Developer blasts council in court but ends up having to pay for not keeping village residential development site safe and tidy

By Nub News Reporter

10th Jul 2024 | Local News

IN a passionate court speech a building developer, who says a project in East Tilbury has brought about his 'ruin', has slammed Thurrock Council's planning team for creating problems around completion of his controversial site.

However, on a day of strong words and high emotions, Basildon Magistrates' Court heard the council rigorously defend its position on the Lawns housing development and they were ultimately backed up from the bench who delivered fines on developer Tom Ingleton.

The Lawns development, adjacent to Princess Margaret road in the village should have comprised 18 homes, six of which were supposed to be 'affordable' according to the planning permission.

However Mr Ingleton, through his company Ingleton Luxury Homes, only built 12, which are rented out at a commercial rate.

He Ingleton bought the site in East Tilbury from applicants who were originally granted permission but when he had put up the initial 12 homes, he began an argument with the council saying he was being asked to pay a larger sum of section 106 money asnd to adhere to conditions than the site merits.

A section 106 agreement is an agreement between a developer and a local planning authority about measures that the developer must take to reduce their impact on the community.

The battle between his company and the council remains unresolved and in retaliation it appears Mr Ingleton will not finish off works on the site which has a constant thorn in the daily lives of its neighbours. It has been not only described as an eyesore, but a magnet for anti-social behaviour.

Thurrock Council served a compliance order on Mr Ingleton, ordering him to clean up the site and make it safe – and because he has not done so to its satisfaction, the council took action in court, accusing him on non-compliance.

Views of parts of the site.

Brought before the magistrates yesterday (Tuesday, 9 July), Mr Ingleton had to make a plea of guilty or not guilty, but first asked for leeway to state his case and explain why he had been 'forced' into a situation that had financially ruined him, leaving him incapable of meeting the council's demands.

Somewhat unusually, he was given permission to do so and said: "Before I plead I need to explain my situation. It's completely pertinent to the case.

"I found myself in a very difficult position because of the situation we hand landed ourselves in. I am here as myself and as a director of the company that owns the land.

"When we bought the land we inherited the deal to provide social housing. The difficult though, is the style of housing the council wanted. They wasn't interested in us when we went back to the council and asked for a variance in those conditions.

"They wanted more information so we paid £10,000 for their consultants to review the situation.

"We did that voluntarily. But the planning officer then came back and said they would not accept our application for a variance, even though I highlighted that we had done everything asked and done everything under a legal route.

"I have made valid offers to the council and I am here by default, not my fault. We have been ignored by the council.

"I couldn't comply with the order because I am in a bad financial spot all because of this.

"I can't do anything on this site because of the council's inflexibility. They ignore me, I have tried everything. This has ruined me."

A view of the site which was described as an eye-sore.

At that point , the council's representative, prosecutor Lidia Iancu, intervened to say that what Mr Ingleton was saying was not relevant to the case before the magistrates, that of the non-compliance order.

She said: "He owns the land, he is responsible for the land. Whatever issues he has had with the planning application are not relevant to the matter in hand today."

Mr Ingleton's legal representative, barrister Euguene MacLaughlan, then interjected saying: "In my submission, on the balance of probability Mr Ingleton has done everything that could be expected of him. He has offered to meet with the authority and engage and attempt to resolve the situation, but they have not engaged with him. It would be very helpful if we could work with the local authority."

And he asked the court for an adjournment to see if the two parties could find a solution.

However, Ms Iancu, said the council's position was clear and it had only taken action after months of Mr Ingleton failing to meet with its basic requirements and she said: "It is not clear what and adjournment would achieve."

She did hint that the council 'might have withdrawn the application to the court' but she didn't want to say anything more at the point as the magistrates might end up hearing evidence as part of a trial.

And she referred to the council's responsibility to act after being in receipt of complaints about the state of the development and that Mr Ingleton had repeatedly ignored what was expected, though the council had communicated that to him. She said he had let the date of compliance pass willingly and that was the reason they were in court.

She added that Mr Ingleton's comments before pleading were 'not relevant to the matter before this court', ie the non-compliance order.

Mr MacLaughlan repeated his request for an adjournment, saying: "The local authority have said they are not prepared to do anything to help. That's unlawful and manifestly unfair.

"But this adjournment will allow the council and Mr Ingleton to co-operate."

Another view of the site.

At that point the magistrates, led by chair Clare Hickey, retired to take legal advice and consider the request. When they returned Mrs Hickey said it was the court's duty to expedite the trial and that any delay would mean not reconvening until November and that was not acceptable.

She asked Mr Ingleton how he wanted to plead.

