are disabled, do not themselves use the harbour, do not own or operate a boat, but merely look at the harbour; and even when they cannot see the harbour at all but live on the other (beach) side of it, they still have to pay the charge. It is the only place in the world which charges its residents living on its privately-run estate an Estate Rent Charge as ever-increasing annual sum but allows the general public, to the annoyance of its private residents, unrestricted access at no cost to visitors, to all its walkways, pathways and beach-area land. Visitors pay nothing at all to use Sovereign Harbour's promenades and beaches that are not private because they offer unrestricted leisure opportunities to the general public. The beach frontages are owned not by any local residents but solely by the area's property developers up to the high water mark, are open to the public and also very popular with dog walkers. They include the majority who are not Sovereign Harbour residents but live either elsewhere in the Eastbourne town area or further and bring their dogs here deliberately because they know the beaches here, although within the Eastbourne Sovereign Ward town area, have none of the same restrictions or responsibilities or accountabilities to dog owners that occur on Eastbourne town beaches. Sovereign Harbour residents with properties overlooking the beaches are furious about this, especially when they see dogs fouling the beach area with no owner wanting to pick up the mess, or letting their dogs off their leashes. Some dog walkers have up to six dogs. There ought to be a legal way to either totally exclude non-resident members of the public from using these developer-owned beachfront areas for any purpose including walking, dog walking and cycling, or making all non-resident visitors to Sovereign Harbour who walk, dog walk and cycle pay a portion of the Estate Rent charge, instead of residents alone having to pay it but getting nothing back for it.
The Estate Rent Charge is a wrong that needs to be righted. The Environment Agency helped cause and is the principal beneficiary of the charge. The Environment Agency, local councils and their councillors, local community groups and current Member of Parliament Mr Stephen Lloyd have not acted to right the wrong. For over 17 years of the Estate Rent Charge, only the 3,700 or so Sovereign Harbour residents, not any businesses, have been legally required to pay it, not any of the 17,000 or so other property owners and businesses beyond Sovereign Harbour whose homes are also in the same flood zone area but have never been asked and are not legally required to pay it at all.
In Sovereign Harbour there are currently many more properties now on sale than there are buyers. Some may not have increased in value or by much since first built. Some asking prices are higher than when first built or last sold, but others are presently being offered for less than paid when first built or bought. Not generally known by newcomers or passed on to new buyers or renters is that many properties stipulate in the fine pint of their lease or purchase documents that apartments or flats cannot be sublet or rented out. Yet many are, putting their lessees or owners at risk. Frequently, when properties bought the cost of their annual council taxes are not mentioned, there is no mention that annual harbour charges (the biggest single controversial culprit) are passed on from buyer to successor buyer, annual management fees and ground rents if also applicable are not specified. Some ground rents may rise appreciably. The law of declining returns has now begun to bite and only when harbour charges - unique in all the world, nowhere else has them - are removed, lease lengths are automatically extended for appropriate properties, with some that are leasehold - such as those for 999 years - made freehold. When these and other changes described above and below are made, more properties stand a better chance of increasing in prices and becoming better investments.
So say various law firms and entities below:
This includes the Sovereign Harbour Beaches (Sea Defences) Deed 2001, if that also qualifies for repeal.
It is possible to apply to repeal an Act. See https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/laws/acts/. Changes to Acts: Future changes to the law happen through the passing of another Act or delegated legislation. An Act can also be repealed so that its provisions no longer apply. Parliamentary committees examine UK laws and recommend the removal of out of date legislation. But this will require the cooperation and input of all estate charge/harbour charge residents, those who represent them, their local councillors, others who may be affected and Member of Parliament Stephen Lloyd.
See https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/process_of_repealing_acts and Visit the Law Commission website: www.lawcom.gov.uk
Some other Acts that have been repealed. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Repealed_United_Kingdom_Acts_of_Parliament
Leaseholders in most buildings either fail to realize or ignore the fact that most leases do not allow leaseholders to have or their visitors to bring, pets. Animal nuisances are common in Sovereign Harbour, from dogs in particular. Some dogs have even wet and stained the carpet or floor covering in lifts. Others bark on balconies and annoy other residents.
