DC- NOTES – When is a caravan a building operation? and Garden Carvans
This section concerns sites for one or two caravans such as may be located within the curtilages of existing houses, or on other small plots in rural areas. Typically such caravans may be intended to be for private residential use or for casual holiday letting purposes. Larger organised residential caravan sites are considered at (24.1), static holiday parks at (24.2), touring caravan sites at (24.3) and Gypsy sites at (24.5). Agricultural caravans are included at (9.3) and those intended to house workers at adjacent commercial activities are considered at (9.232).
Legal background 24.61
The siting of an empty caravan on land does not normally involve development provided that it is not judged that a material change of use has taken place to a use for the storage of caravans. However, as soon as a caravan is inhabited as a dwelling unit development will occur in terms of a material change of use requiring planning permission except where permitted development rights operate within the curtilage of a dwellinghouse or the where the extent of residential use is de minimis.
Permitted development 24.611
Schedule 2 Part 5 of the GPDO Caravan Sites permits the use of land, but not buildings, as a caravan site subject to the condition that the use is limited to those circumstances specified in the First Schedule to the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 which sets out the categories of caravan siting that do not require a site licence. The full schedule of caravan sites exempt from control is summarised in (4.3511) Control of Caravan Sites. A similar provision operates under the 1992 Order in Scotland.
The categories of permitted development from that schedule which area relevant to this section are as follows:
A caravan within the curtilage of a dwellinghouse and incidental to the enjoyment of that dwellinghouse.
This provision re-states the exemption from being classified as “development” given by sec.55(2)(d) to “incidental” uses at dwelling houses generally.
Whether an “incidental” residential use includes “primary living accommodation”, such as an en suite guest bedroom in a garden caravan is unlikely to create a development control issue, even if it is felt that there are no permitted development rights available, given that the siting of an “incidental” caravan in the garden of a house or a flatted development will not be considered to be a material change of use under sec.55(1) of the Planning Act, merely an “intensification” of the pre-existing residential use. Indeed, the courts have ruled that intensification of a use that is within a Use Class cannot be material (see 4.327), and dwellinghouses (which includes flats in England and Wales) are within such a Class (C3).
The position alters if a garden caravan becomes a self-contained dwelling providing all the normal facilities for day to day living i.e. it is someone’s separate home. In this case it is normally held that two separate residential planning units have been created and planning permission is required. However, in the case of caravans there is no specific mention in planning law justifying such a conclusion as sec.55(3)(a) of the Planning Act only specifies that “the use as two or more separate dwellinghouses of a building previously used as a single dwellinghouse” is a material change of use. Therefore the contention that material change of use has occurred if a caravan, used as a self-contained living unit, is placed within the curtilage of an existing house relies on the thrust of “planning unit” court judgements (see 4.324) and/or an assessment that the change has in fact made a material change in the character of the land, albeit that residential remains the basic land use.
The following cases are of interest.
An LDC for 2 static caravans to be used as ancillary accommodation by the sons of the occupier of the main dwelling was allowed by an inspector who found that the caravans were situated within the curtilage and were used for sleeping and entertaining but not as self contained accommodation because meals and laundry took place in the house. (West Lancashire 12/11/09 DCS No.100-065-256).
An unauthorised caravan occupied by a carer of elderly relatives in the main dwelling was accepted as incidental accommodation in the curtilage of the house (Wokingham 8/4/09 DCS No.100-060-956).
A mobile home used as additional living space in the curtilage of a rural dwelling was found to not be permitted development due to its substantial size which the inspector considered to be tantamount to a new dwelling and not an annex (Ashford 2/12/08 DCS No.100-059-030).
In a similar case to the previous one, the large size of a caravan in the curtilage of a dwelling in open countryside meant it could not be regarded as permitted development. Although the occupation by an elderly relative with all meals being prepared in the main house was incidental to the main house, the excessive size of the accommodation went beyond what could be considered as incidental (Medway 3/5/07 DCS No.100-048-615).
An enforcement notice alleged use of a caravan for residential purposes. It was claimed that the use was incidental in that it was used by a cancer sufferer who required a place for quiet relaxation near to his family living in the main dwelling. An inspector observed that the caravan was provided with all mains services and could support separate residential occupation. The appellant admitted that about half the time the caravan had been present it had been occupied and for the remaining time he had lived in the main house. It was concluded that this level of residential occupation could not be considered incidental (Carmarthenshire 10/7/03 DCS No. 037-166-164).
