DC Casebook: In depth - Inspector probes form and plans in assessing caravan's lawful use

An appellant has failed to secure confirmation that a caravan in Buckinghamshire can be occupied residentially after an inspector found that the council was correct in arguing that it could only be used as a rest area and toilet.

Permission had been granted in 1993 for the retention of a stable block and a caravan without a condition prohibiting residential occupation of the latter. The council argued that in accordance with Slough Borough Council v Secretary of State for the Environment [1995], the permission had to be interpreted in the context of the forms and plans constituting the application. These made clear that the caravan was never intended to be used residentially, it asserted.

The inspector noted that permissions should be readily intelligible. Miller Mead v Ministry of Housing and Local Government [1963] indicated that a decision-maker would not normally need to have regard to the application form and plans, he found. However, he agreed that the Slough ruling allowed exceptions, paving the way for decision-makers to look at relevant documents when interpreting the scope of the permission.

In the case before him, the permission made clear that it had been granted in accordance with the application, plans and accompanying particulars. The application form explicitly stated that no residential use of the caravan was proposed, explaining that it was intended to be used to house a telephone and toilet for use by people attending animals on the land. On that basis, he concluded that the permission did not authorise residential use of the caravan.

He went on to establish whether the caravan had nonetheless been occupied on a permanent basis for ten years or more, thereby rendering it immune from enforcement. Although the appellant had lived in the caravan since mid 2004, the evidence supporting his assertion that other people had occupied it before then was vague and inconclusive.

The inspector accepted that a caravan had been positioned on the site between 1995 and 2000 but held that it had not been occupied residentially. He saw no evidence to support the appellant's further contention that the siting of a residential caravan on the land had become lawful before the grant of permission in 1993.

On the planning merits, he found the caravan's visual impact harmful. The appellant raised animals and fish on the land but was not permanently employed in agriculture and no functional need for a full-time worker had been established, he held. He found no evidence that the business was financially sound. He dismissed the appeal and upheld an enforcement notice requiring the residential use to cease.

DCS Number 100-058-452

Inspector Nick Freeman; Inquiry.

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