DC NOTES Need for caravan storage
This section concerns uses involving the storage of caravans. These are mainly touring residential caravans used for holiday purposes that would otherwise be kept at private dwellings nearby, on public roads or within car parks. Normally such storage is concentrated in the winter (off-season) period but can occur all year round. Most cases involve open storage in rural areas where conflict with established planning policies, especially those aimed at protecting sensitive areas such as Green Belts, is common. Some uses may be associated with touring caravan sites. Others may involve storage inside former agricultural buildings, old aircraft hangars or shipping containers. Increasingly, caravan storage facilities are to be found on established industrial estates, although issues of land values and employment generation may be seen by some as deterrents to such locations. Travelling showpeople’s winter storage uses are discussed at (24.5332).
Legal background 24.91
While the Use Class status of the storage of caravans does not seem to have been conclusively established (although see 24.941), there would seem to be no impediment to classification as B8 Storage or Distribution. In a decision from 1999, an inspector determined an appeal for the “change of use from agriculture to B8 storage of caravans and/or cars” without any indication that the proposed use had been incorrectly classified (Lichfield 17/06/99 DCS No. 055-942-870). Of course, if a caravan storage use involves repair work that goes beyond ancillary maintenance, this would be likely to take it out of this Class.
Ancillary to another use? 24.911
What appears to be caravan storage may be ancillary to another use. For instance, caravans at farms may in fact be casual agricultural stores and, using the Wealden judgment (see 22.1133), may be considered ancillary to a primary use for agriculture. In (Medway 21/10/03 DCS No. 030-100-369) an inspector cited this judgment to support his decision to quash an enforcement notice requiring the removal of a caravan that, while being fully equipped for human habitation, was being used for refreshment purposes and shelter in connection with the operation of a farm. This had not resulted in a breach of planning control, he held. The inspector reached the same conclusion in respect of other caravans that were used for the storage of animal feed and other agricultural items. He made an award of costs against the council for failing to demonstrate that the storage and use of the caravans was not ancillary to the lawful use of the land for agriculture.
Caravans may also be present at a farm for housing seasonal workers using Part 5 permitted development rights. In some circumstances, caravan storage may be held to be ancillary to an established caravan site, as in (Guildford 13/9/94 DCS No.039-177-602). The storage of caravans at dwellings may, of course, be incidental to residential use by virtue of sec.55(2)(d) of the 1990 Act.
Storage use or dormant static holiday caravan use? 24.912
In accordance with Wychavon D.C. v SoSETR and Dunn , non-occupation of caravans at a static holiday park will not result in a material change of use to caravan storage. In this case, the High Court considered whether it was necessary for static holiday caravans to be removed during winter months in order to comply with a condition of a permission that limited use of a caravan site to between Easter and the end of October. Caravans had remained on site outside this period, but were unoccupied, and the council served an enforcement notice alleging breach of control. On appeal, however, an inspector found that the use subsisted throughout the year but lay dormant in winter. He held that the site was not being used for caravan storage as such. The breach alleged in the enforcement notice had therefore not taken place (Wychavon 18/06/99 DCS No. 036-180-725). The court agreed. The physical presence of the caravans did not mean that they were being used or that the condition had been breached. It was not necessary for the caravans to be removed.
Control practice 24.93
Ministerial guidance on caravan storage appears to be limited to a single sentence in the DCLG Good Practice Guide on Planning for Tourism [May 2006] where, at para. 22, the point is made that “caravan storage facilities that are close to existing settlements may have less adverse impact and be more sustainable”. Advice in the good practice guide and policy guidance in PPS7 on the value of the holiday caravan industry to the national economy and on the planning considerations that apply generally to caravan sites may also be relevant.
Most development plan documents do not cover this type of development. Consequently, applications and appeals normally have to be determined against generic policies setting out routine development control criteria or against policies aimed at controlling touring caravan sites. As the use is a passive one, questions of harm to residential amenity do not arise frequently, but highways difficulties often occur due to the use of rural roads by vehicles towing caravans. The main issues to be assessed in the majority of cases are those of visual impact on rural environments and limiting the need to travel, bearing in mind objectives for sustainable development. In low lying areas near rivers flooding may also be a consideration.