The occupation of a caravan within the curtilage and same planning unit as a permanent dwelling was found to be independent and not incidental to the main house, mainly because use of washing facilities and laundry at the house by the family occupier of the caravan had varied, was a matter of choice and had not taken place for a period of some seven years even though at the time of the appeal use had resumed. The inspector found evidence of independence of lifestyle and independent occupation of the caravan and granted a LDC (Mole Valley 3/7/00 DCS No. 043-754-593).
Enforcement action was taken with regard to a mobile home at a dwelling. An inspector observed that the mobile home had its own water and electricity and was equipped with cooking, washing and toilet facilities. It could not be regarded as ancillary or incidental to the normal enjoyment of the dwellinghouse (South Bedfordshire 19/11/90 DCS No.056-472-135).
Enforcement action was taken against a caravan in the garden of a suburban dwelling. An inspector considered that any caravan used to provide primary residential accommodation was lawful provided it was comprised within a single residential planning unit. The council argued that the dwellinghouse was not occupied and therefore the caravan could not be ancillary to it, but an inspector disagreed. He felt that it had all the requirements for day to day living, if cramped and cluttered. The caravan provided the appellant a welcome refuge in which to eat and relax away from the discomfort of the main building. The notice was quashed and costs awarded to the appellant (Bromley 11/1/00 DCS No. 049-743-268).
Note should also be made of the debate (see 10.1511, 10.211 and 10.212) as to whether self contained dwelling units have been created within outbuildings such as stables or barns
A caravan on a site where building or engineering works are in operation for which permission has been granted, or is not otherwise required, and used for the accommodation of those employed on the operations.
This class of permitted development was designed to meet the requirements of mobile labour forces assembled for large projects, but is also used to cover instances where individuals are building or renovating their own property. It can be argued that an individual is “employed” by reason of “undertaking” the job and thus may live in a caravan on a site whilst building takes place. The court case Adams v Shadey 1985 made it clear that this wider interpretation may be accepted. Even if not, local authorities do not usually refuse requests for limited period consents when they have given permission for permanent development of a site. Nevertheless, legal problems do occur and enforcement action can become necessary, particularly where individuals have got into difficulties over the completion of self-build projects.
The Adams v Shadey case also considered the phrase “building or engineering operations”. On the question of whether these had commenced the court accepted that the definition was satisfied if some work, including site work, had been carried on a site over an extended period, although it did not resolve the issue of whether occupation by the whole family of a self-builder took a caravan out of the permitted development class. This question was also referred to in Hammond v SOS 1997 but this was not an issue directly concerning the court and no comment was made on the issue save that it was “very technical”. The Rother case noted below should also be referred to.
The High Court dismissed the case R (Grange) v Harrogate BC 2009 in which an appellant appealed against a planning inspector’s decision that he had stationed a caravan on land without planning permission. The Court found that the site did not benefit from permitted development rights for a caravan to be used as for accommodation of persons employed in connection with building or engineering operations because although the site was that of a barn conversion development, much of the work had taken place before the caravan had been brought onto the land and recent work was only maintenance and repairs, not significant building or engineering operations.
A number of appeal cases follow which have considered the question of Part 5 rights which may operate during building works, and in many of these cases the length of time over which the caravan has been in situ is a central concern.
An LDC for the continued siting and residential occupation of a caravan was allowed by an inspector under Part 5 of Schedule 2 of the GPDO 1995, but not the unrestricted dwellinghouse use claimed by the appellant. The caravan had been sited on the land after permission for a barn conversion had been granted in 1993 and occupied by the appellant and his wife while works to the barn were undertaken. The inspector concluded that the GPDO did not provide any limitation on the period over which a caravan could be so used and although the structure had been on site and occupied for over 10 years, this did not mean that it could be retained indefinitely and used as unrestricted residential accommodation. The building works to the barn were partially complete and therefore, while the development was lawful, the caravan could remain but it would need to be removed at the end of the building works. (Craven 8/12/10 DCS No.100-070-207).
