DC Casebook: Leisure and Entertainment - Extra caravan triggers material change

An inspector has refused to issue a lawful development certificate (LDC) confirming that two caravans for holiday use can be permitted on a site in Essex.

The site already benefited from a LDC indicating that the site could lawfully be used for a caravan as an occasional holiday home. The council, in rejecting the LDC application, maintained that residential use of the site had been abandoned and that the siting of two caravans on the plot would involve a material change of use.

In deciding whether the use had been abandoned, the inspector relied on the judgement in Hughes v Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions and South Holland District Council [2000]. This held that four factors were relevant - physical condition, period of non-use, intervening uses and the owner's intentions.

Although the council referred to the existing caravan as being in a state of disrepair, an internal inspection revealed that it was far from derelict. Since the LDC referred to occasional use of the caravan, the inspector was satisfied that long periods when it was unoccupied did not amount to abandonment. He found that there had been no intervening use of the caravan and the owners had always intended to use it for recreation.

Whether two caravans would involve a material change in the character of the use was a matter of fact and degree, he held. He referred to Childs v First Secretary of State and Test Valley Borough Council [2005], which held that where a LDC contains no reference to caravan numbers, an increase might not involve a material change. However, the court also held that an increase might amount to a material change if a definition of an existing use gives an indication of its intensity by reference to the number of caravans.

The inspector noted that the existing LDC referred to a single caravan. It was necessary to establish whether a change in the character of the use would result from two, he opined. In his view, doubling the number would alter the site's character, resulting in greater activity and traffic movements. Moreover, the existing LDC referred to "occasional" use but the proposed LDC sought no such limitation, he noted. The omission of this word and the additional caravan would result in an intensification of the lawful use leading to a material change, he ruled.

Inspector: Felix Bourne; Hearing

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