Taxpayers could pick up £9.5M legal bill

EXCLUSIVETAXPAYERS in Essex face having to stump-up a legal bill of nearly £10million because of a major land dispute that arose as a result of a new bypass in the county.

EXCLUSIVE

TAXPAYERS in Essex face having to stump-up a legal bill of nearly £10million because of a major land dispute that arose as a result of a new bypass in the county.

The disagreement centres on Essex County Council's building of the A131 bypass at Great Leighs, which took land from the former Essex County Showground.

The creation of the bypass has left part of the former showground marooned from the rest of it and the group owning the site has been looking at installing underpasses to join the two sections.

As a result, Essex County Showground Group Limited, owned by entrepreneur and developer John Holmes, lodged a claim for £3.5m against the county council with the Land Tribunal just over a year ago.

The claim against the county council has been brought under the Land Compensation Acts.

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But the group's claim has now rocketed to £9.5m because of the growing costs caused by alleged delays to Mr Holmes's plans to create a major racing venue at the Great Leighs site.

And if the dispute is not settled out of court in the next few weeks, the group's claim will go to hearing early next year.

Leader of the county council Lord Hanningfield and chief executive Paul Coen met with their counsel on Monday to look at the current issues.

The county council's legal advisors claim the showground group's claim is “not substantiated” and, as a result, the settlement figure mooted by the county council does not “come anywhere near the current claim” because the differences are “irreconcilable”.

A sealed offer could be made in the next few weeks to the Essex County Showground Group in order to either settle the matter out of court, or to try and limit the impact of court costs at the hearing in the event that the county council loses.

So far the county council has paid compensation amounting to £521,596 and surveyors' fees of £6,884.

Mr Holmes, chairman of Essex County Showground Group Ltd, said: “This is a highly complex case. There is no animosity between the parties: it is just something that has to be dealt with in this fashion.

“The council's statement is part of the proper course of action. If we can come to an agreement at the eleventh hour, so be it. Otherwise we will see what happens at the Lands Tribunal.”

A spokesman for the county council said: “This is a complex case that will be dealt with by the Land Tribunal in due course and, until it has made its decision, we shall be making no further comment.”

laurence.cawleyl@eadt.co.uk

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