An inspector quashed an enforcement notice which alleged that a caravan was being unlawfully occupied for residential purposes. He agreed with the appellants that the caravan had been occupied for more than 10 years, and that it had initially been brought onto the site to provide shelter while the barn was being converted. However the work on the barn was never completed and the appellants continued to occupy the caravan, using it as their main residence. This occurred in 1994 which was more than 10 years before the council issued the enforcement notice. Consequently the use was lawful and the appeal succeeded (Derbyshire Dales 23/3/06 DCS No.100-041-670). A subsequent High Court challenge by the local authority to the decision, claiming that the inspector had made legal errors, was not upheld in Derbyshire Dales DC v SoS 2006.
An enforcement notice requiring the removal of a mobile home at a pub in Lincolnshire was struck down because it was lawfully occupied by a person employed in building a new dwelling on the land. The council accepted that building works had commenced in 2006 under the initial grant of planning permission. However, it stated that since then works had ceased. More importantly, it asserted, was the fact that the appellant did not appear to be significantly employed in the project and therefore could not benefit from GPDO rights.
The inspector noted that for a person to qualify under the GPDO they had to be “employed” in the building works. However, there was no definition of what “employed” meant and applying the normal meaning it appeared that the appellant remained involved in commissioning amended plans, discharging the various conditions and liaising with the council’s building control section over the foundations. In his opinion, the appellant had demonstrated that he was sufficiently involved in the project to qualify for GPDO rights, noting that resolution of the outstanding conditions probably meant that building works would progress at a faster rate (Boston 19/8/08 DCS No.100-057-480).
Boston: mobile home at a pub was lawfully occupied
In a pragmatic decision, an inspector issued a temporary permission to be reviewed at the end of two years, for a residential caravan associated with building work which had not yet received planning permission. The site lay adjacent to a rundown dwelling with outbuildings. The appellant was seeking permission to demolish the dwelling. Negotiations had taken place with the council and although permission for a replacement dwelling had not been granted, this would be secured in time, the appellant asserted (Doncaster 10/11/08 DCS No.100-059-138).
The retention of a mobile home at a nursery was rejected after an inspector decided that it was not permitted under Class A of Part 5 to Schedule 2 of the GPDO 1995. The appellants stated that they were granted planning permission in 2001 and 2003 for engineering works in connection with the commercial nursery which included the erection of polytunnels and the creation of a car parking area. They claimed that these works were underway and the mobile home provided accommodation until they were complete. However, the inspector noted that in support of the planning application, the appellants had claimed that they needed to live at the nursery to provide on site management. In his opinion the GPDO did not sanction the stationing of a mobile home which simultaneously provided accommodation for a person or persons operating a business on the land while undertaking a modicum of building operations. The mobile home looked very similar to a bungalow and did not have the appearance or character of a temporary home for a worker undertaking short-term building work. Consequently its siting was not permitted under the order (Allerdale 12/1/06 DCS No.100-040-739).
A token start of digging foundations for an approved scheme upon which little progress had otherwise been made, was held not to constitute building works for the purpose of a permitted development caravan (Colwyn 19/11/92 100-027-839).
An enforcement notice required the removal of a caravan. An appellant claimed that it was used whilst a house was being constructed such that it was permitted development. However whilst the foundations had been laid, no other work had commenced for 20 months. This constituted a cessation of the works such that the keeping of the caravan on the site amounted to storage and the appeal under ground (b) failed (Lancaster 18/1/99 DCS No.053-760-748).
Enforcement action was taken against a mobile home located by a barn for which planning permission had been given for renovation. A local authority conceded, using Adams and Shadey, that the stationing of the mobile home was permitted during the renovation period. An inspector felt that any such rights ceased when the mobile home evolved into a permanent dwellinghouse. He also rejected an assertion that Part 4A rights were applicable (Epping Forest 10/3/99 DCS No.057-171-098).
A barn conversion was being undertaken and two caravans were sited for occupation by the appellant. There had been a lapse in work at the site for financial reasons, and an inspector judged that no operations were being carried out and that the caravans were not being used solely for the accommodation of those employed in connection with the operation. An enforcement notice was upheld, but 18 months given for compliance (Arun DC 8/1/82).
A retirement dwelling was being built at weekends, the appellant travelling from home to do so. A caravan was on the site for use at these times. Work had been slow but an inspector was prepared to concede that the laying of an access and the installation of electricity were building operations qualifying the caravan as permitted development in that respect. However, the appellant had a full-time job elsewhere which meant that he was not “employed in connection with the operations”. The enforcement notice was upheld (Shepway 26/4/83 DCS No.048-472-372).
