Published: 06:00, 21 April 2021
| Updated: 16:07, 21 April 2021
For seven years Langley Beck has been embroiled in a legal fight with Maidstone Borough Council after transforming an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty into something more akin to a rubbish tip.
Katie Heslop visited his rural home to get his take on the long-running saga.
Down a rural lane in Boxley, which is signposted by a wooden plaque splintered in half, lies a sprawling clearing surrounded by trees.
Rusted portacabins and cars half-hidden under branches and leaves mingle with grime-covered doors and windows lying on their side.
Garden gnomes perch near pipes and knotted wires. A teddy bear, its face turned to the mud, lies under a huge flat-bed trailer.
Further on, a plain of soil, scattered and piled up with more rubbish, stretches and looks over a green field.
To the normal eye, and certainly the local authority, this site is a rubbish dump and a blight on Maidstone's green spaces.
But to the owner Langley Beck, 58, who first moved here in 1984 with his mum, it is his home and full of family memories, he told a colleague and I when we visited him this week.
The site, down Bell Lane, has been the subject of a long-running planning wrangle since at least 2014, which, this April, resulted in a High Court full injunction being secured by Maidstone Borough Council (MBC).
The injunction orders Mr Beck to clear the 14-hectare area within six months. All activities on the site must cease immediately and no one, including Mr Beck, can live there now. Mr Beck must also pay the council's legal costs of £10,000.
The council says the site, which is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and sits beside the M2, has been blighted by Mr Beck and has been littered with commercial and industrial waste for many years.
This has left the area, which MBC says is within a designated ancient woodland, contaminated as a result of illegal dumping by vehicles and burning.
After fetching us garden chairs and a cushion, Mr Beck, surrounded by abandoned cars and accompanied by his legal advisor, explained why he plans on fighting the ruling and what it would mean if he could no longer live on the site, which his grandad rented before him as a farmer.
"Life wouldn't be worth living... I know I have lived here legally," he said.
In 2014, MBC served Mr Beck with an enforcement notice which required that the land should not be used for residential purposes, stationing of caravans, the storage of motor vehicle/vehicle parts, building materials and waste, and highways equipment and domestic items should be removed from the land.
Mr Beck does not deny the site was used to store and break up vehicles, that building materials were dropped off, and that he lived on it.
But, he says, when he first started permissions were not needed for those activities. Storing and breaking up vehicles by other companies on the site happened as early as 1993.
He and his advisor claim that under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the council served the enforcement notice too late.
Under the act, where there has been a breach of planning control "consisting in the carrying out without planning permission of building, engineering, mining or other operations in, on, over or under land, no enforcement action may be taken after the end of the period of four years beginning with the date on which the operations were substantially completed".
After the enforcement notice, the council says Mr Beck continued to go about his business and significantly expanded the site.
MBC says it has tried to resolve the situation with Mr Beck over many years, but he ignored the notice. This led to them seeking an initial interim injunction to seek compliance with the notice, before seeking a full injunction.
Mr Beck says at first he mistakenly thought the notice was to do with evicting people on another section of his land, and not until reading it again later did he realise the full implications. This meant he ran out of time to appeal the notice.
In 2018, Mr Beck was given a "waste carrier licence", which came with exemptions which allowed him to continue receiving the industrial and commercial waste.
But, he did not realise he also needed planning permission to carry this out, and he argues this was not made as clear as it could have been.
His legal advisor said: "Mr Beck lives in a very straight forward black and white world, he had a licence saying he can do all this. The first time it [needing planning permission] was bought to Mr Beck's attention was in high court."
Mr Beck also disputes that the area is ancient woodland, having had a report commissioned which casts doubt on this.
Walking around the site, it appears Mr Beck cares deeply for his land, saying he wouldn't sell it for £10 million.
But why, then, has it become what looks very much like a rubbish heap? A fish tank full of murky green water here, mud-caked tyres and tractors there.
The Bell Lane site has been used to store building materials and waste
His advisor says that to Mr Beck, building materials, hard core and timber bought into the site, are not waste, even if MBC sees it as such.
They're all materials that can be reused by Mr Beck, for the house he wants to build on the site.
Mr Beck also says he has never burnt tyres and his legal adviser says he only burns hard core and tree roots.
Many trees, Mr Beck says, were cleared by UK Power Networks in 2017. A storm also bought down many other trees, he reports.
UK Power Networks has confirmed that trees on the site were cleared "alongside six spans" of the power line, across a 40-metre width, which was completed in consultation with the landowner.
Mr Beck and his advisor admit that in the past 18 months, during the pandemic more "general waste" has been bought in, resulting in the site expanding, and say that some people bringing their waste have taken advantage of Mr Beck.
Now, no material is being bought on to the site and Mr Beck says he is sleeping in his car. He owns a house nearby but it is continually targeted by vandals and uninhabitable he says.
The cabin where Mr Beck lived before the injunction - located right in the corner of the site and without internet or electricity - is called Dawn Cottage, and he says he been paying council tax on it since 2011.
Mr Beck envisions clearing the rubbish and building a garden, a green field and a house to replace Dawn Cottage - using the timber and materials on the site.
He said: "It should go to appeal, I'm going to try and take things further. I know I lived there legally, I paid to live there, why should I be forced to live in a car?"
However, he's still waiting to hear if his application for an appeal is granted.
With this, plus a £10,000 bill hanging over his head which he says he cannot afford, from where I stand, his dream looks a long way off.
An MBC spokesperson said: “Mr Beck and his legal team along with representatives for the Council produced substantial evidence at the one-day hearing in the High Court which was all considered at the time.
"The significant amount of evidence produced by Mr Beck, his barrister and his representatives was considered by the judge, however it was all dismissed and the injunction granted.
"There is a formal process for seeking leave to appeal a High Court decision but at this time, the council have not been informed of any formal approach to the court or notification to the council.”