Leisure firm left with bill after High Court ruling

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A LEISURE company which failed to convince a planning inspector it was the victim of a “vendetta” at the hands of Lincolnshire County Council will have to pay the price after a High Court ruling.

Tallington Lakes Leisure Park accused the council of “deliberate persecution” and “conspiring to do it down” at the height of a bitter dispute over alleged unauthorised soil tipping.

The company’s leisure complex includes about 280 mobile homes, watersports facilities, a go-kart track and a dry ski slope.

Since 2006, it has been in dispute with the council over its use of soil, rubble and inert waste to create land banks and spits to enlarge lakeside areas, London’s High Court heard.

After threats of prosecution, Lincolnshire County Council issued an enforcement notice against the company in 2009, alleging unauthorised use of part of the site.

Tallington Lakes denied any breach of planning control and responded that such tipping had been going on since the 1970s and was thus “immune” from enforcement action. It also said the council was wrong to focus on a small part of the site, rather than the whole of it.

The company triumphed after a public inquiry in September last year when central Government planning inspector, Martin Joyce, said the enforcement notice and the plan attached to it were so error-strewn and defective that it had to be overturned.

But he refused to order the council to pay the considerable legal costs bills the company ran up in defending itself.

On Monday Tallington Lakes director, Neil Morgan, appeared at the High Court to argue that Mr Joyce’s refusal to award the company its legal costs was “irreconcilable” with his decision to uphold the appeal against the enforcement notice.

Urging the judge, Mr Justice Irwin, to intervene, Mr Morgan said of the inspector’s decisions: “I can only compare them to a mustard and strawberry jam sandwich. They are just like chalk and cheese; they don’t go together”.

Mr Morgan said the council had been told “time and time again” that tipping had been taking place across the leisure park for decades, but still persisted in taking enforcement action in relation to a small part of the site.

Describing the planning inquiry as “three days of excruciating pain”, Mr Morgan said there had been “multiple errors” in the council’s stance and the inspector’s refusal to award the company its legal costs was “fatuous nonsense”.

Tallington Lakes had been put to enormous expense in appealing against an enforcement notice which was so obviously defective that the council should have withdrawn it before the inquiry, he told the judge.

“The costs decision is untenable; it made no sense and doesn’t mesh with the circumstances or the facts,” he said.

However, dismissing the challenge, Mr Justice Irwin said the inspector had rejected the company’s allegations that it had been subjected to a “vendetta” or “conspiracy” by the council.

Although the council’s “robust” action in issuing the enforcement notice was based on a mistaken understanding of planning laws, the company’s allegations of bad faith against the council had been dismissed, he added.

Describing the row between Tallington Lakes and the council as “acrimonious”, he said the High Court was always reluctant to overturn costs decisions made by planning inspectors who heard the live evidence.

To add to its existing legal bills, Tallington Lakes must now also pay £3,650 towards the costs run up by lawyers representing the Department of Communities and Local Government at the High Court.