Of all the casework I have taken up as MEP, no single issue has been as long-running, as problematic or as intractable as that affecting a Derbyshire couple – Paul and Andrea Hodgkinson, and their plans to start a new life in Norway.
It’s a long story. The Hodgkinsons purchased property and land in Norway in 2006 from a Norwegian citizen. They planned to start their new life at Fyresdal, in the Telemark region, running their own organic Cashmere goat and tourism business including the use of Clydesdale horses.
But their dream has been shattered as a result of a long-running dispute over land ownership, and what I regard as the “disgraceful” behaviour of a Norwegian public authority.
Having bought the land, they erected the wooden fence poles necessary to keep the goats and horses in, but subsequently received a letter from the Statens Vegvesen, the equivalent of our Highways Agency, saying the fence posts were on publicly owned land and to remove them. Hundreds of posts were subsequently removed and smashed up.
However, I have seen documents proving that the sale of this vital strip of land was completed after it had already been sold to the Hodgkinsons, and approved in the Norwegian Land Register. Statens Vegvesen have also seen this evidence. The sale of the strip of land to them cannot be legal.
Paul & Andrea enlisted my support in October 2009, and, for well over two years I have been pursuing various avenues – more complicated because Norway is not a member of the EU – to try and help.
They have so far failed to get Statens Vegvesen to relinquish the land. Instead, this large, powerful, public authority has told the Hodgkinsons that they must take expensive legal advice to pursue the matter.
In an awful Catch-22 situation, the Norwegian Agricultural Authority is now forcing the sale of the property, saying the Hodgkinsons are not farming the land as originally agreed.
In addition to the Highway authority, I have written to a variety of Norwegian officials and MPs. I’ve met the Norwegian Mission to the EU, and Norwegian observers to the European Parliament. We’ve been trying to get the Norwegian media to take up the matter, and I’ve now written to the Prime Minister as a last resort to ask for his intervention.
Even now it’s not too late for action. There is a petition and much more information on the Hodgkinson’s website. Public pressure, whether from Norway or elsewhere, could still bring a resolution to this sad story.