The Secret Tunnels of South Heighton

Facts regarding the HMS Forward Tunnels


These wartime tunnels were excavated by the Royal Engineers 172nd Tunnelling Coy, beneath Glynde Estates and other private property from 3rd June to November 1941 under Emergency Powers Legislation for the Defence of the Realm. They were neither recorded nor registered at the time for reasons of absolute security. Following the war the MOD paid compensation to the landowner(s), and the tunnel became private property.


A specialist Property Lawyer from Faegre and Benson of Pilgrim Street, London, acting on behalf of The Friends of HMS Forward under the Pro Bono Scheme (See Google), assured us that in accordance with English law, the ownership of, and responsibility for, the tunnels became fragmented with the sale and development of the hillside c.1972, and has now passed on to the freehold titles of those properties above them, whether or not they are currently recorded on a particular Land Registry Property Title. CAVEAT EMPTOR.


In August 2003 English Heritage commissioned a pinpoint digital mapping survey of the tunnels to enable an in-depth Land Registry search to determine current ownership of the tunnels. It is now known to within a millimetre exactly who owns what. All property owners directly concerned were invited to a meeting in the village hall on 27 May 2004. Only 66% attended, and half of those didn’t return after a break for tea. Those that did stay were informed of our offer of an obligation to maintain support for the tunnels in return for a 999-year lease on ‘their’ tunnel at nil rent subject to a 100% uptake. That would enable FHMSF to qualify for a HLF grant towards restoration costs, which if granted would absolve proprietors from liability for extra insurance premiums on their property and also restore their property equity values.


One very assertive property owner claimed ‘he never ever received an invitation’ (whereas THREE were hand-delivered to his property) ‘and anyway, he didn’t attend meetings’.


Proprietors demanding that "the government should fill them in" and that "the Local Authority should carry out a full structural survey of the tunnels" should remember that (a) nobody else is going to pay for work done on their property - that is their prerogative, and (b) nothing can be done to the tunnels that will impede lawful access to any other proprietor's property for inspection or maintenance purposes, and that this might impose a duty of care upon owners to maintain their own part(s) of the tunnel in good condition. Only where the tunnel passes beneath roads, verges or pavements is there any question of ownership.


Bannisters (Builders) Ltd who developed the hillside c.1972 commissioned Consulting Engineers, Andrews Kent & Stone to produce a professional survey and report on the tunnels, a copy of which was sent to Lewes District Council Building Control, who exercised certain tunnel-related constraints under the then-existing building regulations. The local authority therefore knew of the existence of the tunnels before a single property was sold. Those who claim they were not advised of the existence of tunnels under, or even in the vicinity of their property, at the time of their conveyance should perhaps have a word with their solicitor?


Other potential perils.


A little-considered peril arises from the accumulation of explosive atmospheres, from either leaked sewage effluent or piped gas. Three such potential instances (2 sewage, 1 gas) have been averted in fifteen years through in-tunnel vigilance. Probably few residents realise that neither the local authority nor Southern Water has ever adopted the main sewer that serves Glynde Close and Heighton Crescent, and that in the event of a problem arising from a simple blockage (or worse), it would be the responsibility of all residents to finance the repairs. Doubtless something else residents were not made aware of? Lewes District Council & Southern Water hold information regarding the specific properties served by the unadopted sewers. If necessary, have a word with your solicitor.


Whilst these perils are no longer declarable under the recently-abolished Home Information Pack scheme, what would be YOUR reaction if YOU purchased a property and discovered these facts later? Your solicitor will advise you correctly.


Is your property insured for all perils? Are your insurers aware of the existence of tunnels beneath or in the vicinity of your property? If you are not adequately insured for ALL perils, they could refuse to meet a compensation claim; worse still, it might even invalidate your mortgage agreement? Read the small print. Tell them; let them be the arbiters.




The foregoing information is given in good faith, and with the best of intentions for the benefit of those concerned. Nothing in this report changes any facts - only your awareness of them. If you have any doubts regarding any information on this site you are recommended to visit your local Citizens' Advice Bureau (  Tel; 03 444 111 444 for FREE and independent advice. This site owner has no personal connection with any solicitor, insurance or estate agency.


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