‘I just wanted to redevelop’

“I was trying to improve the Bay Area – but I won’t stay where I’m not wanted,” that’s the response from William Smith, who this week was found guilty of six counts of breaching an IW Council planning enforcement notice in respect of land at Merrie Gardens that he controlled through two of his many businesses.

Mr Smith represented himself during the eight-day trial, which lasted three days longer than scheduled, after being told that the cost of professional legal representation could well exceed £100,000.

The land on Newport Road in Lake, behind the Premier Inn, was the subject of long-standing legal wrangles with the IW Council, which in 2019, issued an enforcement notice for the land to be returned to its original state. Mr Smith had prepared the site for potential development subject to planning permission he was seeking at the time. The council, represented by barrister, Duncan Milne, claimed the site had been used to dump building materials and other waste, while Mr Smith claimed that the land in question was the subject of repeated and still ongoing illegal fly-tipping by various parties, including ISG PLC, contractors for Morrisons. Mr Smith said he had gone out of his way to be helpful, even giving ISG PLC a free licence to access the site, which they refused to renew in 2019, meaning they were effectively operating illegally.

Mr Smith appealed against the enforcement order, but his appeal was dismissed in September 2020.

Mr Smith is unrepentant, despite the jury finding him unanimously guilty on all counts. He said after the case: “I believe an IW Council planning officer lied in court and misrepresented issues, particularly in respect of ISG PLC’s occupation of the site and fencing the perimeter. I asked the council to include them in the enforcement notice but they never did. I complained about it – but nothing was done.

“I think the judge was fair, but the process as a whole was wrong. I was amazed the jury found me guilty. I thought they would look at the facts, but I was found guilty simply because I owned the land. We did take some chalk onto the site to alleviate flooding, but that was all.

“I wanted to redevelop the Bay, as I have previously done for Union Street in Ryde and parts of Ventnor, but the council seem dead set on opposing anything that will benefit the Island.

“I’m Marmite; you either love me or hate me, but I was brought up to do the right thing and I am prepared to put my head above the parapet. Some people’s terrorists are other people’s freedom fighters.”

Mr Smith says he intends to appeal his conviction and already has somebody working on it, but he is aggrieved that “as a convicted felon”, he will be unable to visit countries such as America and Australia, where he would be able to raise funds for charitable enterprises. The fight with the IW Council has already lost him finance for a project he has been working on in Kendal, Cumbria due to his six convictions.

Despite his contempt for the IW Council, Mr Smith is positive about his future in Cumbria, saying he is winding down his remaining interests on the Island. He said: “Kendal Council is far more welcoming, they even have a regeneration body called Kendal Futures – they’re nothing like the IW Council. They realise they should help people improve their area and reach a compromise.” He added that the judge has indicated that he is unlikely to receive a custodial sentence, and he expects to have to pay large fines.

Mr Smith’s view of the outcome of the court case was not shared by the IW Council’s cabinet member for planning, Cllr Paul Fuller, who said: “This is an extremely good outcome for the Island and for residents. I’m very happy with the news. It is just not acceptable to flout planning rules and it is something that residents feel very strongly about.”

The IW Council was asked for a comment from officers, but at the time of going to press had failed to respond.