An uncommon example of a local policy aimed specifically at caravan storage sites is included within the Blaenau Gwent UDP. This seeks to concentrate such sites within the defined urban area and to ensure compliance with a range of criteria aimed at protecting visual, residential and natural amenity.
Green Belts, gaps and wedges 24.931
The fact that demand for caravan storage uses is at its greatest near large urban areas, means that Green Belt areas are the most likely sites where applications can be expected. Storage of caravans within existing rural buildings may be accepted as appropriate development within the Green Belt, whereas storage on open land is not likely to be so considered. The following cases determined after the 1995 PPG2 revision illustrate the application of Green Belt policy to cases and demonstrate the difficulties of securing permission.
A proposal that included caravan storage at a former agricultural complex in the Green Belt in Gloucestershire was found to be inappropriate development. However an inspector decided that this harm was outweighed by the removal of unsightly open storage and that the character and appearance of the area would be enhanced. He also found that there would be little increase in traffic using a narrow access track and the site was in a reasonably sustainable location (Tewkesbury 30/05/06 DCS No. 100-042-515).
A winter storage use was proposed in a Green Belt area in Kent. It was considered that the use was an inappropriate development but special circumstances were pleaded in that restrictive covenants and a bye-law prevented storage in nearby New Ash Green. However, an inspector was not convinced that there was a need stemming from such restrictions. He noted evidence of some demand but felt that there would be harm to the openness of the Green Belt and an incongruous feature in the landscape would be created. The light colour and metallic appearance of caravans was referred to in this context. The inspector also felt that the option of caravan storage in existing buildings should be explored (Sevenoaks 2/2/95 100-031-853).
An application was made to increase the number of caravans stored at a Green Belt site to 200. A condition restricted the number to 50. An inspector observed that this threefold increase in the permitted numbers would encroach on the countryside to a marked degree and severely compromise the openness of the Green Belt in this locality. He noted the fact that a demand may exist but this had not been quantified in any meaningful way. Even so, demand was not a sound method of determining overriding need. The fact that planting could, in time, mitigate visual impact was a fundamentally flawed argument in the absence of compelling and overriding need, as this could be used to justify inappropriate development anywhere (Warrington 10/9/96 DCS No.035-878-146).
An enforcement notice alleged storage of 150 caravans in a Green Belt area in the West Midlands. An inspector noted the inappropriateness of the use and found inevitable harm to openness. He noted the fact that sheeting had been erected to screen the caravans but felt that this, in itself, was an unattractive feature. The inspector noted demand for the facility and a shortage of sites and felt that this was a factor to be given some weight, but not enough to outweigh Green Belt harm. The question of alternative locations not in a Green Belt area was explored and it was concluded that there was no evidence that such locations would not come forward if there were sufficient market demand (Lichfield 12/8/97 DCS No.031-758-824).
Caravan storage on the site of a former Green Belt football pitch was the subject of enforcement. It was argued that the site was within the perimeter of an industrial park but an inspector noted that although the land was inside the security fence this did not alter the perception of the site as open land. The 90 or so caravans on the land were small light-coloured structures that were highly visible against the darker background of industrial buildings and detracted from Green Belt openness. (Rotherham 19/12/97 DCS No.037-442-815).
A caravan storage use was (again) proposed on a Green Belt football field. An inspector felt that the use was inappropriate and there would be harm to openness. Although the use would facilitate the recreational activities of caravan enthusiasts the storage of caravans could not properly be described as a recreational use of land. It was accepted that the development would be inconspicuous but this was not a special circumstance justifying development in a Green Belt area. In addition there was no evidence of need such as would override policy (Basildon 3/2/98 DCS No.033-249-719).
An extension to a caravan storage park was allowed after an inspector decided that it would not set a precedent or harm the character or appearance of a green wedge or result in the loss of openness and coalescence of settlements (Blaby 05/07/04 DCS No. 057-075-519).
In (Crewe & Nantwich 06/10/98 DCS No. 036-751-374) permission to extend a touring caravan storage area at a farm in Cheshire was refused on the grounds that it would be an unacceptable intrusion into a green gap.