Progress had been slow in the construction of a house and because of an injury the appellant had to employ tradesmen to a large extent, in order to complete the house. A reporter considered that in this circumstance there was no justification for the caravan (Angus 21/11/85 100-007-157).
An enforcement notice alleged that a caravan at a farm was unauthorised. It was argued that the ‘van was required in connection with works to agricultural buildings on the site. An inspector noted the Part 5 of the GPDO referred to operations which “are being carried out” and this suggested an on-going activity. In fact the works had been carried out spasmodically and over seven years. In addition the scale of the works was so small that the appellant could not have been “employed in connection”. In the event it was found that the caravan had been in breach of planning control for more than ten years and the notice was quashed with an LDC being granted (West Lindsey 28/7/02 DCS No 037-961-829).
A temporary permission had been given for the siting of a caravan and renewal was sought. It was argued that in fact Part 5 rights applied, but an inspector noted that the caravan was also being used as accommodation for a person not employed in the building works, the appellant’s mother. He observed that the caravan occupied most of the front garden of a bungalow that was being rebuilt with planning permission. Progress had been slow due to financial difficulties. The stage had been reached where the roof timbers were being erected, and clearly some progress had been made recently. To refuse permission would further delay completion and cause hardship. A further 9 months was given (New Forest 19/1/00 DCS No.035-748-759).
Curtilage definition 24.6111
The question of whether not a caravan is located within the curtilage of a dwelling may create decision making difficulties as this will be a determinate in whether Part 5 permitted development rights apply. The definition of “curtilage” for the purposes of the GPDO is extensively discussed at (4.3444). Some relevant caravan decisions are as follows:
An inspector refused to issue a LDC for a mobile home at a farmhouse because it was not within the curtilage of the house. Referring to the characteristics of a curtilage reviewed in McAlpine v SSE  and the dictionary definition, the inspector decided that the land did not have the appearance of a garden. The overall impression was of a hard surfaced yard that was physically and functionally separate from the farmhouse area. The mobile home was not obviously visible from the farmhouse and the land on which it was stationed had an independent vehicular access. (South Somerset 1/2/11 DCS No.100-070-803).
Enforcement action was taken against a caravan, which it was established was not sited within the curtilage of a dwelling. An inspector accepted that had it been so, no permission would be required as the mobile home had been used for overspill accommodation for visiting members of the family (North Cornwall 20/4/94 DCS No.045-305-444).
In (Gwynedd 4/10/01 DCS No. 041-505-850) two caravans situated on land separated from the undisputed curtilage of a house by a hedgerow were considered to constitute a breach of control. However, in (Penwith 8/7/02 DCS No. 041-566-278) an “incidental” caravan was located with an enclosure which was one of several associated with a dwelling. An inspector noted that the parcels were not interconnected and were separated by old hedgebanks. Also the land was not directly connected to the dwelling and had to be accessed by a lane. However, the inspector concluded that the land adjoined the other plots and had been used as a garden since 1977. An appeal against an enforcement notice was allowed.
Caravan within a structure 24.6112
It may be argued that Part 1 Class E permitted development rights allow a caravan to be enclosed within a permanent structure. This was confirmed in cases cited at (4.3445), and may be viewed as a device to overcome the reluctance of the courts and the SOS to allow Class E rights to embrace to primary residential accommodation.
Caravans on leisure plots 24.612
The level of planning control over the creation of so-called leisure plots, being small pieces of land created from agricultural land and sold as separate holdings for the use of urban “weekenders”, has created considerable contention over the years. Clearly it is possible that such plots may be regarded as bona fide agricultural units and enjoy GPDO Part 6 permitted development rights, as in (Monmouth 29/12/92 DCS No.100-028-039), but in most cases this cannot be shown. In the court case Pittman et al v SOS and Canterbury City Council 16/7/87 it was conclusively established that the creation of a leisure plot constituted a material change of use from agricultural land. The decision of this court case has proved pivotal in subsequent cases. For example, an enforcement notice was upheld and permission refused for the siting of a mobile home on 0.4 ha. of land in the countryside. The appellant argued that the intention was cultivate sunflowers or “pick your own” fruit or flowers and that the unit was required in order to house seasonal workers. In rejecting these arguments that inspector noted that whilst the land had been sold for agricultural use it was more akin to a “leisure plot” as defined in Pitman & Others v Sos . At 0.4 ha. there were no permitted development rights under Class B Part 6 of Schedule 2 of the General Permitted Development Order (1995) and consequently the inspector concluded that permission was required for development which would be tantamount to a new dwelling in the countryside (Torridge 6/9/00 DCS No.050-310-707).
