DC NOTES Touring Caravan Sites
This section covers proposals relating to touring caravan sites as distinct from static holiday parks. Tented sites are dealt with at (24.4) and winter storage of unoccupied touring caravans is the subject of section (24.9). Transit Gypsy sites are considered at (24.5)
Legal background 24.31
The generality of planning and site licensing control over caravan sites is dealt with at (4.35) where it is shown that touring caravan sites are a material change of use of land requiring planning permission and also subject to licensing under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. However, the provisions of the GPDO make the matter of determining whether smaller touring caravan sites require express planning consent a trifle complex as noted below.
Motor caravans are caravans for the purposes of planning control and site licensing (see 4.353).
Permitted development 24.311
Part 5 of Schedule 2 of the GPDO indicates that the following categories are permitted development.
A. The use of land, other than a building, as a caravan site in the circumstances where a site licence is not required.
B. Development required by the conditions of a site licence for the time being in force under the 1960 Act.
NB The 28 day temporary uses right given by Part 4 of the GPDO does not apply to caravan sites.
Reference to the 1960 Act shows that the following, amongst others, do not require a site licence and therefore are permitted development.
a) a caravan parked on any land for two nights by a person travelling with a caravan, provided that no other caravan is present and the total number of days in any year when the land is so used does not exceed 28.
b) Three caravans may be sited on land over 5 acres on the same basis as a) above.
c) Land occupied and supervised by an “exempted organisation” approved by the SOS Exempted organisations include The Caravan Club, The Camping and Caravanning Club Ltd, and the Motor Caravanners Club Ltd. In addition a maximum of five caravans may be parked on exempted organisation approved sites, and rallies and meetings supervised and organised by exempted organisations may be held for 5 days.
d) Sites run by a local authority.
The exemption at c) above, is mentioned in PPG1 Annex B as a “useful means of providing small sites in sensitive rural areas where larger sites would be unduly intrusive and should help to contribute to the rural economy in those areas. The use of these sites by other than members of these organisations would be a breach of the terms of the general planning permission.”
It is of note that breach of the 28 days allowed as permitted development under a) and b) above was held to have occurred when a site was open for the reception of campers for longer than that period, even though on some days no units were actually on the land (Alnwick DC 11/9/85 040-232-251).
Article 4 Directions 24.3111
As noted in PPG21 Annex B, an Article 4 Direction (see 4.345) may be served having the effect of removing the above rights in sensitive areas. Reference should be made to the court case Cole v Somerset C.C. 1956 which dealt with a situation where enforcement action was taken with regard to a Caravan Club site where an Article 4 Direction had been made. The court held that as the development had already been lawfully carried out by exercise of permitted development rights, Article 4 did not allow the withdrawal of that permission. The notice was quashed. A later caravan site appeal case to use the Cole judgement is (Sedgemoor DC 29/1/92 DCS No.052-957-025). However, the situation where the GPDO allows a permanent change of use may be distinguished from where it gives a temporary permission, using South Bucks DC v SOS 9/11/88. Here it was held that an Article 4 Direction may immediately operate to prevent further use of unexpended days allowed in a calendar year.
Site licensing 24.312
Other than in the circumstances noted above a site licence under the 1960 Act is required for touring sites, and conditions based on Model Standards (see Circular 23/83 as amended) are applied. However, these are less onerous than applied to permanent sites, for instance the maximum permitted density for touring ‘vans is 60 per hectare compared with 50 per hectare for residential sites. Site licences may only be issued in situations where there is a planning permission or LDC relating to the use, and in the years following 1960 caravan site operators with existing use rights were given the opportunity to apply for planning permission afresh, in order to facilitate the granting of a licence.
Material change of use issues 24.313
There is no doubt that use of agricultural or other open land as a touring caravan site would be a material change of use of that land. It is possible that a change to touring use from a static holiday park could also be material although in practice it is very unlikely that this change of use would be requested, being an economic downgrade. The court case Devon CC v Allen’s Caravans (Estates) Ltd 2/11/62 confirmed that, although a matter of fact and degree, tents to caravans could be a material change of use.
Increase in numbers or length of season 24.3131
Increases in the number of touring caravans at a site may not necessarily cause a material change of use as held in Guildford RDC v Penny 1959 and Hartnell v MHLG 1964. If a site has planning permission the numerical content of a site will normally be controlled by planning conditions but where the use is unlawful the question will have to be determined on the facts of the case. A good appeal example is (Babergh BC 22/11/96 030-460-742) where enforcement action was taken against a seasonal caravan site and an inspector took evidence which showed that the use was low-key and mainly limited to 4-7 units at weekends at the beginning of the relevant 10 years period for immunity. At the date of the notice it was found that there was an average of 28-30 caravans on site with all week occupation, and this the inspector felt that there had been a material change of use by intensification over the period. Enforcement action was taken against caravans in two adjacent fields at a farm.