Permission to vary a condition of a permission to allow a greater number of caravans to be stored at an existing site in the Green Belt was refused after an inspector held that such a use was not an essential facility for outdoor recreation (West Lancs DCS No. 051-647-235). The appellant’s arguments that the proposal would reduce the risk of theft of caravans from domestic driveways, that their removal from residential areas would improve the character and appearance of those areas, and that additional income would enable improved security at the storage site were not considered to amount to very special circumstances sufficient to outweigh the harm caused to the Green Belt from inappropriate development.
In (Gedling 10/12/99 DCS No. 055-657-114) permission was sought to extend a touring caravan storage site in the Green Belt. An inspector held that it was inappropriate development and that the fact that the area would be well screened from public view did not constitute a very special circumstance. The screening by trees and shrubs would take 10 years to have any effect and thus the development would also harm the rural landscape.
Business needs and employment opportunities were held not sufficient reason to justify a storage use in the Cheshire Green Belt (Warrington 15/04/02 DCS No. 054-392-348).
The winter storage of caravans at a farm in Yorkshire that lay within both a Green Belt and SLA was rejected on the grounds that it was not recreational development and therefore inappropriate. The inspector held that it would harm the landscape and there were no very special circumstances. Issues of need and farm diversification were insufficient to override the planning objections (Bradford 12/06/98 DCS No. 034-064-735).
In (Warrington 07/05/03 DCS No. 030-935-874) caravan storage at a horticultural holding in the Green Belt was rejected following failure to demonstrate immunity from enforcement for the requisite ten-year period and harm to the character, appearance and openness of the Green Belt.
The storage of 130 touring caravans in a walled garden within the West Midlands Green Belt was rejected despite an inspector concluding that the caravans were well screened and not visible from any public area. The fact that the site was not conspicuous did not justify the loss to the openness of the Green Belt that was caused by inappropriate development. It would also set a precedent for storage in other parts of the Green Belt (Lichfield 17/06/99 DCS No. 055-942-870).
Other areas of countryside 24.932
Outside Green Belt areas, the need to look after the countryside generally and, in particular, to protect nationally designated areas of landscape, such as National Parks and AONBs, will be important considerations, as demonstrated in the following cases.
Permission was refused for the storage of caravans in an historic landscape due to the harm to the visual amenity of the area. An inspector did not feel that this could be overcome by a landscaping scheme (Torfaen 28/01/04 DCS No. 047-221-345).
The change of use from a touring caravan park to a caravan storage facility was refused. Part of the site benefited from a permission for a touring caravan park for up to 75 caravans, whereas it was proposed to use the whole site for storing 261 caravans. An inspector noted that there was no suggestion in the policies set out in the structure and local plans that open storage was an acceptable use in the countryside. The proposed use was significantly different from the permitted use, the inspector reasoned, since that was permissible under relevant tourism policies. He concluded that the storage use would be inappropriate and harm the character and appearance of the surrounding area, which fell within both an AONB and an SLA (Tonbridge & Malling 04/11/03 DCS No. 049-358-477).
The open storage of 500 caravans in a large chestnut coppice in Kent that was subject to two woodland TPOs was rejected in (Maidstone 13/12/00 DCS No. 048-696-153). An inspector considered that the scale of tree removal required would harm the character of the area. The fact that the caravans would be substantially screened from view did not alter the fact that the character of the woodland would be altered. It would also impoverish the wildlife character of the area and would significantly increase the hazards to road users.
In (Newport 23/04/03 DCS No. 045-786-437) an appeal was dismissed that concerned an unauthorised extension to caravan storage at an agricultural holding within an SLA and SSSI. Although it was found that there was little harm to the SSSI, the development was considered to have an adverse effect on the character and appearance of the landscape.
The storage of caravans at a horticultural site in open countryside was, however, supported in (Forest of Dean 19/02/04 DCS No. 4862582). In allowing the appeal, the inspector also held that impact on residential amenity from noise and disturbance and on traffic safety was unacceptable.
Another example of an allowed appeal is (Swale 10/07/03 DCS No. 039-009-274). This case concerned the unauthorised storage of boats and caravans on a former industrial site in open countryside that lay on the edge of an area that included industrial, commercial and residential uses. The inspector noted that there was some evidence of need. He concluded that the development did not harm the character and appearance of the area. Recent permissions had also undermined countryside protection policies.
