Unauthorised dwelling or caravan 4.1764
In some cases, especially in rural areas, buildings may be converted to residential use, or caravans stationed, without planning permission being sought. In such cases, although planning law may have been disregarded through either ignorance or design, these circumstances are not of themselves pertinent to a judgement as to whether planning permission should be granted or refused for the unauthorised use. However, in some cases there are exceptional underlying personal circumstances that may tip the balance in favour of allowing a proposal. In the case of caravans, being impermanent development, it may often be considered that permission should be granted on a time limited and/or personal basis.
Cases where personal circumstances have been found to weigh in favour of the retention of an unauthorised dwelling or caravan follow.
In (Mid Devon 20/05/11 DCS No.100-072-324), an inspector was persuaded to grant a personal permission to a farm worker who worked on a number of local farms and a holiday complex on a casual basis, to enable him to continue to live in a residential caravan. Various letters of support from farmers stated that he was a dedicated, hardworking and useful employee who worked throughout the year with tasks including lambing, haymaking, calving, moving livestock, vaccinating and fencing. The appellant lived in a sustainable and frugal manner with power being supplied from a solar panel and heat from burning wood. He claimed that his income was limited and he did not depend on the state for any benefits. An inspector agreed that the appellant had skills that were in demand and these supported the local farming businesses. Although the appellant could still provide the skills if he lived in a nearby settlement, the inspector concluded that it was necessary to look at the broader picture. Dismissing the appeal would render the appellant and his partner homeless and there was no indication that alternative accommodation could be provided by the council. Since they were not elderly and had no children, the council would not prioritise finding accommodation for them. The caravan had only a limited impact on the character of the area and this could be reduced if it were painted green. Conditions requiring this; limiting occupation to the appellant; and restricting the dimensions of any replacement caravan were imposed.
An enforcement notice claimed that a caravan on a 1.5ha holding was being used residentially. The appellant stated that she rescued animals and currently looked after a range of horses, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, geese, goats and turkeys, along with cats and dogs. She claimed that the land had been used for over 30 years although it was only in the past two or three years that she and her husband had been occupying the caravan on a full-time basis. An inspector decided that if the appellant were prevented from living on the site there was a real possibility that the animals would either be sold or killed. This would be a serious mental blow to the appellant and damaging to her health, given her previous experiences of severe depression. In his opinion, there was a "humanitarian imperative" to allow her to remain living on the land, despite the conflict with countryside policies. He therefore decided that a temporary permission lasting three years was justified, with occupation limited to the appellant and her husband (Winchester 20/04/10 DCS No.100-067-139).
In (Ceredigion 07/04/10 DCS No.100-067-062), an inspector agreed that an appellant should retain a residential caravan at a remote location so that he could continue to care for his elderly relatives. The caravan was occupied by the appellant's parents and he claimed that allowing them to remain in the structure provided a degree of independence while allowing him to offer care and support when needed. The council claimed that it would create an undesirable precedent since there might be many families with similar circumstances throughout its predominantly rural area. The inspector agreed that the scheme was tantamount to the creation of a new dwelling in the countryside. However, the site was remote and the appellant could not afford to extend his existing property in order to create a granny annexe. The need to care for his parents was of overriding importance and in visual terms the impact of the caravan could be mitigated through landscaping. A personal permission limiting the use to the appellant's parents would be sufficient to ensure that a permanent residential use was not created.
An enforcement notice required that an independent residential use of a chalet at a farm should cease. An inspector decided that since the notice did not require the building to be demolished it would remain and could be used as ancillary accommodation in connection with the farmhouse. Allowing an independent use of the building would nonetheless increase the domestication of the curtilage and have some impact on the natural beauty of the area. However, set against this was the strong support for the appellant from the local community. He was highly valued as a local carpenter and, following the breakdown of his marriage, needed somewhere to live allowing easy access to his disabled daughter who lived nearby. The inspector decided that the social and economic wellbeing of the community would be best served if the appellant were allowed to remain in the property despite the impact on the national park. A personal permission was granted (Pembrokeshire Coast NPA 24/03/10 DCS No.100-067-005).
