In an age when standards in life have plumbed fresh depths, when so much of our national and local government bureaucracy has seized up, and when so much of our built heritage is being neglected, the planning officers of Central Bedfordshire Council have set the nation a fine example of how to do the right thing.
Working in conjunction with the Planning Inspectorate, a low-profile but high-quality arm of the state, they have ordered that the luxury spa complex unlawfully built by Captain Tom’s daughter and son-in-law on the old boy’s property must be torn down.
I wonder if, perhaps, Hannah Ingram-Moore and her husband thought that “changing the facts on the ground” and erecting the building would present the council with a fait accompli, and the (former) prestige of her late father’s name and his foundation would persuade the council to turn a blind eye to this blatant abuse of the system. How wrong this seemingly entitled and arrogant couple were.
Diana Fleming, the senior planning inspector, and Richard Proctor, the planning enforcement team leader at Central Beds Council, are the heroes of this particular saga, acting boldly in the national interest. Their public-spirited work stands in stark contrast to, for example, the shenanigans in Downing Street we’ve learned about in the Covid inquiry, and the lurid tales of corruption and misbehaviour in Westminster. So something in Britain still works; a cause for small celebration.
The story of what happened to Captain Tom’s charity and legacy is a complicated but mostly shameful one, not to mention a bit depressing. Having famously walked around his garden during the pandemic, turned his little fundraising project viral and raised about £40m for NHS charities, his charity has now been wound down, and the new Captain Tom building built at the family’s Bedfordshire mansion, supposedly for the use of the Captain Tom Foundation, is to be demolished. With it, will go the luxury spa, pool and gym facilities that were surely for the use of the Ingram-Moores, aspects of the project that were inadequately detailed in the original planning application.
The project “evolved”, according to the family’s solicitor. Unarguable, and precisely the point. The Ingram-Moores had used charity money to partially construct the facility when a revised application was submitted to the council in February 2022. That included a spa pool, toilets and a kitchen “for private use”.
The revised plans for the Captain Tom building were turned down by the council in November 2022. Hence the latest judgement.
From what I’ve seen since Captain Tom’s death in 2021, aged 100, his daughter has made a habit of saying whatever contrived commercialisation of his memory she was involved in, for personal benefit or otherwise, was “what he would have wanted”. So habitual was this psychic communion, that it was sent up in the mischievous pages of Viz, inspired by such attenuated projects as a memorial train named after him. I was rather wondering when the Ingram-Moores would pack off his walking aid, knighthood regalia and bunion lotion for auction at Sotheby’s to pay for their legal fees; no doubt, it’s what he would have wanted.
The point of this morality tale is obvious, but I’ll state it anyway. How did something so inspiring, kind and fun as Captain Tom’s walk come to be such a tawdry symbol of greed and shame? A sorry sign of our times, at any rate.