In another case it was found that five caravans in one field had established use rights and that a further three caravans here would not amount to a material change use. Another four in the adjoining field would be a material change of use were it a separate planning unit. Alternatively if the site was considered as one planning unit the addition of a total of seven units to the five with established use rights would also be a material change of use. The inspector found that the sites were separate planning units and the notice failed as a nullity (Swansea City Council 22/8/83 DCS No.041-639-365).
In the situation where a site is already operating with an LDC the appeal case (Rother DC 24/10/03 DCS No. 040-963-228) is of note. Here a site had an LDC for 8 caravans and a further LDC for nine was requested. An inspector noted that the change was not material as there would be no change in the perception of the use. To allay the local authority’s fears about “creeping lawfulness” the inspector worded the notice to make it clear that the point of reference should continue to be the original 8 caravans.
In the case of seasonal extensions, conditions will normally have specified a period within which a touring site may operate. Where sites have lawfully operated without controlling conditions of this sort it is possible that any significant extension of times when a touring site operates could be held to require permission on the basis that the balance of uses (i.e. caravan use and agricultural use) has been materially altered (see Penwith DC 13/4/84 DCS No.036-585-540).
Whether ancillary facilities are development? 24.314
Touring caravan sites although fundamentally temporary in character, are accompanied by varied permanent facilities ranging from simple water points and waste disposal facilities to sophisticated on site leisure/catering facilities requiring substantial buildings. As already noted facilities required by a site licence are permitted development. However, almost all other permanent features are likely to be considered “operational development”, even a humble standpipe (see Lake District SPB 11/11/94 100-031-444).
Control practice 24.33
Ministerial guidance 24.331
PPG 21 24.3311
Current Ministerial guidance on touring caravan sites is to be found in PPG21 Tourism (1992). Annex B concerns holiday and touring caravans and states that both holiday and touring caravan parks will remain as an important part of the self-catering holiday sector, and can contribute much to the local tourism economy as would conventional holiday accommodation, while using less land for the purpose. The Annex notes that the traditional divisions between touring and motorised caravans and tents are becoming more blurred with the availability of more flexible accommodation e.g. trailer tents. “Local planning authorities may find themselves considering planning applications which combine the different types of touring accommodation in terms of “touring units”. When submitting such applications developers and site owners should be encouraged to be specific about the overall numbers. In considering applications in terms of touring units authorities should take into account the land use implications of the different types of unit, in particular in relationship to the use of local roads and to access. But it should often be possible to grant a permission which allows flexibility between the numbers of tents and touring units within an overall limit on the numbers of pitches. In such situations two licences will continue to be required and will need to contain interdependent conditions to the same effect.
PPG21 annex B para. 7 continues “The demand for sites has concentrated traditionally on the most popular holiday areas, particularly on the coast, although there is increasing demand inland. New sites should be sited so as to be effectively screened, and planned so as not to be visually intrusive. Sites should not as a rule be located immediately by the sea but should be set back a short distance inland where they are not visible from and along the coast.”
The guidance also notes at para. 8 ” Through their local plans planning authorities should examine the scope for encouraging holiday caravan operators to improve the quality of their sites and to relocate sites away from particularly sensitive areas, such as the Heritage Coast. In some cases, to facilitate improvement or relocation, local planning authorities may also need to consider whether some expansion of the area covered by a site should be allowed so that improved layouts and better landscaping may be achieved. Local authorities may also need to consider the possibility of dividing large sites into smaller units to decrease the overall environmental impact. In these circumstances, to ensure the overall scale of the operation is not increased, local planning authorities should consider the use of planning conditions to limit the number of pitches on the site….”
PPG 25 23.3312
PPG25 Flooding (2001) states ” Caravan, camping and other temporary occupancy sites give rise to special problems in relation to flooding. They have often been located on coastal or riverside sites with a high risk of flooding. The instability of caravans places their occupants at special risk and it may be difficult to operate an effective flood warning system. Such development should be refused in the areas at highest risk, where overtopping or breach of defences would lead to rapid inundation, as should proposed changes of use to residential mobile homes or permanent housing. Where permission is granted for caravan/camping sites or other temporary holiday accommodation, a planning condition should require the erection of suitable warning notices to inform people entering the site and the preparation of effective warning and evacuation plans. Advice on the way that such matters might be approached is given in Appendix G. It is strongly recommended that sites licensed under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, which do not require planning permission, should have similar warnings and plans. Caravanning and camping organisations should liaise with the local planning authority and the Environment Agency about any flooding risks which might apply and the arrangements for notifying users of the warning systems and evacuation procedures.”