Appropriate perhaps when a proposal is made by more than 50% of the leaseholders in a building or block who want to try to do more than just continue leasing. Most leased flats in Sovereign Harbour have quite short original leases, the average being 125 years from the date the flat was first put on the market. In 2018 this has shrunk to an average of 110 years. Thus most long-lease flats, especially in Sovereign Harbour where there is a surfeit of flats, must be realistically regarded as assets wasted when computed into their capital value. Once their lease expiry reduces to 80 years or less there will be a further decline in their capital value with the result that the costs of trying to extend leases will rise significantly due to the "marriage value" that will need to be paid to the freeholder. "Marriage value" in this context is applicable to leasehold properties. As the sum of leasehold and freehold interests is described as the total property value then the marriage value is the increase in the total property value following a lease extension or collective enfranchisement. Typical costs to add 90 years to a lease, based on current Leasehold Advisory Service data, for a £200,000 flat vary tremendously but can be very high. The cost will have extras, such as a valuation fee and freeholder's legal costs.
Thus, it could be of significant benefit to collectively endeavor to obtain the freehold of a building in which each participating flat has a share of the freehold. Benefits would likely include increasing a flat's capital value; remove all need to be concerned about lease extension as leaseholders would be deemed to be freeholders and/or have the ability to extend the lease to 999 years and at a purely nominal ground rent of one peppercorn per flat instead of the £150 annually payable now per flat and likely to double in the next 10 years if not halted; allow new freeholders to have control over service charges; and allow them to appoint their own management company.
Not yet being offered to potential newcomers in any Sovereign Harbour property. Now being looked into by some residents, following suggestions from the Leasehold Advisory Service. Unfortunately, here in Sovereign Harbour, it becomes more complex and perhaps less feasible primarily because the present Annual Rentcharges are applied which do not or possibly cannot devolve to a local authority or statutory undertaker through adoption.
Commonhold is a system of property ownership in England and Wales. It involves the indefinite freehold tenure of part of a multi-occupancy building (typically a flat) with shared ownership of and responsibility for common areas and services. It has features of the strata title and the condominium systems, which exist in Australia, Bermuda, Caribbean, USA, etc. It was introduced in the UK by the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 as an alternative to leasehold, and was the first new type of legal estate to be introduced in English law since 1925. An important difference between commonholds on the one hand and leaseholds (leases) on the other is that commonholds do not depreciate in value towards the end of their Term (term, term of years or in extraneous documents sometimes existence). In the years since the 2002 Act became law, only a handful of commonholds have been registered, whilst hundreds of thousands of long leases have been granted during the same period. As of 3 June 2009, there were 12 commonhold residential developments comprising 97 units (homes) in England and one commonhold residential development comprising 30 units (homes) in Wales. Where freehold houses should be subjected to positive covenants which force their owners contribute to communal maintenance, such as in garden squares, as few such duties can attach to freeholds, access to such areas can be physically restricted to those who own that area, commonly through a residents' Management Company. Such a company if the land was owned by the original landlord such as a developer may come into the hands of the lessees (tenants) through a statutory process of the Right to Manage leading to legal agreements or a court order which creates a limited liability Right to Manage (also known as an RTM) Company.
See Eastbourne Council Tax Wrongs The Sovereign Harbour average is Council Tax Band E costing well over £2,200 a year in 2018 for a leased Sovereign Harbour £240,000 750 square foot flat with no land or garage of its own. The Band E Council Tax for that Sovereign Harbour flat incurs the same Council Tax as a market value £350,000 to £450,000 property elsewhere in Eastbourne and 80% more than a magnificent Band H £35 million multi-roomed Band G palace or mansion in central London.
Because developers pressed their demands to build on land deemed to be in a flood plain and there were none or insufficient objections, they were allowed to proceed. We, the freeholders or long-leaseholders now pay the price in required expensive floodplain insurance on contents of properties.
This is the case presently (in mid 2018). Leaseholders in buildings in all areas of Sovereign Harbour will longer qualify for no increase in ground rents after the normal initial period of 10 years or the period specified in each lease has elapsed. Ground rents thereafter can either be increased annually by the same percentage amount as the Estate Rent/harbour charge or by other decisions of a freeholder It has been estimated that some ground rents could double in the foreseeable future. We hope the SHRA will want to look into this and make public its recommendations.
