Carrying out any form of development without first obtaining professional advice as to whether planning permission is required is a positive invitation to disaster. In one case, the owner of a holiday park who embarked on a wholesale transformation of the facility in breach of planning control found that out to its cost.
There had been planning permission in place for the site’s use as a caravan park since 1952 and, after acquiring it more recently, the owner set about removing trees, building an internal road and terracing a wooded hillside. Retained by gabion walls, the terraces provided level ground for 23 new caravan bases.
The local authority took a dim view of the development and issued an enforcement notice requiring the owner to restore the land to its pre-existing level and condition. It was also required to remove, amongst other things, the gabion walls, concrete bases, hard standings, services connections and new road.
Challenging the notice before a government planning inspector, the owner pointed to the terms of a 1968 caravan site licence which remained in force and which it asserted not only permitted but required the installation of bases, hard standings, footpaths and roadways to serve the site. On that basis it argued that the works were permitted development, not requiring planning permission, and that there had thus been no breach of planning control.
The inspector acknowledged that it was perfectly reasonable to upgrade the site’s facilities. In dismissing the owner’s arguments, however, she was not satisfied that the engineering and other works carried out were required by the 1968 licence. In particular, they did not conform to a condition attached to the licence that governed the location of caravan hard standings on the site.
Going on to criticise the urbanising impact of the development on the designated Special Landscape Area, she commented that the regimented layout of the caravan pitches and the alignment of the road, together with the loss of trees, drew the eye to the site, which appeared an incongruous feature in the landscape.
Rejecting the owner’s challenge to the inspector’s decision, the High Court noted that its interpretation of the 1968 licence involved reading each of the conditions attached to it in isolation and without relevant context. The inspector’s consideration of the question of whether the development was required by the terms of the licence was beyond legal reproach.