A team from our International Unit have returned from their 5,000-mile mission to help Britain’s second oldest overseas territory improve its land registration system.

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Len, Julie, Tracey and Andrew in the capital Jamestown

Head of International Relations Julie Barry and three colleagues made the long-distance trip to St Helena in the south Atlantic to look at the sustainability of its current system and mapping processes and recommend how to make best use of IT to convert its paper records.

They brought a wide variety of expertise: Julie heads the International Unit, Andrew Trigg is Land Registry’s Chief Geographic Information Officer, Len Craig is a Senior Software Designer and Tracey Salvin is a Deputy Product Manager with a background in casework.

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Jamestown sits in a narrow valley

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A street in Jamestown

St Helena’s Chief Magistrate and Registrar of Lands John MacRitchie contacted the International Unit earlier this year after publication of Supporting the Overseas Territories, a joint Department for International Development/Foreign Office White Paper.

The White Paper sets out how the British Government must respond to requests for assistance from the 19 British Overseas Territories, naming three of them, including St Helena, as being most in need.

Thanks to its geographic remoteness St Helena has particular need for government assistance to help it become a self-sufficient and thriving economy, it says.

Secure and sustainable registration system

With St Helena’s first airport due to open in 2016 the island’s authorities expect tourism and inward investment to boom. But they want to ensure the benefits are fairly shared, the delicate beauty of the island’s green heartland is protected and the land registration system is modernised and made more secure and sustainable.

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St Helena’s treasured ‘green heartland’

Head of International Business Development Emma Vincent met Mr MacRitchie to discuss how Land Registry could help and realised it was vital to visit St Helena.

“No two countries have the same requirement,” says Emma. “Making the trip to see the island’s unique conditions was the only way to understand the issues and make an assessment of what needs to be done.”

St Helena has a stable property market and enjoys comprehensive registration with agreed boundaries surveyed and marked out on the ground by red-painted ‘beacons’.

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Andrew digs a hole for a boundary ‘beacon’

Its 4,000 properties were registered between 1980 and 1986. Owners with deeds going back 15 years were granted absolute title. Everyone else was awarded possessory title that could be upgraded after 15 years. However the registrations exist only on paper.

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Deeds registers at the Land Registry Office

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One of the historic deeds

The International Unit’s preliminary report makes recommendations on mapping, electronic registration and the scanning of deeds and documents that will be put to the Registrar of Lands and St Helena’s Executive Committee.

You can read the team’s blog posts from the St Helena trip in our International section.


Gavin Curry
By Gavin Curry,
Editor at HM Land Registry