DC NOTES The legal definition of a caravan
A statutory definition of a caravan is to be found in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 as supplemented by sec.13 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968.
The 1960 Act at sec. 29 states that a “caravan “means any structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another (whether by being towed, or by being transported on a motor vehicle or trailer) and any other motor vehicle so designed or adapted, but does not include a) any railway rolling stock which is for the time being on nails forming part of a railway system, on b) any tent.
Section 13 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 is not as clearly worded as it might have been. Under the heading “Twin-unit caravans” the section states that twin-units are composed of not more than two sections, constructed or designed to be assembled on site by means of bolts, clamps or other devices, and should not exceed 60 feet in length, 20 feet in width and 10 feet in height overall. They shall not be treated as not being a caravan as defined in the 1960 Act by reason only that they cannot lawfully be so moved on a highway when assembled. As stated, (4.3512) these dimensions have since been modified.
The House of Lords decision in Wyre Forest D.C. v S.O.S. & Allens Caravans Ltd 22/2/90 is the standard authority for using the statutory definitions given above, and not the ordinary and everyday meaning of the word, to determine whether in planning terms a lawful “caravan” has changed into something that is not a caravan. Subsequent to this judgement planning practice has tended to accept that if a caravan which is lawfully sited is substituted by another structure which transgresses the transportability and/or dimensional criteria given, then planning permission is required.
Many cases may be cited where this line has been tacitly accepted. However, the House of Lords judgement has never sat comfortably with the normal sec.55 tests for development which require operations or a material change of use to have occurred, and some confusion exists as to the correct approach. The view that the statutory definition of a caravan was not relevant was illustrated in a case where an inspector rationalised that as there had been no material change of use involved when a smaller caravan was replaced by a larger one. He felt that no matter whether the statutory definition of a caravan had been transgressed on not, there had been no development (South Bedfordshire 18/8/99 DCS No.036-273-362).
Until the above matter is resolved, the following subsections refer to situations where the approach as to whether development had occurred when caravan structures have been changed has followed the Wyre Forest approach, or alternatively where the sec.55 tests were relied on. Jones v Green on behalf of the Friends of Fordwich and District 16/12/05 is a gypsy case in which the definition of a caravan was discussed. It exemplifies the difficulties in determining the status of structures as caravans. In this case, two caravans had been adjoined by a wooden structure and another had a wooden addition. The judgement was that each structure should be considered as a whole and, if so considered, they would be incapable of being moved as a single unit. This was especially so in the case of the former. Given that they could only be moved if dismantled, they did not fall within the statutory definition of a caravan.
In Fareham BC v SOS and Barton 05/06/01, the council sought to overturn an inspector’s decision to allow the erection of a house and garage in lieu of a mobile home. One of the grounds of appeal was that the relevant development plan policy did not include provision for the use of land for the stationing of a mobile home to equate to a permanent dwelling house. The court disagreed, being perfectly satisfied that the caravan constituted an existing permanent dwelling house and that the conclusion by the inspector was not irrational.
The criminal appeal court decided in R v Schonewille 11/3/11 that a caravan in West Lancashire was still a caravan even though it had been taken inside a building, had its wheels removed and been cemented to the floor. The council had issued an enforcement notice targeted at two caravans on the land. The appellant removed one but then knocked down the wall of a building, took the other inside and walled it up, arguing that he had complied with the notice because it was no longer a caravan. The judges decided, however, that the caravan did not cease to be a caravan simply because it had been placed within a building.
The 1960 Act Sec.29(1) definition of caravan includes “any motor vehicle so designed or adapted” for human habitation. The meaning of “adapted for human habitation” as it applies to motor vehicles was explored extensively in Becker v SoS & Wealden DC 1983. The case concerned a challenge to an appeal decision in which enforcement action was upheld requiring cessation of use and removal of caravans, including a converted Commer van. The appeal raised the question of whether the Commer van was a caravan. The judge concluded that motor vehicles were not caravans unless they were either designed for human habitation or had been physically altered in some way for that purpose. Motor vehicles such as the Commer van which were not designed for living in, but which merely happen to be capable of it without physical change but simply by being equipped with beds and cooking facilities, do not fall within the definition of the 1960 Act. On this basis it is clear that a motorhome would come within the legal definition of a caravan.