'Sorry': Ingoldmells caravan owners apologise to East Lindsey residents 'forced to foot legal bill' over age limits

Campaigners fighting to keep their caravans on a council-run park in Ingoldmells have apologised to the residents of East Lindsey 'forced to foot the legal bill'.

Caravan owners at the East Lindsey District Council-run Kingfisher park in Ingoldmells are taking the council to court.

High Court action comes after the passing of a deadline set by Kingfisher Owners to resume talks about the 15-year age limits on vans set by East Lindsey District Council in 2019. In addition, van owners could apply five one-year extensions, subject to inspection.

The authority previously said the age limit policy was made because they "have made a commitment to investing in and improving Kingfisher Caravan Park".

In a new deal agreed at a recent council meeting, the original five one-year extensions were increased to ten.

However Stuart Allan, leader of the group, said this was not acceptable as the guaranteed period was "still only 15 years".

He told the Standard: "We have tried our best to talk the Council but they have remained steadfast.

"We have now submitted this to the High-Court for their judgement."

In a letter to the residents of East Lindsey, the group said: "This letter is an apology to the residents of East Lindsey that will now be forced to foot the legal bill of the Council who think they can unilaterally impose changes to people’s lives.

"As some of you may be aware, East Lindsey District Council own the Kingfisher Caravan Park in Ingoldmells.

"They have owned the park since 1974, and it has been commercially beneficial to you as residents of East Lindsey by supporting the Services the Council have been delivering to you.

"To clarify how beneficial, in 2017 following a release under the Freedom of Information Act, it was ascertained that the Kingfisher Caravan Park supported the delivery of Services by the Council to the sum of £1.4m per year (this was after all the running costs were removed).

"In August 2019, prior to the Covid outbreak, the Council decided to try and impose new rules of ownership on the Kingfisher Caravan Park."

"These changes limited the age of caravans on site to guaranteed 15 years plus 5 x 1-year extensions (but only if the Council thought your van was ok), and ignored the fact that people spent time and money maintaining their caravans to keep the site looking nice.

"The changes purely focused on a flawed business plan to try and generate more income - which Council official created that business plan is still unclear, but it was wholly supported by all members of the Council’s Executive Committee in a closed session in August 2019.

"Two months later and three weeks before the closure of the site, the Michael Reeson (the senior manager

in charge at the Kingfisher Park) sent out a letter telling everyone what he/the Council had decided to

do.

"He gave everyone the option to accept the changes or leave. By the end of February 2020 more

than 200 caravans, out of a total site of 726, had gone. These caravans had either been scrapped, sold

privately to dealers or – if lucky – moved to other sites.

"Covid struck in March 2020, which is key because the Council keep stating that the loss of caravans

was due to Covid, which is not true. It was primarily caused by bad management and planning by the

Council – which they are now admitting partially.

"In November 2019 the Kingfisher Owners Group was formed to fight the Council imposed changes, on

the grounds that they were changing contracts that had already been agreed, without any consultation.

This Group rallied hard to get the Council to engage and discuss the situation throughout 2020, but despite letters from lawyers they refused to engage – always just stating we disagree but never explaining why.

"Finally in November 2020, after appointing their own external legal team, they engage in discussion but

still stated “we disagree” with no explanation. The Council were offered the chance to mediate in

October 2020 and initially refused (they did not see the point) but then in January 2021 they changed

their mind and decided to engage/mediate with the Group.

"Although they agreed, they delayed the first meeting until April. At this meeting things were very

positive and, through the support of the Deputy Chief Exec Tim Leader(now left), there appeared to be

a way to resolve this.

"Unfortunately, in June 2020 (the second meeting) they issued a lawyers letter

the day before the meeting saying, “they were not wishing to change their position on age of caravan”

even though at the first meeting they had agreed there was potential to negotiate. The second meeting

was suspended.

"A third meeting was arranged, and Andy Fisher represented the Council along with Coun Fry.

Despite best the best efforts of the mediator, and the Groups wish to discuss options, the Council held

hard on a position that was not tenable to the Group.

"Following the meeting, news broke of the audit of the Council which highlighted the £842,000 loss

caused by Kingfisher along with the further losses in 2020, 2021 etc… The site still has over 300 empty

pitches and appears to be losing around £1m per year until the Council can work out a way to stop the

drain of funds.

"You may wonder how they are planning to stop this? Have they gone back on their plans? No. They

have instigated and investigation in January 2022 to report in April 2022 but until then it is still full

steam ahead, with one minor amendment…

"This year there should have been another 100 or so caravans removed (another £250,000 of lost

income), but the Council have now decided to offer 10 x 1-year extensions beyond the guaranteed 15

years (which is a worse position than offered in mediation), but still only if the Council think they are

happy to keep your caravan on site. Still losing 50 or so caravan ground rents for 2022.

"As I said initially this letter is an apology to the residents, not because of what the Council have done

to-date (loosing £1m per year against the Services they deliver to you), but against the fact that the

Group have now taken this matter to High-Court for legal judgement. The Group will self-fund their

challenge, but the Council will be reliant on your Council tax to fund their challenge which will eat more

into the Services they provide.

"The Group will be upstanding to the residents of East Lindsey and whilst the Courts decide the outcome

of this case, we will continue to pay our ground rent to support your Services. Other people outside of

the Group may consider leaving the best option, and hence drop the income received by the Council

from the Kingfisher Caravan Park further.

"All we are asking is that the Council realise their mistakes and realise the position that they did sell

caravans to the existing owners on terms that cannot be just changed because the Council want to.

Once we can achieve this, we can help to rebuild the site and bring it back to what it was before, it will

take a long time."

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