Torridge: land was more akin to a “leisure plot
Changes to the Article 4 process were introduced as an amendment to the GPDO in April 2010, whereby permitted development rights may exceptionally be withdrawn. Appendix D to Circular 9/95 General Development Consolidation Order was replaced in November 2010 to reflect these changes. In advice on the use of article 4 directions, local planning authorities are referred in C9/95 appendix para. 2.3 to a range of circumstances in which an article 4 direction may be appropriate. One such circumstance identified is “…whether the exercise of permitted development rights would …lead to the subdivision of agricultural land other than for purposes reasonably necessary for agriculture, or to the loss of agricultural land.”. In this respect, the possibility of the withdrawal of permitted development rights specifically in relation to “Leisure plots and uses” is referred to in para. 2.4. The 2010 GPDO amendment makes changes to the article 4 procedures which make it easier for local planning authorities to proceed where the owner or occupier of land cannot be identified or located, which may often be the case with leisure plots in rural areas, especially where plots have fallen into disuse, or where the number of owners or occupiers makes individual service impractical. In such cases the local planning authority may instead rely on site notices and local advertisement.
An extract from DCLG consultation on reforms to the 1995 GPDO explains the purpose of the changes. “They address problems that occur especially where rural land may be subdivided for sale to multiple owners. Such land – whether woodland or open countryside – may be subjected to fencing and other unsightly minor works, or to neglect by purchasers when they realise they will not be able to develop their plots. In this situation, any delay whilst the approval of the Secretary of State is sought for an article 4 direction risks unnecessary and significant damage to the landscape and local amenity. We propose to make it easier for a local planning authority to have a direction brought speedily into effect.”. The other change to the GPDO reflects the difficulty arising where owners of rural plots cannot all be located. Under a new procedure, notice of an article 4 direction coming into force could be served by putting up notices on the land affected, thus bringing the article 4 direction into rapid effect.
Caravans are often a manifestation of leisure plot use, and the problems that have occurred in practice in requiring their removal by enforcement are dealt with later in this section at (24.65).
When is a caravan a building operation? 24.613
The question of the legal definition of a caravan is discussed generally at (4.353), where a large number of cases arising from enforcement against caravans are described.
A specific case of relevance is (Tandridge 27/11/97 DCS No. 045-175-377) where use of land for the stationing of a mobile home in the garden of a cottage was the subject of enforcement action. It was argued that the notice was in error as the caravan was operational development in that it had full services and physically built extensions. An inspector noted that the main unit was supported on metal legs resting on concrete blocks, and services could be readily disconnected. The attachments were timber, readily demountable and the unit remained capable of being transported from place to place by motor vehicle. It was still a “caravan”.
The question is often of great legal significance because if a caravan has sufficient qualities of permanence to be a building operation the four year immunity rule, rather than the ten year rule, applies. This issue is discussed later in this section at (24.65).
Site licensing 24.614
It is quite possible that a single caravan site may require a site licence under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 (see 4.3511), although not those categories referred to at (26.411) earlier in this section. Site licences require the prerequisite of a planning permission, and as noted at (4.3521) a Certificate of Lawful Use and Development is sufficient for this purpose.
Control practice 24.63
Single caravans on rural sites attract much the same policy objections as do proposals for permanent dwellings. They tend to be viewed in development plan terms as residential units which, regardless of their temporary nature, are contrary to rural protection policies. Exceptions can be made on the basis of agricultural need as is shown in (9.3), for gypsies (24.5) and for other needs, such as the security of an establishment rural business (see 9.232).
Caravans proposed in rural areas for holiday letting do not usually secure any relaxation of planning policy, as it may be argued that single units do not make any significant contribution to the satisfaction of tourist accommodation need. The economic development imperative of Planning for Growth may influence the success of future decisions.
Special personal circumstances can affect decision making in this area of control (see 4.17), and an examination of past appeal decisions reveals several cases examples:
A caravan occupied by an elderly farm worker in a National Park which had been his home for 20 years was allowed on a personal basis (Lake District 9/1/86 DCS No. 100-007-488).
