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Last Updated: Friday, 19 March, 2004, 13:38 GMT
Villagers facing mass evictions
Villagers will attempt to raise 7m to buy the properties
More than half the residents of a Devon village have been told they may have to quit their rented homes within weeks.

Their landlord, the Combe Estate, is to put 28 of the 40 properties in Gittisham, near Honiton, on the market.

Residents of Gittisham, described by Prince Charles as an ideal English village, are being offered the chance to buy their homes.

But angry villagers say they cannot afford to buy and claim the way they have been treated is feudal.

It's really sad - this is where I've lived for 17 years and my two children have grown up here
Bill Griffiths

The village is at the heart of the 3,500 acre estate and the properties to be sold could fetch an estimated 7m.

Estate owner Richard Marker, who inherited the properties, said he was selling because the cost of maintaining the properties was becoming "very prohibitive."

Mr Marker said that about 25% of the tenants had secure tenancies which would not change.

He said: "An ideal situation would be that one person will come along and buy it as one lot and nothing will change.

"Hopefully some people will buy their own properties. If an individual tenant has a problem with that they should come and see me and hopefully we can resolve any problems that they have."

Richard Marker: Offer to meet villagers
Villagers held an emergency meeting on Thursday and are planning another on Saturday to co-ordinate further action.

Local parish councillor Ken Hopkins, 55, said agents from the estate went around the village hand-delivering letters saying they may have to leave their homes.

"This is a low income area and the prices are going to be sky high," he said.

He criticised Mr Marker for not speaking to villagers face to face.

"We are somehow going to try and raise 7m or the heart of the village will be lost for ever," said Mr Hopkins, who could have to be out of his home by 23 June.

Map showing location of Gittisham
The village is at the heart of a 3,500 acre estate
Another villager, Gary Andertton, was wearing a black arm band after receiving news that he too will have to leave by 23 June, after 11 years in the community.

"We didn't think anyone was going to rip the heart out of the village in such a cold way - what has happened is feudal," he said.

Civil engineer Carol Hall, 33, seven-and-a-half months pregnant with her first child, said she and her husband Hamish had to be out of their home by 31 May.

She said the Estate's action was "just cruel," adding their three-bedroomed home was expected to fetch about 250,000.

The villagers issued a press release saying: "We thought the feudal age had ended," adding that the "living village" would be replaced with a "dormitory."

The BBC's Leigh Rundle
"Around two-thirds of the properties are owned by the Combe Estate..."

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