In addition to concluding that caravan storage would harm an SLA, in (Suffolk Coastal 12/03/03 DCS No. 034-562-725) an inspector concluded that the use would pose a flood risk.
The storage of caravans at part of a football ground was found to be an unacceptable incursion into open countryside and cause hazard to highway safety due to restricted visibility at an access road (Harborough 17/06/02 DCS No. 033-832-331).
Need for caravan storage 24.933
In some cases need for caravan storage facilities may be articulated sufficiently well for it to be given weight in decision making. For instance, in (Hart 24/8/84 DCS No.044-371-765) evidence was given that there was a need for facilities and the local authority accepted this. An inspector was convinced by the urgency of the need case presented and thought that this, combined with unobtrusive siting, was a compelling reason to allow the appeal contrary to rural restraint policy. A similar case allowed on the basis of need was (Solihull 10/12/86 DCS No.054-287-534). Here a site the subject of enforcement action was in a Green Belt area. Once more, a local authority conceded a strong demand, particularly in an area where new residential estates were being completed. Unobtrusive siting again proved to be a factor which combined with need to secure a permission.
A further case of some interest is (Broxbourne 19/12/83 DCS No.044-070-093) where continued use of a site subject to an enforcement notice was considered, a local authority admitted a need for storage facilities to cater for the 400-500 touring caravan owners in its area. The council was itself actively looking for a site. An inspector noted that if the present site closed, some owners would be forced to sell their caravans, and he felt that, for large numbers of people, caravanning was a major source of recreation. In the circumstances he considered that a three-year permission was appropriate pending efforts to find a suitable alternative location.
But in (Doncaster 25/05/00 DCS No. 028-889-047) an inspector held that the need for 40 caravans to be stored on land adjacent to a dwellinghouse within the Green Belt did not amount to a very special circumstance. These, the inspector found, were “bulky objects” that reduced the Green Belt’s openness and harmed visual amenity.
In (Rother 07/06/01 DCS No. 032-804-305) the need for winter storage and a summer touring caravan site in East Sussex was not considered to have been established and business needs were determined to be outweighed by harm to an AONB due to loss of openness.
Of course, any need case will be undermined if vacancies at nearby sites can be shown, as in (Basildon 6/4/88 056-539-967).
Gain from removal of caravan storage from residential areas 24.934
It may be argued that, irrespective of any need case, harm that a rural caravan storage use would cause would be outweighed by a visual gain in nearby urban areas, such as the removal of visually intrusive front garden caravan storage. In (Chelmsford 10/5/85 DCS No.039-381-344) an inspector acknowledged that if caravans were stored in the front gardens of dwellings they might be unsightly but they would be connected with the residential occupation of the dwellings and the character of the locality would not be affected.
In (Warrington 24/09/99 DCS No. 045-651-077) an inspector noted that removing caravans from private house drives was an excellent objective but needed to be done in a way that did not compromise the beauty of the countryside. He did not see it as being a very special reason to justify caravan storage at a farm in the Green Belt.
Farm diversification 24.935
Many caravan storage uses occur at farms and it is often argued that these are a form of farm diversification. However, little support may be found in PPS7 for this proposition since there is no link with rural/agricultural activities. Even if it is accepted that caravan storage is a suitable form of farm diversification, such a use is unlikely to be compatible with the maintenance and enhancement of rural environments, as pointed out by an inspector in (Rhondda 4/8/93 DCS No.030-552-838). Another difficulty in arguing farm diversification is that caravan storage is unlikely to generate additional employment, only additional income to a particular farmer, and benefit to the local rural economy is difficult to argue.