An enforcement notice required the removal of a caravan from a site that was located within an SLA and next to a SSSI. The appellant had originally owned the adjoining house. However, this had been sold in a divorce settlement and he had retained part of the garden within which the caravan had been sited. He stated that his lifetime interest, for which he had gained international recognition, was the breeding of rare and endangered birds and his site was also registered with Defra as a quarantine station for imported birds. He argued that the aim of breeding rare and endangered birds was to preserve them and replenish the species, thereby saving them from potential extinction. Consequently it was necessary for him to live on site to ensure their care and surveillance. An inspector noted that the caravan had been introduced onto the site around seven years previously and had been used by family and visitors. The fact that it was now used as a separate residential unit did not materially alter the limited impact it had on the character of the area. She concluded that a personal permission was justified for as long as the enterprise continued (Canterbury 20/08/09 DCS No.100-064-005).
In (Wychavon 01/06/06 DCS No. 100-042-699) an inspector allowed an appeal and granted retrospective permission for the retention of a two-bedroom annexe at a farm, after concluding that the personal circumstances of the family justified the scheme. The inspector noted that while the appeal sought permission for the erection of a new building, the annexe was in fact a twin-unit mobile home since it had a wheeled chassis and had apparently been delivered to the site. It nonetheless had the appearance of a small bungalow. Although sited within the curtilage of the appellant's dwellinghouse, it was conspicuous and harmed the character and appearance of the area. Nevertheless, in the inspector's opinion the need to accommodate the appellant's wife's elderly mother and father who were disabled, weighed heavily in favour of granting a personal planning permission. The scheme was supported by their doctors and, without the accommodation, it would prove very difficult for the family to care for their relatives. Although the inspector did not condone the breach of planning permission that had occurred, he applauded the willingness of the appellant and his wife to support their parents while providing a degree of independence for them. He therefore decided that a personal and temporary permission should be granted, which would allow the appellant the ability to explore whether less harmful options were available.
In allowing an appeal involving the retention of a temporary dwelling constructed mainly of straw bales at a permaculture holding, an inspector decided that to refuse permission would constitute an unacceptable interference with the appellant's human rights. The appellant had purchased the site in 1995 and later obtained permission for the relocation of stables and the erection of an agricultural building, a polytunnel and a windmill. After living in a caravan on site, she reverted to a house constructed of straw bales. This was the subject to enforcement proceedings and was subsequently demolished. However the appellant re-erected the straw bale house and, in seeking temporary permission for its retention, argued that it was essential for her to live on site in order to grow organic food crops. She explained that the holding contained ducks, sheep and goats, and the temperature within the polytunnels had to be constantly monitored in the absence of any automated systems. These requirements justified her continued presence on the land, she argued. The inspector decided that there was not a proven need for a full-time worker and although the design of the dwelling was innovative, this did not justify its retention in the countryside. However, there were two factors that weighed in favour of allowing the appeal. The first was that the dwelling could easily be removed. The second was that dismissal would lead to the loss of her home, which would be a serious interference with her human rights, he opined. It might also worsen her ill health. This was an additional material consideration. He stated that his decision should not be regarded as giving support for people who deliberately flout planning controls. Neither was it intended to provide a precedent for further proposals in the countryside. However, weighing all relevant factors, he decided that a personal permission should be granted, with a condition requiring the dwelling to be removed once the appellant no longer lived at the property (Mendip 12/01/05 DCS No.051-454-288).