But why? It might be justified in part where some properties are deemed exclusive and private and members of the public are not allowed to pass by. But they cannot be justified in properties where, such as in Sovereign Harbour, walkways and paths are not exclusive because they allow any and all members of the public who are not Sovereign Harbour residents to cycle or stroll or walk by and on the beachside, bring their dogs. If they are allowed and dogs can leave their messes for hours or days without being picked up by owners then surely Sovereign Harbour freeholders and leaseholders should not be prevented from hanging out their laundry to dry for just a few hours.
Sovereign Harbour has the highest incidents in the UK of bursting hot water cylinders causing what insurance companies refer to as an escape of water, or flooding. In less than a year, one group of beachside flat buildings alone in Sovereign Harbour North have had nine such problems. Bursting water storage heaters have caused substantial damage to individual flats and those below them or adjacent to them. There have been other similar cases in both North and South Harbour. Residents have gone away on holiday and have returned to find their flats or homes flooded, with carpets soaked, furniture ruined, electrical items a dangerous hazard and often electricity cut off. Most water storage heaters inside the flats are likely to be original and coming to the end of their working life expectancy of 10-15 years. There is now such cause for concern that management companies are asking freeholders and leaseholders for copies of their last service sheets and information on if and when freeholders or leaseholders had their water storage tanks replaced, at their cost. They urge all residents to carry out an urgent inspection of water tanks and if there is corrosion or they have not been serviced annually or both, to get them replaced - at their cost, averaging £950 or more in each case, including labour, as soon as possible. Leaseholders who have Contents but no Building insurance and are so affected should know it can take weeks for carpets to be removed and replaced and flats dehumidified and dried out before new carpets can be installed. They should also know that their Buildings insurers may not pay for any water storage tanks replacement. Leases should be checked carefully to see if it does or not. However, a claim should be made for reimbursement of the costs. Some Buildings policies may have wording that excludes any issue relating to age or war and tear. In which case, if their is no cover under the Buildings insurance policy, it may be worth complaining to the freeholders via their managing agents that the water cylinders concerned may not have been up to the job. Also, when leaving a flat empty for any period of time over a day or so, the water supply should be turned off at the mains stop-cock. When homes or flats are rented out for short term holidays or longer-term, those who rent must be made aware of all the above.
In January 2018 most increased, some by a massive 250% yet on beachside in Sovereign Harbour North built only in 2009-2010, although it is stated the latter's massive increase is only for 2 years from 2018 and mostly for substantial buildings improvement. Communal areas and parking problems are also source of contention. All leaseholders are expected to contribute to communal areas including all garages and their maintenance, fixing and painting but some leaseholders whose leases clearly state they do not include a two-car garage or share of one for one car, with their vehicle having to park outside in an assigned parking spot, have objected, stating they should not have to pay for a service not communal to them only to those whose lease specifies that garage or part of it. Occupants of other buildings who also do not have garages assigned to them but park outside may have the same problem. This Inconsistency does not occur in buildings with and without lifts. Those with lifts pay extra, which is not contested. As those without lifts pay less surely the same should apply to those who do not have garages?
Do they also apply here at Sovereign Harbour? If not, surely they should. Many boats are moored annually ( year-round) in Sovereign Harbour. For what happens at St. Katherine's Docks in London and elsewhere see https://bwml.co.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/council-tax-payments-q-a-oct2017.pdf.
But many who rent out their flats do not stop their tenants from using them, much to the annoyance of other occupants who obey the law. Miscreants concerned try to disguise their illegalities with sprays, which waft around a building and make it even more obvious.
See Sovereign Harbour Beaches. They are not included in any of Eastbourne's beaches with the latter's' facilities, benches and dog regulations and more. Presently, Sovereign Harbour's North and South beaches, unlike all those Eastbourne beaches, have no facilities, no benches, no life-saving apparatus, no life guards. They are privately owned up to the high water mark by the properties opposite them but this is deliberately or routinely ignored by non-resident strangers. The walkway between the developments and the sea, intended for pedestrians only, are constantly abused by mostly non-resident cyclists, some of whom expect spectators to get out of their way.