PPG2 Green Belts (1995) does not specifically refer to touring caravan sites but they are normally considered to fall under the heading as “essential facilities for outdoor sport and outdoor recreation”. An appeal example where this deduction was accepted is (North Warwickshire BC 13/2/03 DCS No. 029-502-022). Here it was proposed to increase the number of units from 60 to 120. Here an inspector accepted that there would be no further encroachment and although there was an effect on openness the site was well screened.
In Wales Technical Advice Note 13 deals with Tourism and contains advice relating to touring caravan sites. However, this guidance is very similar to that contained in English guidance PPG21 (23.3311).
Local policy guidance 24.332
The general thrust of governmental advice is reiterated in most structure plan and local plans in areas where there is a concentration of touring facilities. In such localities, restrictive regimes similar to those applied to residential and static holiday sites are nearly always in operation. Quite often there will be a policy restriction to “small” sites, although the term will not always be defined. Development plans generally advise that any new sites justifiable because of need in a particular locality should be established away from locations where demand is highest -normally coastal areas. The Norfolk Structure Plan is typical and states that new caravan sites or significant extensions to existing sites will not normally be approved on the coast or in the Broads area. The plan urges that demand should be directed to inland sites to reduce congestion.
In certain locations special protection policies have been prepared in order to conserve unspoilt stretches of coast compromised by caravan development or general congestion caused by tourism. Such policies usually relate to static holiday and chalet developments as well as touring sites and may specify limits to the number of pitches to be provided.
The concept of the “saturated area” is sometimes contained in structure or local plans as a basis for the control of caravans. When tested at appeal the saturation concept can prove difficult to relate to a defined area, but in (Ceredigion DC 27/10/87 034-992-780) the inspector was satisfied that in a locality where the summer ratio of visitors to residents was 10:1 any further caravan accommodation would be likely to have unacceptable effects in terms of exacerbating traffic congestion and the demand for beach and parking space.
Policy presumptions in favour of touring sites sometimes exist in districts well away from the coast and established holiday areas, especially where it is desired to develop tourist/recreational activities or cater for identified transit (one night stay) and localised recreational needs such as country parks or water parks. A typical example is contained in the Hart District Local Plan (1986). This document states that for part of the rural area within the district consideration will be given to touring sites in excess of 15 pitches proposed as part of a scheme with recognised recreational potential or which provides recreational facilities which could be used by local residents. The appeal case (Rutland DC 16/12/86 DCS No.036-608-056) related to a proposal in an area, that around Rutland Water, subject to a local recreation policy which sought to promote the development of facilities such as camping, and the conflict which led to the appeal concerned only the suitability of the proposed siting.
Control issues 24.333
The likelihood of planning permission being forthcoming for new touring sites on open land is, as indicated above, strictly limited by ministerial and local planning policy, except in certain inland locations. As the weight of applications for new developments occurs in traditional holiday areas, such as North Wales, the Lake District and the South West peninsula, where policy is set against any new caravan sites, there is a low rate of success for appellants.
A brief look at some of the few allowed appeal decisions for completely new touring sites throws some light on what special conditions may in practice lead to a planning permission. In summary this selection of cases demonstrates that small scale touring caravan parks in areas subject to rural protection policies have a chance of approval if a) there is judged to be little significant visual impact, having regard to landscape features existing and proposed and visibility from public viewpoints, b) there are no significant hazards or amenity effects arising from traffic generated , c) there is no harm to residential amenity, d) there is a wider policy or strategic need for the development (24.3332).
A new 16 pitch touring plus a tent area was proposed on a rural site in Cambridgeshire. Local policy encouraged new tourism developments in rural areas provided they were not environmentally detrimental and would not affect residential amenity. An inspector noted that the development was at a low density and it would be seasonal. The fact that the site was lower than flanking road was also considered to be in favour as the units and parking would not be prominent in the landscape. There would be no harm to residential amenity or highway safety and an essential service for tourists would be provided (Huntingdonshire DC 10/3/99 DCS No. 053-782-167).