Temporary permission had been granted in 1983 for a caravan at a farm and equestrian centre. Three further renewals were granted until a council concluded that there remained no overriding justification for its stationing. The site lay within a Green Belt and the New Forest Heritage Area. An inspector noted that since 1983 decisions on applications had to be determined in accordance with the development plan. There were two houses on the holding, one of which was used for holiday lettings. However it was found that the appellant had every reason to believe that a further permission would be forthcoming so long as the state of affairs remained and there would be hardship if this situation were to change without warning. On this ground alone a further 5 year permission was justified (New Forest 12/02/99 DCS No.100-035-011).
In (Leominster 3/6/92 DCS No.047-804-239) enforcement action had been taken against an unauthorised mobile home at a holding where there was no agricultural justification for a dwelling. The personal situation of the appellant was stated to be one of some difficulty. He was ill, in legal dispute of the ownership of a bungalow and had financial problems. An inspector felt that the circumstances did not warrant making an exception to normal planning policy. He was, however, concerned as to the appellant's granddaughters who were living with the appellant following a Court Order, after abuse by their mother. He observed that it was unclear how the court came to issue an Order in relation to an unauthorised home, but accepted that the girls would suffer if the enforcement notice were upheld. He gave a personal and time limited permission related to the girls' occupation of the appeal dwelling.
Further cases, including those where claimed personal circumstances were not found to be overriding, are detailed above at (4.175) and at (24.63).
Revocation of planning permission 4.1765
Although not a situation likely to occur very often, it is possible that a local authority may grant permission for a rural dwelling, but for it later to be felt that revocation of that planning permission should be sought. This was the case in (North Cornwall 3/8/93 DCS No.043-811-846), where the SoS concluded that the authority's action in granting permission for a farmer's retirement home was grossly wrong and had damaged the wider public interest. The council had allowed the personal circumstances of the applicant's family to sway their judgement. However, it was concluded that the circumstances of the case did not warrant the demolition of a family's home.
Loss of home due to public authority action 4.1766
In circumstances where an individual's home is to be acquired by compulsory purchase, it is normally considered that, as compensation is payable, there is little substance for a "loss of home" plea. Normally, such compensation would enable an individual to purchase an alternative house. However, it is possible that, where an individual still retains curtilage or other land in the area or has strong linkages to a location, personal circumstances may override planning objections. An interesting appeal example is (Gordon 30/9/87 DCS No.045-487-352), where a house had been acquired for a road scheme and a replacement refused. Here, weight was given to the fact that the position was not one of the appellant's making. A reporter felt that in equity permission should be granted for a house "in a position not markedly inferior to that of her present home". A local authority preferred siting would mean a poorer setting and inferior outlook, he opined. A similar view was taken in (Mid Suffolk 3/12/82 DCS No.056-229-094) when an appellant's retirement home had been acquired for a road. She wished to remain in a village and needed land to care for two donkeys. An inspector had every sympathy for the unusual and personal circumstances advanced and noted that the appeal site was the nearest appropriate available land. Although the development was contrary to policy, the circumstances were unlikely to be repeated, so he allowed the appeal. Another case of interest is (Kingswood 14/2/94 DCS No.040-018-707) where a Green Belt dwelling was to be demolished for a road and a local authority unsuccessfully resisted a replacement in the garden.
In (Salford 29/2/84 DCS No.100-002-779) an appellant's home had been the subject of a Closing Order in his absence. It was held that this, and the appellant's long association with the site, constituted special personal circumstances.
It was argued in McKeown v Oxford City Council 16/7/2007 that a local authority was at fault in resolving to grant planning permission for a retail development because it had not taken account of the possibility of the consequential eviction of a resident with a debilitating illness. However, the High Court ruled that full judicial review of the matter should not be granted as there was, in fact, no likelihood that Mr McKeown would be left homeless or forced to live in unsuitable accommodation. The court held that the action was premature. The scheme was still subject to approval by the SoS, with a right of legal challenge to that decision. In addition, Mr McKeown was a secure tenant and court approval would be needed to evict him. At each stage, Mr McKeown's rights and needs would be taken into account as a material consideration.