CASEBOOK: Appeal cases - Leisure and Entertainment - Extra caravan found not to be material change

Requests for two lawful development certificates (LDCs) relating to the use of land in East Sussex for siting nine caravans have been allowed after no material change of use was considered to have occurred from an existing lawful use.

The 1.4ha site already benefited from an LDC for eight mixed touring and static caravans that had been present on the site on the advent of planning control in 1948 and had continued without abandonment. The parties agreed that, under the terms of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, the land could actually accommodate about 50 caravans.

The local authority was concerned that granting the LDCs would amount to a new point of reference against which any subsequent use would be judged. This might be termed "creeping lawfulness" being brought into effect through a one-by-one increase in the number of caravans until the capacity of the site was reached, the council argued.

The inspector, referring to Circular 10/97, noted that any LDC must state the limits of a particular use found lawful at the date applied for in order to set a datum against which any further change of use could be assessed. He found that an increase from eight to nine caravans would produce only a marginal increase in activity not previously encountered on the site and that the site would remain essentially a field with a number of caravans and other structures scattered over it.

As a matter of fact and degree, he ruled, no material change in the use of the land would arise. He felt that the council's fears could be allayed if the notices made it clear that the use would be lawful only because it would not be materially different from the eight caravans previously certified. He felt that by wording the LDCs in this way, the previous certificate would remain the point of reference against which future changes might be considered.

DCS No: 40963228; Inspector: Graham Bailey; Inquiry.

COMMENT: This case raises the question of the precedent of LDCs in which a material change of use issue may rest on a small numerical increase on an existing count, be it dogs, vehicles or caravans. It remains to be seen whether this inspector's solution to the lawfulness ratchet posed by the authority will prevail.

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