It was proposed to use a derelict orchard for a small touring site, near Bangor, North Wales. The site was in a landscape conservation area. The inspector noted various policies relating to touring caravan sites, including a local subject plan on the topic, and he thought that these offered a policy loophole for the development in that it was not in an identified “pressure area” and there was a need for new touring sites in the Bangor area. He therefore looked at the proposal on its merits. The site was unobtrusive and screened and would not give rise to a traffic hazard (Arfon BC 11/6/86 DCS No.033-951-460).
A small touring site was proposed at a smallholding in Rhuddlan, Clwyd. Again there were unresolved plan policy interpretation issues, and the inspector looked at the proposal on its merits. The site was flat and close by were a clutter of other uses, including a static caravan site. The inspector was not convinced that the proposal would harm the landscape in the area (Rhuddlan BC 3/6/86 DCS No.045-514-901).
An unauthorised site next to a residential area at Porthleven, Cornwall, was the subject of enforcement action. The structure plan stated that the site was within a tourism restraint area and caravans were not permitted within 5km of Praa Sands. The inspector thought that as the site was small and had been operated without problems, it should be allowed as an exception to policy (Kerrier DC 9/4/86 DCS No.042-259-089).
It was proposed to develop a 71 pitch caravan site (including 51 touring pitches) in Richmond, North Yorkshire. Local plan policy indicated that such developments which aided tourism could be acceptable if they were “small scale”. The inspector noted that the Caravan Club defined a small touring caravan site as having 30-40 pitches, and on this basis the site was too large to comply with policy. However, the fact that other sites in the area had been allowed to expand under this same policy to a number of pitches in excess of that now proposed led the inspector to conclude that the appeal proposal was “small”. Another factor in his judgement was that the pattern of sites in the area was open and dispersed. It was concluded that local settlements could absorb the activity generated and there were no highway or residential amenity objections. As to landscape impact the site was concealed in a wooded valley (Richmondshire DC 10/8/01 DCS No. 055-619-729).
Intensification of site use by the introduction of additional pitches within a park boundary may be an acceptable way of increasing facilities for which there is a demand without encroaching onto open land. Proposals of this sort may often be allowed provided that problems such as increased traffic generation and site amenity matters have been resolved. Site extensions onto adjoining land normally come into conflict with countryside protection or caravan related policies, as already discussed. although some proposals have been allowed on appeal where the characteristics of the land were such that the extra camping was not visually significant and the traffic generated not hazardous or intrusive. Plus factors, apart from the basic precedent argument, are that additional site buildings may not be required for the extension to the site and that existing unsightly buildings may be removed, resited, altered or otherwise improved.
Applications are sometimes submitted for permission to use extra land as “overspill” areas to cater for extra demand at peak summer weekends, and such proposals are often permitted by local authorities subject to conditional limits on the number of days of usage
Site extension and intensification proposals are more commonly encountered with regard to static holiday sites (see 24.234).
Impact on landscape and ecology 24.3331
Visual impact on the surrounding landscape is the commonest ground upon which touring 1 caravan park proposals founder and one that has very considerable force. The fact that land is only to be used in the summer months may not necessarily be a strong argument in mitigation since there is universal acceptance of the argument that it is in these months that the vast majority of visitors come to enjoy the landscape. The strength of countryside protection policies is exemplified by the appeal case (Restormel DC 6/12/85) where a proposed touring site in an area severely compromised by pylons and china clay tips was still thought likely to erode the character of a landscape characterised by the absence of development. The inspector observed, “The caravans by reason of their shape, size, reflective surface and colour would be incongruous and so to a probably lesser degree would be the tents. The lie of the land is such that a caravan or tent on all but a small part of site would be readily seen. I agree that any tendency towards unsightliness would be lessened by screening, but the scope for effective screening is limited.”
The following cases demonstrate the visual intrusion issue further.
Enforcement action was taken against breach of a condition that a warden’s caravan was not to be occupied in the winter months. There was nothing to prevent it remaining unoccupied for this period. An inspector noted that the site lay in an AONB and the caravan would be a significant visual intrusion in the countryside. There was nothing that required a presence on site in terms of security and maintenance, and the notice requiring non-occupation was upheld. The case was challenged in the High Court. It was argued that the inspector had misdirected himself in that he had purely concentrated on the visual impact of the caravan without considering the impact of the use itself in terms of having someone living on the site in the winter months. The court agreed and remitted the case Leyshon v SOS for Wales 9/4/1992.
