07 February 2016

Lost Property

A couple of important items on the agenda for New Mills Town Council meeting on Monday 8 February are connected to each other.  These are item 8: ‘NMTC assets - working party’ and item 14: ‘Rock fall at the Torrs’.

Why are these items connected, and why are they important?

Asset Register

Dealing with the ‘assets’ issue first, every council in England is required to maintain an accurate register of its assets.

Always a good guide to these matters, Arnold-Baker on Local Council Administration states as follows:
‘An effective accounting system provides an accurate record of the origin, quantity, whereabouts and disposal of the council’s property and money in a form which will make mistakes obvious’. (1)

The specifics of this where real estate (2) and leasehold property are concerned are set out in Governance and Accountability for Local Councils - A Practitioners' Guide (England) (3).
‘The Council is required to maintain an asset and investment register… internal audit will be interested in seeing that there is evidence that the continuing existence of owned and managed assets is checked on a regular basis.  In a larger council the register may be hand written, typed or computer produced; the essence is the same in that the system should be verified on a regular basis.’

Does New Mills Town Council have an accurate and complete asset register, so far as land is concerned?  The answer would appear to be ‘no’.  The proposal to form an assets working party is aimed at remedying this.

Presumably the specific goal of this working party will be defined by the council, and will be something along the lines of making NMTC’s asset register accurate, complete and accessible to council at all times.

Future New Mills councillors should not be faced with the difficulties and uncertainties that the current town council administration is having to deal with in various real estate matters.

The Torrs Riverside Park

Two recent events in the Torrs have brought the issue of an inaccurate and/or incomplete asset register into focus once again.

One was a man foolishly permitting his out-of-control dog to drag him off a path, and the other is a minor rock fall, also involving a path.

In the first case, the man appears to be seeking to drag New Mills town council into his dog’s adventure. That would be with a view to a nice compo payout.   In the second case, looking at the rain forecast before a nice walk through the Torrs should not include having to check for percentage likelihood of falling rocks.

At the last town council meeting (27 January 2016). Cllr Derek Brumhead was asserting that ‘New Mills Town Council definitely owns the Torrs’  HPT Editor was pointing out that if the Torrs came into the ownership of New Mills Urban District Council through a Compulsory Purchase Order, then the Urban District Council’s abolition on 1st April 1974 meant the property was not owned by the town council but by High Peak Borough Council on that date.

Subsequent to this respectful, well-mannered difference of view Land Registry documents show that on 29 July 2008 High Peak Borough Council transferred its ownership of six patches of land in the Torrs to NMTC.  The Land Registry document states; ‘The land (i.e. the six pieces transferred) became vested in High Peak Borough Council by a deed poll dated 4 April 1973 pursuant to the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965…’

Upon examining Land Registry's title plan of the transferred land, there is potentially good news and bad news for the New Mills town council.

Runaway Dog Man’s incident seems to have happened on a path not in the ownership of the town council.  Conversely, the rock fall happened in an area owned by the town council, although also according to Land Registry the pathway onto which future rocks may fall is not town council-owned.

Both of the pathways are part of the same ancient route.  In essence this is a cart track between Rock Street in the town centre and the Rock Tavern public house on Wirksmoor Road.  The path passes the remains of the old mill at the junction of the Sett and Goyt rivers.

According to the Land Registry title plan, this route is explicitly excluded from New Mills town council ownership.

The bits of land transferred by High Peak Borough Council to NMTC equate to a small proportion of the Torrs Riverside Park.

In these further Torrs ownership investigations, the key documents that now need to be urgently obtained include the Torrs Compulsory Purchase Order 1973 (or a similarly titled Order) and the search of the whole of the Torrs Riverside Park land area on Land Registry’s index map.  The index map contains all titles registered by Land Registry.

Locating as many other original deeds and documents as possible will also be beneficial in this detective work.

Notes referred to in this article:

1.  9th Edition, paragraph 17.1

2.  The term ‘real estate’ is not an Americanisation. In English law it specifically means freehold land.  Buildings etc standing on that land are included, although this is subject to any lease granted by the freeholder.   The definition of ‘real estate’ is included here simply to distinguish it from other forms of property that must also be on the individual council’s asset register like parks vehicles, trailers, town hall pianos etc.

3.  Page 36 of March 2014 Edition