Length of stay and personal hardship factors led an inspector to grant a three year personal permission in the green belt in Essex (Castle Point 13/2/86 DCS No.029-789-772).
Replacement of a dwelling destroyed by fire was the circumstance where a caravan was allowed on compassionate grounds for a limited period (Radnor19/11/86 DCS No. 034-715-733).
Enforcement action was taken against residential use of a former holiday caravan at an AONB farm. An inspector noted that to uphold the enforcement notice would not guarantee the removal of the ‘van from the landscape, and also noted strong local support for the appellant who made a subsistence living from the nearby sea shore. Both these factors were material and lent support to permission in a finely balanced case. He felt that the public interest here equated with the members of the public that lived in the scattered homes around the appeal site and those that worked in the area. A personal permission was given (Caradon.6/4/95 DCS No.100-032-139).
However, as discussed generally at (4.17) it is more common for personal circumstances not to be held to override planning objections, and the following cases are typical examples.
Enforcement action was taken against a caravan in the Forest of Dean A.G.L.V. An appeal inquiry also dealt with a proposal for a disabled persons bungalow on the site. An inspector had no difficulty in assessing that any development on the appeal site would be intrusive. The caravan was occupied by an old lady who required the constant care and supervision of two members of her family who lived with her, and others close by. The inspector noted the “general ethos today for care in the community” but did not think that the personal circumstances of the case should override planning objections. Both appeals were dismissed (Forest of Dean 6/4/93 DCS No.036-894-616).
Enforcement action was taken against residential use of a caravan in the curtilage of a rural dwelling. It was argued that the appellant needed to be on site to provide financial and physical support for his mother and younger brother. The house on site was not large enough for two households. An inspector was not convinced by evidence of poor health and whilst sympathising with the cost and inconvenience that upholding the notice would cause, he did not agree that personal circumstances should override planning policy objections. The SOS agreed (Chichester 19/8/98 DCS No.041-474-787).
The siting of caravans within residential areas and villages where infilling development would normally be allowed is generally discouraged by policy. Thus, apart from exceptions noted above, there is very little scope for planning permissions to be granted for the siting of single residential caravans. There are, of course, many examples of single plot caravans, particularly in gardens, which exist without planning permission, and others that operate on the borders of permitted development rights. Some are long established and have become part of the local scene, particularly in semi-rural areas, and do not attract any complaint. A few may well have ten year rule immunity qualifying them for Certificates of Lawful Use and Development.
Leisure plot development 24.631
The operation of the development control system in respect of plotland caravans and other associated development has seen considerable conflict and much antagonism. The plotland phenomenon is one that jars with most planners and administrators, and extensive enforcement action has been taken raising complex legal issues, as already noted at (24.612). At appeal the result of almost all such cases has been that the developments are found wanting on planning grounds, principally as harmful to rural character. Where plotland development has been allowed the circumstances tend to be those of infilling or replacement in established areas of similar development. In one case (Broads Authority 16/9/86 DCS No.044-364-653) the inspector felt that a replacement chalet could be permitted as adjacent development and boat yards were not going to be removed, and so natural riverside character was unlikely to be restored. In (Basildon 9/4/87 DCS No.033-662-250) the retention of a green belt caravan was permitted for several reasons including the tidying up of a derelict site, personal circumstances and because of long term intermittent occupation.
Two caravans on a leisure plot were held not to involve a material change of use when an inspector quashed an enforcement notice, concluding that there had been no material change of use from that permitted under a LDC granted by the council which stated that the land could lawfully be used for the stationing of one caravan for leisure and holiday purposes between the months of March and October. The inspector held that the LDC did not require the removal of the caravan between November and February and accordingly it did not cease to be a caravan site simply because it was not occupied during these months. Thus there would be no material change in the use of the land during the four months that it was unoccupied (Swale 5/11/02 DCS No.044-311-561).
Enforcement difficulties encountered with leisure plots are detailed at (24.65)
The use of the time limited and/or personal permission in the special case instances already touched on is widespread. Other conventional conditions which local authorities may apply include limits on the numbers of vans and requirements for landscaping/screening. In sensitive positions permitted development rights may also be removed.