In (Rugby 15/04/2003 DCS No. 045-620-872) an inspector observed that while PPG7 (which applied at that time) supported schemes that diversified farm economies, the scale of a touring caravan storage use at a farm and its impact on the visual amenity and openness of a Green Belt far outweighed any commercial benefits associated with diversifying the agricultural economy. A similar conclusion was reached in (NE Derbyshire 15/10/02 DCS No. 036-810-987) where an inspector held that farm diversification did not amount to a very special circumstance. In an earlier decision concerning the same authority, an inspector observed that government policy aimed at diversifying the agricultural industry related to the re-use of buildings and did not make allowance for alternative uses of open land. He rejected claims that the appellant’s personal financial needs and the fact that the caravans could in time be screened by planting were very special circumstances that outweighed the harm to a Green Belt from inappropriate development (NE Derbyshire 04/06/99 DCS No. 100-035-287).
A scheme involving the storage of 180 caravans at a farm near Edinburgh was also dismissed despite claims that it would contribute to farm diversification. The reporter noted that the caravans would be clearly seen from a nearby road and this would harm the area of great landscape value within which the site lay. While supporting the principle of diversifying farming and the rural economy, the reporter decided that this could not be at the expense of protecting the best quality countryside (Edinburgh 25/11/03 DCS No. 052-373-278).
In (Brecon Beacons 30/04/01 DCS No. 035-601-821) an inspector apparently accepted that caravan storage would represent farm diversification that would not conflict with a local plan policy that allowed for changes of use for farm diversification where it would remain subsidiary to the farm enterprise and would not be significantly detrimental to existing agricultural operations. However, the policy also required the use to be in accord with other policies of the plan. Since the inspector found that the landscape and character of the National Park would be harmed, he concluded that the proposal was contrary to the development plan as a whole.
Claims that the storage of 20 caravans at a farm in the Green Belt in Essex would amount to farm diversification were rejected in (Castle Point 10/05/02 DCS No.053-937-349). An inspector considered that the use would not act as a stimulus to the rural economy sufficient to outweigh loss of the openness to the Green Belt.
Highway/traffic uses 24.936
Caravan storage has particular characteristics. Needless to say, vehicles generated by the use will be towing caravans, which are slower and longer than the average, and the special highway hazards that apply have already been debated at (24.333). Another problem is that storage uses generate traffic peaks on Friday evening and Sunday evening and this characteristic may cause harm to highways considerations or to the amenity of nearby residents.
In refusing permission for a range of uses at a former garden centre and nursery in two AONBs, including the storage of caravans, an inspector found that they would encourage a significant number of vehicle movements and, due to frequent closing of a level crossing, undermine highway safety. The use would also have an adverse effect on the landscape (Suffolk Coastal 02/12/05 DCS No. 100-040-207). Another case where road safety issues resulted in the dismissal of a caravan storage use is (Harborough 01/06/01 DCS No. 038-091-643).
“Suffolk Coastal: frequent closing of level crossing would harm highway safety”
The storage of caravans at a farm in Yorkshire was also rejected partly on the grounds that traffic generation would be a road safety hazard (Kirklees 27/11/03 DCS No. 043-273-716). However in (East Riding of Yorkshire 19/03/03 DCS No. 046-034-167) an inspector did not accept this would occur on another site in the county and rejected the council’s suggestion that warning signs advising prospective users of flood risk should be displayed. In (Aberdeenshire 09/12/02 DCS No. 059-568-722), the open storage of 40 caravans for a temporary period of five years in a residential and employment area was deemed acceptable despite concerns that the increase in traffic would be detrimental to road safety.
The use of a Sec 106 Agreement to pay for passing bays on narrow access roads was instrumental in allowing permission to be granted for a touring caravan and storage site in (Hinckley & Bosworth 10/05/99 DCS No. 037-788-957).
A case to raise the question of sustainability is (Castle Morpeth 7/3/96 031-992-637) where an inspector considered that there was no necessity for caravan storage uses to be in rural areas and as a use which drew largely on an urban clientele, they were not sustainable developments.
Conditions conventionally applied to caravan storage permissions include a limitation on numbers of caravans, specification of the area of land or the buildings to be used and approval of screening/landscaping proposals. If there are amenity reasons for so doing, a limitation on the hours that a site may be open for the reception and collection of caravans may be justifiable.
Seasonal conditions may be applied if it can be shown that a development would be acceptable, say for winter months only, but that all year round use would be too harmful to visual amenity. Of course, it is often the case that a site in winter may be far more conspicuous that it would be in summer, and thus a winter only condition may be difficult to substantiate on this basis.
