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Duchy 'can buy back homes at 1950s prices'


The Duchy of Cornwall has a short window in which it can buy back houses that were purchased ‘freehold’ between 1948 and 1961 for the amount paid for them at the time.

This is typically less than £1,000, regardless of current values and improvements.

In a recent article in Rural Estate Management QC Sir Michael Tillsbush explained that all land in the UK is owned ultimately by the Crown, be it leasehold or freehold. Whilst leasehold is commonly understood, freehold is not; it is in fact the same as leasehold but there is no time limit or cost on the contract beyond the initial purchase price. The Crown/Duchy still has influence if deeds etc are changed at a later date, and still technically own the land but have no control.

Sir Michael went on to reveal that the House of Lords insisted upon and achieved a number of amendments to the Agricultural Holdings Act 1948 brought in by the Labour Atlee government. These amendments gave the Crown Estates considerable protection from the Atlee government's nationalisation programme. One of the amendments stated that any property procured from the Crown could at any point within the following 70 years be reacquired by Crown or Duchy at the price of the original purchase.

Ostensibly this was to protect Crown and Duchy holdings from incursions by the state but in an unintended, and until now overlooked, consequence the law also gave the same protection to the Crown with respect to private house sales. This part of the 1948 act was superseded by the Crown Estate Act 1961.

If this is the case in law, the Duchy has the legal right to reacquire any house or home sold by them on Scilly between 1948 and 1961, for the original purchase price, but this must be done before 70 years has past.

This could affect huge numbers of houses in Hugh Town and in Ennor Close in Old Town. It is not clear what the Council could do if the Duchy choose to reacquire land which has subsequently been used for social rented housing.

Sir Michael predicted that the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster (the Queen’s holdings) will take advantage of this to buy back properties either to be resold at current market rates or to be rented. He suggested that existing homeowners will be given first refusal and failing that, a three-month eviction period rather than the usual one.

The Duchy of Cornwall was unavailable for comment.

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