The company that owns Rusthall common – Targetfollow – wants to charge residents hundreds of pounds to walk over its land to reach their homes – or to access gas, electricity and water underneath it.
The Times can reveal that legal letters were sent earlier this month to a number of homeowners near the common.
The company is the current owner of the title Manor of Rusthall, which gives it control over the 256 acres that make up Rusthall and Tunbridge Wells commons.
The letter from EMW solicitors in Milton Keynes on behalf of Targetfollow said: “We understand that you, members of your household and your visitors cross over our client’s property to access your property, by foot, vehicles or both.”
It goes on to explain that relevant residents will in future require formal licences to cross the common and will have to pay an annual fee. Anyone who already has a licence will be exempt.
When asked about the annual fee, Targetfollow spokesman George Craig said it was ‘none of anyone’s business’ and that he ‘would be very disappointed’ if the Times wrote ‘anything about figures’.
But the Times understands some Rusthall residents have been quoted an annual figure of £350, as well as a one-off cost of £300 to set up the licences.
County councillor John Davies, who represents Rusthall, said he had been approached by a number of concerned residents adding: “This is an exorbitant charge. I’ve told people, for goodness’ sake, don’t pay, and I’ll do everything I can to help.
“Targetfollow has tried to pick people off by writing to them like this, putting pressure on, it’s wrong.”
A Tunbridge Wells solicitor, who asked not to be named, said: “If people start to pay, they may immediately lose any prescriptive rights they could have acquired by using the land for years.
“I’m going to call local solicitors. They need to be aware this is happening and maybe come up with a joint approach. The problem could be, if one person tries to fight it alone, it might undermine others’ efforts.”
Lawyers acting on behalf of Targetfollow have written to some – but not all – houses in Upper Street, Apsley Street, Sunnyside Road and Common View. The company said it does not know how many have been contacted, and that it would be ‘offering the same opportunity’ for licences to those living near other parts of the commons.
Ann Hughes, who lives in Upper Street, described Targetfollow as ‘awful people’.
She added: “It says a lot about a company if it writes letters to the owner without bothering to find out people’s names.
“It’s a money-making thing and should be exposed.”
Spokesman Mr Craig said: “As the landlord of Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons, the Manor of Rusthall is looking to formalise the rights of all individuals who use the commons. EMW Law is instructed to investigate where rights exist and do not exist. This is beneficial to both parties as it ensures continued use of land is formally documented and will prevent any title disputes in the future.”