Although residential occupation of stored caravans would need further planning permission, a condition stating that this shall not occur may be applied as an extra safeguard, as in (Blaby 05/07/04 DCS No. 057-075-519). Other conditions restricting other possible diversification such as caravan hire, sale or repairs may be felt to be advisable. The extent of maintenance that may be considered appropriate may be specified, perhaps limiting this to cleaning and valeting only.
If caravans are stored for a considerable period deterioration in condition and possible dereliction may become a visual problem.
In order to prevent the possibility of caravans remaining on a site on a long term basis where a non-seasonal site is otherwise considered acceptable, a condition may specify a limit on the amount of time that any one caravan may remain on site. However, such a condition may be criticised on enforceability grounds, but an alternative that no unroadworthy caravans be retained would serve a similar end and has been applied at appeal (Solihull 10/12/86 DCS No.054-287-534).
A condition which limited the caravans stored at a site to persons residing in a particular Borough was applied in (Broxbourne 19/12/83 DCS No.044-070-093). This interesting case is described earlier at (24.931).
As a use of land not requiring a lot of capital investment, limited period permissions for the storage of caravans may be justified in Circular 11/95 para.111 terms.
Use restriction 24.941
If caravan storage falls within Use Class B8, a planning permission could embrace a later change to any other B8 use. In view of the sensitivity of many sites local authorities may well be concerned to restrict a caravan storage use to that specific activity.
Although Circular 11/95 para.86 requires exceptional circumstances for restrictions on the freedoms given by the Use Classes Order it seems likely that, because of the special circumstances needed to justify a permission for caravan storage in a rural area, a curb on the possibility that such a use could change may be justified.
The correct allegation when enforcing against caravan storage is a material change of use. Accordingly the ten-year rule applies and, as with other uses with variable and transitory characteristics, it may be difficult to establish with evidence a continuous use for the requisite period. Several appeal cases show that the evidence of aerial photographs is not always a reliable way of establishing that a caravan storage use has been operating continuously over a period.
An allegation of intensification will be unsuccessful if it is accepted that caravan storage falls within Use Class B8 using Brooks & Burton v SoS & Dorset C.C. 28/7/77. However, in such cases it will be necessary to show that caravan storage existed as a primary use of the land in question throughout the requisite period.
In an appeal decision from Wiltshire, an enforcement notice directed at the siting/storage of two caravans, on land that had been severed from a dwelling that included a disused swimming pool and lay in a residential area, was upheld after an inspector agreed that they had not acquired planning immunity. The site was very overgrown and the inspector held that a separate planning unit had been created. The residential use had been abandoned. Although the appellant claimed that the site had contained at least one caravan for many years, the inspector decided that residential use of the larger caravan had been low key, infrequent and irregular. In his opinion the site had been used to store caravans, which the appellant occasionally used residentially. As the storage had not been continuous for the relevant 10 year period he dismissed the appeal (Swindon 25/08/05 DCS No. 100-038-752).
The intensity of the storage use was a key issue in a case from Lancashire in 2004 (Chorley 11/11/2004 DCS No. 033-958-885). In determining an enforcement notice appeal, an inspector accepted that on part of the land storage of up to 10 caravans had occurred for more than the requisite 10-year period. However the number of caravans stored on the whole site had increased to over 60 and new roadways and lighting had also been installed. The significant increase in the storage area had implications for the amenity of neighbouring occupiers and had had an adverse impact on the openness of a Green Belt. In the inspector’s opinion the increase in numbers had triggered a material change in the character of the use within the relevant 10-year period and consequently it was not immune from enforcement action.
An enforcement notice alleging that approximately 4.3ha of land in north Wales was being used for the storage and occupation of caravans for holiday purposes was quashed because of the substantial evidence presented by the appellant in support of his contention that it had existed for more than 10 years and was therefore immune from enforcement action. An inspector noted that although local residents disputed the evidence, statements had been submitted by many individuals who had used the site and this evidence was in addition to a substantial number of invoices and receipts (Isle of Anglesey DCS No. 031-991-843).
Another example of unauthorised caravan storage succeeding on the ten-year rule is (Walsall 01/05/01 DCS No. 039-882-401).