Enforcement against single caravans is quite common and often causes legal contention. Allegations by local authorities are occasionally misdirected to a change of use where an operation has occurred or vice versa, or refer to unauthorised development instead of a breach of condition. In cases of doubt notices are often issued in the alternative.
As noted below, the distinction is an important one in determining whether the four year immunity rule or the ten year immunity rules apply, and the criteria are discussed in detail at (4.353).
The allegation of a change of use from holiday caravan to permanent residential use is sometimes made, but as noted in R. v Tunbridge Wells ex parte Blue Boys Development et al 20/7/89 and Moore v SOS and Another 12/2/98, there is no material change of use involved. Normally, retention of a caravan in holiday occupation is secured by seasonal or other conditions, modification or breach of which is discussed at (9.7) and (24.241).
As demonstrated in Mid Sussex DC v William Boyle 2002, personal circumstances, hardship and Human Rights are not necessarily enough to outweigh the case against a residential caravan in a sensitive rural location, such as AONB, where removal of an unlawful caravan is in the public best interest.
In long running enforcement action against a mobile home, the High Court in R (New Forest DC) v Shutler 2005 rejected the defendents argument that works in the form of a brick skirt and a conservatory had made a mobile home a building and was therefore not subject to enforcement action requiring the removal of the mobile home. The Court concluded that, whether it was a building or a use, there had been a breach of planning control, both flagrant and prolonged and the council was granted an injunction.
Correct planning unit 24.651
Definition of the correct planning unit is another pitfall for local authorities, particularly where a caravan is sited in an ill defined agricultural pattern. In the appeal case (South Ribble 9/7/87 DCS No.307-211-799) a notice, which alleged a mixed use for agricultural and the siting of a caravan, failed because most of the land on the accompanying plan belonged to another party and most of the holding which did belong to the appellant was not included! Local authorities normally endeavour to define the whole of an agricultural holding within the same ownership as the planning unit, since the effect of the notice then applies to the whole of the holding and prevents the caravan being moved from field to field to evade control.
The court case Newbury D.C. and another v S.O.S. and another 16/3/90 is of note as it dealt with a situation where an inspector in quashing an enforcement notice and granting planning permission for three caravans at a horse holding, had quashed the notice so far as it related to the whole of a holding. The council contended that this prevented them from controlling the siting of caravans on land outside the area where the caravans had been sited. The Court of Appeal upheld the local authority appeal on the basis that the inspector had not considered other ways in which he could have achieved the objective.
In Deakin v SOS 2006 a central issue was whether or not the two caravans being enforced against were being used as part of the agricultural use of the land within which they were stationed. The court found that the inspector, in dismissing the appeal, had failed to take the correct approach of deciding:
What is the use of the planning unit;
What is the effect of the introduction of the caravan and the use to which they are put on the use of the planning unit; and
Has there been a material change of use?
The inspector did not ask the first question of whether the planning unit had changed and he did not amend the enforcement notice to allege a mixed use for agricultural and residential use. The inspector’s reasoning was found to be defective and the decision notice upholding enforcement action was consequently quashed.
Four and ten year rules 24.652
With evidence of continuous use required for the 10 years preceding the service of an enforcement notice, problems may arise if the habitation of a caravan has been only sporadic/casual, or there have been substantial breaks in occupation. The following cases demonstrate various situations that have arisen:
Two enforcement notices requiring the removal of a caravan and hardstanding from an Essex green belt leisure plot area, were upheld after an inspector concluded that they were not immune from planning control (Rochford 6/9/06 DCS No.100-044-187). The appellant stated that the caravan had been stationed on the land since the 1970s and had been continuously occupied until 1992, having initially been used as a leisure plot from the 1930s. He stated that in accordance with Panton & Farmer v Secretary of State for Environment Transport and the Regions & Vale of White Horse District Council , the use had become lawfully established by the time the use ceased and it had then lain dormant. The inspector in considering the submitted evidence decided that in 1992 the caravan had deteriorated substantially and in her view had been incapable of human habitation. More significantly she concluded was the fact that the appellant had to prove a continuous 10 year period of use. Sections 191 and 171B of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991 came into effect on 27 July 1992 and accordingly it was not possible to gain immunity from enforcement action before they came into effect, she opined. Rather the earliest 10 year period by which a use could achieve lawfulness was from 27 July 1982 to 27 July 1992 and since the residential use of the caravan ceased before July 1992 it could not be immune from enforcement action. Its resumption in 2001 clearly fell within the 10 year period prior to the serving of the notice, she held. This decision and approach was upheld by the High Court in Colver v SOS 2008, the judge dismissing claims that the caravan which had been described as a ‘shell’ could be lived in and ruling that the land can only be used for ‘open leisure purposes’.
