Are you looking to start or further develop a caravan park? Here are 10 things you’ll need to think about from a legal standpoint from our guest blogger – Kirstie Apps, Solicitor.
1. What is the lawful use of the land?
Before doing anything it’s important to consider how the land can lawfully be used. This will mean looking at your existing planning permission(s) or any Certificates of Lawful Development which have been obtained or might be obtained to establish what you can and cannot lawfully do.
2. Do I need planning permission?
It may be that what you are thinking of doing is permitted development for which you do not need to obtain planning permission, for example, if you are thinking about using a field for tents under the “28 day rule”.
3. Will I need to apply to vary my existing planning permission or do I need to make a fresh application?
For example, if you are thinking of increasing the season on the park which requires an amendment to an existing condition of your planning consent, it’s an application under section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Less time and potentially expense will be involved if this distinction can be made.
4. Should I contact my local planning officer for advice before making an application?
Local authorities offer pre-application advice. Some charge for this service, some do not. It’s potentially a useful resource to gauge how any future application may be decided by the local authority before you start spending significant sums on consultants, lawyers or architects. You may get some useful nuggets of information which you had not thought about and you can address in any future application to maximise your chances of success. The planning officer is going to take into account local planning policy when reviewing your application and so it’s important to consider the relevant policies for your proposed development before asking for advice.
5. What sort of things should I be thinking about to present the best possible case to the local authority?
Local planning policy is important and you will need to look at the relevant policies for the sort of application you are intending to make and to formulate your argument as to how your development ticks all of the boxes. It’s also worth bearing in mind that development should be sustainable which means it must have economic, social and environmental benefits.
6. What if my application for planning permission is refused?
There is a route of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate and potentially a judicial review. However, it might be more appropriate (and less time consuming and costly) to use the reasoning given in the notice decision to review your application and to submit a further application addressing the reasons for refusal so that it is more likely that you will get what you have asked for.
7. If the local authority grants my application, do I need to do anything about the site licence?
In most cases, it’s unlawful to operate a caravan site without a site licence. The site licence and its conditions should mirror the extent of your planning permission. Therefore if you do not have a site licence or it no longer accords with your planning permission you will need to apply to the local authority. Applications can be made on line and in most cases there is no charge.
8. I am concerned about some of the conditions to the site licence proposed by the local authority. Can I do anything about this?
There should be a dialogue between you and the department charged with looking after the licensing of caravan parks with the view to reaching an agreement on the conditions of the site licence. The local authority will have a set of conditions which it uses, based on the appropriate, national “model standards”. It might be that the conditions adopted by the local authority and applied to your park are unduly burdensome in which case there is a route of appeal to the Magistrates Court.
9. Should I have a health and safety assessment carried out?
Conditions of the site licence are mainly concerned with the health and safety of those using the park. Fire safety is an important aspect of this. The minimum spacing conditions between caravans and tents or units as they can sometimes be referred to can be a particular bone of contention. Maximising the use of your land for caravans or tents is fundamental to your business and having an independent health and safety assessment may help with negotiations with the local authority. On a more general note, as owners or operators of a caravan park you will have a duty of care towards the people using the park. Having the appropriate checks and measure in place is important to protect your business from possible claims which links in with the insurance requirements on the park.
10. If my applications are granted, how does this affect any existing agreements in place between us and our customers?
Quite often, this is not something which is considered until planning permission has been obtained. More often than not this will be dismissed as not relevant as the agreements you will have in place with your customers (whether verbal or in writing) will be short term. However, if, for instance, you have increased the duration of your season from 8 months to 10.5 months and you have owner-occupied static caravans with agreements in place for them to keep the caravans on site for more than one year, this will probably mean a change to the terms of that agreement. As new terms or variations of terms cannot be imposed you will need to reach an agreement with your customers if you want them to pay a new pitch fee based on the extension in the length of the season.
If you’d like to find about more about site licencing – contact our associate Kirstie Apps from Stephens Scown www.stephens-scown.co.uk 01872 265148 – she’d love to hear from you!