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Dad faces legal battle with Kent County Council after erecting fencing on his land in Lyndhurst Way, Istead Rise

A dad-of-two who bought land next to his house to extend his garden has been ordered to take his fence down or face prosecution.

Richard Hickson paid £5,000 to purchase the “unused” patch of grass in Istead Rise, near Gravesend, from developers P J Brazier and Company Limited in 2018.

Richard Hickson says he only wanted to make a garden for his family
Richard Hickson says he only wanted to make a garden for his family

He spent a further £20,000 to create a suitable garden for his two daughters, aged five and eight, and erected a six-foot fence around the land.

But after almost five years, Kent County Council (KCC) has ordered the boundary be removed as it is a “publicly maintainable highway” and says it still has highway rights, despite the fact Richard is the landowner.

This means the area is maintained at public expense by the council.

Richard said: “It was just a bit of grass with trees. It was between our house and next door. It was not used by anyone, it was a litter trap, and people would park on it.

“It is devastating news. All we wanted was somewhere for our girls to play.

The garden the family has created
The garden the family has created

“We will now potentially have to dismantle a portion of our fence and effectively grant public access to an area that is a haven for our children's playtime.

“It is concerning that if I had not bought it someone else would have and might have built a small bungalow on there. It is happening all over Istead Rise, people are trying to build houses on patches of grass but we just wanted a garden.”

The 37-year-old said he and wife Jade were unaware the land, in Lyndhurst Way, would be subject to highway rights, nor did the developers selling it. He sought legal advice but at no point was this order brought to his attention.

He added. “We would never have put the fence up or made it part of our garden if we knew.

“We thought if you bought it through the land registry it was then yours to do with what you liked. We find ourselves embroiled in a property dispute that was not of our making.”

The fence surrounds the property but leaves a metre gap between it and street
The fence surrounds the property but leaves a metre gap between it and street

On the deeds, it states the purchaser should erect and maintain “a suitable boundary fence or hedge on the sides of the said land” which should not be lower than four feet (1.2m) high and strong enough to resist cattle.

The IT consultant said KCC sent the family a letter in February following a tree inspection which made it aware of the fenced-off land.

It said it is “an offence” to “obstruct the highway in any way” and the fencing was doing that.

The letter – from a senior enforcement officer and seen by KentOnline – added: “KCC has the ability to prosecute you for this offence and if found guilty, you may be liable to a fine, imprisonment, or both.

A map showing the land in question
A map showing the land in question

“As the highway authority, we have a duty to assert the rights of the highway user and therefore we require your immediate attention to this matter. The fencing surrounding the land needs to be removed immediately.”

A further letter dated August 14, 2023, outlined the options available to the family.

These included removing the designation of the highway from the land in question either by taking the case to court or the Government which could make the order.

It also stated the family is in breach of planning laws and needs to apply for permission to have a fence over a metre and to change the use from an open space to a private garden.

The letter from one of KCC’s lawyers also stated the family needed to pay the local authority a financial settlement for the felling of four trees which had a value of £2,120.

The land before Richard bought it. Picture: Google Maps
The land before Richard bought it. Picture: Google Maps

Richard is in the process of securing the correct permissions and a stopping-out order to remove the highway rights but said if he is not able to secure all three will look into selling the land.

He added: “It sounds ridiculous. We could go to prison for putting up a fence. It has just been massively stressful.

“This is not going to benefit anyone and nobody cared in the first place. It is just costing everyone more money.”

The dad, who has lived on the property for around eight years, said they would even consider moving out of the village if they cannot keep their garden.

A spokesman for KCC said: “This is part of an ongoing legal process and we are unable to comment at this time.”

The family has been supported by ward Cllr Dakota Dibben (Con) who represents Istead Rise, Cobham and Luddesdown.

He said: "I can understand where KCC is coming from but think it is being quite heavy-handed. It is difficult.

"I have supported the family where I can and will continue to do so no matter the decision and try and help them to find a solution."

Richard raised concerns that the land could be built upon if he were to sell it and fears it could end up like the grass patch in Worcester Close.

But Cllr Dibben said he thinks this would be unlikely as the size of the area is similar to other patches in the village that were refused planning permission previously.

Although he added: "With these parcels of land you never know."

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