Retrospective permission was requested for the retention of the use of land as a touring caravan and tent site in an AONB. An inspector accepted that there was sporadic housing development in the locality not all of which blended into the landscape. However caravans and tents would appear as artificial elements in the landscape which even for a few months would harm the character of the landscape. In addition permitted but dormant caravan sites in the vicinity did not justify in the inspector’s view, further harmful development which was not outweighed on tourism or farm diversification grounds (Isle of Anglesey Council 21/9/00 DCS No. 038-671-546).
An extension was proposed to a caravan park for touring caravans and tents and the use of a touring caravan area for the siting of 38 static caravans in a coastal preservation area and AONB. The appellant suggested that a demand for wider units had reduced the capacity of the site rather than because an area previously permitted for static units was in use by touring caravans. An inspector opined that replacing the tents and touring caravans with static mobile homes would introduce visually more intrusive development, especially in winter. It would therefore seriously harm the character, appearance and natural beauty of the AONB and coastal preservation area. The proposal to extent the park to accommodate 26 touring caravans and 13 tents was also rejected on visual grounds. The inspector stated that by comparison with the open and natural form and appearance of the present field, the proposal would have a seriously adverse visual impact on the natural beauty of the area. Whilst the period of use would be relatively short it would occur at the time of year when it would be seen by the greatest number of people. The benefits of proposed landscaping would be limited and uncertain although they might provide some modest enhancement of areas which were already attractive and would have some ancillary wildlife and other benefits. However, the inspector concluded that they would provide little mitigation for the visual intrusiveness of the holiday park which would be increased by its proposed alteration and enlargement and did not outweigh the harm to the character and appearance of the AONB and the coastal protection area (East Devon DC 16/3/04 DCS No. 042-208-547).
A use of land for the stationing of touring caravans and tents was proposed in open countryside with no particular designation. Policy supported an increase in such accommodation provided the rural character and appearance of the countryside was protected. The site adjoined the M4 motorway and bunds were proposed to screen the site. An inspector considered that due to the particular topography of the site views of it were restricted. In addition the bunds would blend in with the undulations in the landscape if sensitively designed (North Wiltshire DC 23/10/01 DCS No. 046-901-115).
Screen planting: The possibility of providing for screen planting by planning condition is discussed at (24.34), but it is a common conclusion that the length of time that hedges and trees take to mature, the lack of screening capability of deciduous trees in winter, and the likelihood of them growing at all, particularly at exposed seaside sites, makes total reliance on such conditions difficult as a means of mitigating visual impact. Indeed it may be successfully argued that screen planting can draw attention to a site rather than hide it, a point taken in several cases such as (East Lindsey DC 24/10/88 057-872-428) and (South Wight BC 6/4/87 055-343-061).
Despite these arguments practice has shown that in some cases site conditions may be right for landscaping and screening, and occasionally even screen fencing may be an acceptable requirement. A case of particular note is (Boston BC 30/6/00 DCS No. 038-654-043) where a touring site was proposed in a flat area in Lincolnshire. An inspector considered that the site would represent an intrusive element in the rural landscape harmful to the character and appearance of the area. However, boundary planting had taken place, and although it would take some time to mature, the inspector thought that it would be unreasonable to withhold permission solely on that basis. With some thickening planting it was considered that the proposal was acceptable.
Improvement of existing despoiled landscape: As with other forms of development it is a material consideration that a site is already despoiled by existing development and what is proposed would cause no harm and may result in an improvement (see 4.1412 and 4.1413). A good example of this argument succeeding is (Teignbridge DC 13/9/02 DCS No. 037-514-429). Here a site had been occupied by a wartime hospital used afterwards to resettle disposed Polish citizens. The huts on site were typically of concrete construction with corrugated asbestos roofing and the whole site was derelict. An inspector observed that the land was unsightly and clearance would improve the character of the countryside. Caravans would be no more objectionable than derelict huts and overall there would be no overriding harm to the countryside.
Ecological harm: Prejudice to nature conservation and a nearby SSSI may be a potent objection (Bridgnorth DC 19/4/85 DCS No.043-322-818). In this dismissed case the “new dimension in human activity” brought to the Wyre Forest by the extension of a site was felt to be at the expense of natural life. The provision of an ecology area within the boundary of a site helped the applicant in a case in a National Park (North York Moors NPC 3/4/84 056-230-905)
Loss of trees on site can also be an important issue. The flexibility of layout that touring caravan sites allow usually means that any felling is kept to a minimum, except when the site is to be formed within in a wood (Craven DC 15/6/87 DCS No.051-398-920). In this case the extent of the removal of tree cover caused the appeal to be dismissed. The Newark case mentioned at (24.3336) is also noteworthy for the consideration given to the tree loss issue, and the Highland case at (24.345) is also of note.