The beaches, land between the beaches and walkway and the walkway itself are also often abused by dog owners whose dogs often foul the area and whose owners often do not pick up and dispose of the mess. People who live in Eastbourne proper come here to do what they cannot do in Eastbourne, let their dogs off leashes and let them roam and poop without fear of prosecution. It completely spoils the beaches for many local residents, who have complained in vain to date. Authorities and community groups have declined to tackle the situation. In October 2017 the Eastbourne Borough Council approved new restrictions requiring dogs on leashes at all times on the walkways surrounding Sovereign Harbour but Sovereign Harbour beaches are again excluded from the Council's directive. However, wherever the public is allowed to go - as they are on both Sovereign Harbour beaches and all walkways - the local authorities are legally obliged to comply with environmental regulations. See Issues and Dangers from Dog Fouling at http://www.kingdom.co.uk/articles/issues-and-dangers-surrounding-dog-fouling/
These beaches are legally, geographically and physically in the town of Eastbourne's Sovereign Ward area and residents pay their council and council-tax-related taxes to both Eastbourne Borough Council and East Sussex Borough Council. This surely should mean that the present arrangement whereby the Pevensey Bay entity that presently exclusively both controls these beaches at the behest of the Sovereign Harbour Trust and Environment Agency and gets 3,700 local residents (but no one else) to pay for the flood defences that also cover a much wider area involving more than 17,000 residents all the way to Bexhill, should be abolished, with these beaches at long last fully incorporated into Eastbourne's listing of public town beaches. When town beaches are periodically cleaned and maintained by the local authorities, Sovereign Harbour beaches, also legally in the town, are not, When considerable amounts of debris from plastics come ashore from the sea, especially noticeable in 2018, they are cleaned up at all Eastbourne beaches except those in Sovereign Harbour. While the general public continues to freely use and abuse the Sovereign Harbour beaches and this is encouraged by the beach owners they surely should not still be considered as private beaches but should be forced by the councils authorities concerned to be re-classified as public beaches. In the meantime, Sovereign Harbour beachfront area residents are not getting value for money for the beachfront flood defence and harbour defences they alone, nowhere else in the UK or Europe or the world, are required to pay to the Environment Agency.
Instead of giving leaseholders alone exclusive rights to enjoy views and walks on the property's privately owned beachfront paths and beachside area in front of any beach-side property, the management companies and landlords not only allow but encourage members of the public to roam, walk and cycle on the path and land fronting the buildings. Time and time again residents of beach-front Sovereign Harbour properties are harassed and bothered by non residents using cycles on the beach-front pathway that is too narrow to be used by cyclists, other non residents wandering or walking their often unleashed dogs and not cleaning up their dog messes. In inner-harbour areas, much wider pathways have the same nuisances. Sovereign Harbour residents alone should not be paying management fees or Estate Rental charges to subsidize public - not private-to-residents - usage of all the outdoor facilities. Either the management fees and Estate Rental Charges all residents have to pay should be reduced substantially or all areas and footpaths and walkways in the Sovereign Harbour area and its beachfront should be fenced off to deny access to non residents.
Note the complete lack of any trees or shrubs in front of the apartment units. Not an enticement to buy or lease, quite the opposite. Keith Forbes photo.
Trees in a seaside area but sadly not in Sovereign Harbour
Sovereign Harbour has more road traffic roundabouts that slow traffic per square mile than anywhere else in Britain or Europe or the world. Sovereign Harbour North has five roundabouts in less than a mile along the length of Pacific Avenue alone; another roundabout with four different exists to the Waterfront and Sovereign Harbour Shopping Centre stores; and more roundabouts along Atlantic Avenue and nearby. Eastbourne to the west, On Pacific Avenue, a normally clear road is now clogged with cars parked there immediately outside the new development at the north end of Sovereign Harbour. (One visitor from the USA wondered if the eight new dwellings there in four buildings comprised a new prison). More roundabouts at Polegate and beyond are maddening to visitors from the USA and elsewhere. Traffic is invariably heavy and waits can be long.
Sovereign Harbour, despite being classed by its promoters as an international destination, perhaps in view of all the above is not on the list of places to visit on the websites of the Eastbourne .Borough Council or East Sussex County Council, both of which have jurisdiction.
Photos by the authors
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© 2018. Revised: August 4, 2018