He responded:" By definition guilty. I have been put in this position but I am not guilty, I have done nothing wrong. These people have caused me to lose everything. The bank is about to take my house, I have lost everything but I am forced to plead guilty," and he banged the court table in anger and frustration.

Given the guilty plea, potential witnesses from Thurrock Council which included senior planner Nadia Houghton, were dismissed without giving evidence.

The sentencing hearing then commenced and Miss Iancu outlined the council's position, saying: "This is a site that has been bought and developed by Mr Mr Ingleton.

"There was an obligation by the owner of the land to build affordable homes and to make a contribution to the department for Education. 18 houses were to be built, six of them affordable. He has built 12, none of them affordable.

"Mr Ingleton made an application to vary the original conditions but I understand he subsequently withdrew any live planning applications and so we have ended in this position. Notice was served on him, he is aware of the consequences.

"There has been ample opportunity for him to comply.

"There have been complaints about the state of the site going back for some time, dating back to 2022. The local authority saw no alternative than to serve the order."

Mr MacLaughlan then talked the court through his client's opinion of the council, saying: "There is a lot of background to this one. This prosecution may appear to have been necessary, but it has a slight distaste of belligerence about it.

"The council has done very little, and its principal officer has made this matter very personal.

"Mr Ingleton's company is gone, the only asset noe is the land, which he can't sell because of the conditions.

"It is what it is. He has pleaded guilty because he has had difficulty in complying with the order, but that is only because of the council's conduct towards him. It's been excessive from council officers."

Mr Ingleton was also given the opportunity of a final comment to the court and he said: "From the moment I got the notice I acted to discuss this with the council.

"I have tried to offset the fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour on the site with fencing, but it gets pulled down. Only last week a cabin on the site was burnt down. The anti-social behaviour just goes on.

"The answer would be to get in front of the council and have a pragmatic discussion about what can be done but the council has not wanted to hear about the viability of the site and what we can afford to pay.

12 houses were built and are occupied but there has been little grounds maintenance.

"I have been ignored. I have to accept what's going on but I have no way out.

"I would like to get proper resolution here and I will do my best to comply with this notice but to do that I will have to sell the land and at the moment I can't.

"My construction company has gone, all my workers lost their jobs over this whole situation.

"I have suffered mentally and physically. All I can ask is that the council come and talk to me so that we can resolve this matter once and for all.

"As is, things are very difficult. We lost our company due to the stress and everything involved with this case.

"I am trying to find ways to set up something else. I have had to borrow money from family members to pay my bills, look after my children and pay my shopping.

"I am trying to exist on a day-to-day basis at the moment."

Mr Ingleton told the court his only income was £3,000 a month from which he had to look after his family and contribute to managing his debts.

And he made a further application, through Mr MacLaughlan for an adjournment before the magistrates made a decision on the level of fines to check the veracity of his financial position, which the barrister described as 'a burden from a disingenuous local council'.

After considering the matter, the magistrates rejected the request and retired.

Returning to the court to deliver their punishment, Chair Mrs Hickey said: "In coming to our decision we have looked at culpability and harm.

"We accept that there are ongoing planning issues but on culpability Mr Ingleton received the notice and hasn't complied. He was responsible for clearing that land. He knew that.

"On harm, we note there was a complaint from a resident.

Another view of the unkempt site.

"This is clearly an eyesore and has become a centre for anti-social behaviour.

"The environment he has allowed to develop has encouraged that."

And she delivered the punitive verdict.

Mr Ingleton was fined £1,038 but because he pleaded guilty that was discounted to £934. Added to it is a victim surcharge of £374. Thurrock Council had estimated its costs at £4,184. Mr Ingleton was told personally to pay half that, making the total due to court £3,400. He has to pay it at a minimum of £200 a month until the debt is cleared.

The company, Ingleton Luxury Homes, was fined £1,000 with a £400 victim surcharge. It also has to pay £2,092 towards the council's costs making a total of £3,492. However, after Mr Ingleton told the court the company literally had no cash and no immediate opportunity to raise any, payment was deferred until January 2025.

Another picture showing the state of the site.

A resolution to part of Mr Ingleton's financial problems may happen later this month. The derelict and undeveloped part of the site is due to be sold at auction on Thursday, 25 July.

Cllr Lee Watson, Thurrock Council's cabinet member for 'Good Growth', said: "I hope this case serves as a warning to developers who think they can create a mess, disregard warnings and notices from the council, and behave as they please.

"Instead of building the homes he had permission to, this developer created an unsightly, and potentially hazardous, mess he clearly had no intention of clearing.

"Now he is facing the consequences of his actions. He has to pay out nearly £7,000 in fines and will be forced to clear his site as required by the notice we issued him last April.

"Residents should not have to put up with the mess left by irresponsible developers. This shows that we will always take action to protect our residents and their neighbourhoods."

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