A LDC was requested in respect of a rural caravan. An inspector noted that there had been a caravan on site for more than ten years but the issue was whether residential use had continued without significant interruption. Replacement by a larger and newer unit during the ten year period did not affect the matter, but the evidence pointed towards the fact that prior to that date use of the previous caravan was only carried out from time to time, and there was not a settled and defined residential occupation (Eastleigh. 4/2/97 DCS No.054-257-706).
Enforcement action was taken in respect of the residential use of separate caravans at a farm on the Isle of Arran. A reporter found that he had to consider the letting evidence which was not entirely clear. However, in respect of one caravan which had to be replaced due to vandalism, he felt that there was a gap when there was no caravan on site available for letting and this broke the necessary continuity of use. In respect of another caravan he found that there had been breaks in tenancies at various times, mainly in winter, but one gap of a year in one instance was too substantial. The appeals failed (Cunninghame 11/10/94 DCS No.053-818-832).
Reference should also be made to the general commentary at (4.5351) and to the barn conversion cases described at (10.15) which also discuss the question of continuity of residential occupation.
The four year rule comes into play if caravans come within the definition of building operations as described at (4.353). Here also is discussed the difficult legal point that a structure may well not be a “caravan” as defined in the 1968 Act, but it may still be disputed that it is a building operation.
Further enforcement complexities may occur as although a caravan at a site may be subject to 10-year rule immunity, ancillary structures such as sheds and fences may benefit from the four year rule. However, as considered below, it is possible for the requirements of an enforcement notice alleging change of use, to embrace ancillary operations.
Requirements of notices 24.653
Enforcement against single caravans may raise the point whether it is reasonable to seek removal of the caravan itself, rather than simply require cessation of residential use. Normally there is no question that removal of a caravan is part and parcel of the proper process of enforcement. However, where there are permitted development rights to continue to use a caravan, albeit as incidental to a dwelling, it may be considered unreasonable to require removal. In (Arfon 9/4/85 DCS No. 039-066-545) removal of two holiday caravans at a farmhouse was required, but an inspector felt that they were within the curtilage of the farmhouse and development would not be involved if they were used incidentally. He deleted the removal requirement. Other appeal examples are (Rutland 26/1/93 DCS No.035-893-790) where it was felt that a caravan could still be used as an agricultural messroom, and the Delyn case described at (4.5362).
The High Court in West Devon v SoS 2006 quashed the decision of an inspector after the local planning authority challenged the amended wording of the requirements of the enforcement notice to “cease the use of the land for the stationing of a self-contained residential mobile home”, arguing that it failed to restrict the use of the mobile home to a use ancillary to the house and that the notice failed to prevent the separate unit of accommodation use enforced against.
Enforcement against caravans and leisure plots also raises the issue as to whether notices directed against a material change of use, may require removal of items such as associated sheds and fences. As detailed at (4.5363) it is quite possible to require the removal of operational development which is closely associated with an unauthorised use. The protection of the four year rule may not apply in such cases as in Shepherd and Love v S.O.S. & Ashford D.C. 5/11/91. It was controversially held that huts were an integral part of leisure plot use enforced against and a notice could require their removal. The Pittman court case already mentioned at (24.612) established by inference that an enforcement notice could require the removal of caravans from leisure plots.
The erection of fences to specified heights is permitted development (see 12.31) and it may be argued that it is unreasonable to require removal of such fences (see 12.351). However, appeal examples maybe quoted where this view has been rejected, such as (Maldon 9/2/93 DCS No.048-687-574) where multiple enforcement notices had been directed at leisure plots on the Blackwater Estuary. One appellant argued that a requirement to remove a shed and fences was excessive, but an inspector observed that this requirement was reasonable as a way of remedying the consequences associated with the breach. The shed was an impermanent element ancillary to the unauthorised use rather than a building operation.
Of course, if such uncertainties are to be avoided local authorities normally serve separate notices directed, a) at the offending use, and b) against any associated harmful artefacts and structures which they may wish to be removed.