Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): The issue of Gypsies and Travellers and their need for accommodation is highly topical, and I am grateful to the House for the opportunity to raise the matter on the Floor of the House and to seek some much-needed clarification from the Government. There are two matters that concern Congleton borough council: first, demand for additional caravan sites for Gypsies in terms of their location and size; and, secondly, the stationing of caravans belonging to Gypsies and Travellers within the curtilages of the residential properties that they have purchased. At the moment, the second issue appears to be located only in one part of the boroughMiddlewich.
Middlewich has approximately 30 houses owned by Gypsy families with multiple caravans compacted in their garden areas. The adopted Congleton borough local plan contains policies that relate to Gypsy caravan sites, and there are a number of criteria against which planning applications will be judged. A number of permissions have been granted for small sites, but recently there have been incidences of illegal encampments, notably at Cranage. The latter would provide enough material for another debate, but I want to focus this evening on the second issue that appears to be peculiar to Middlewich, which historically has had a number of Gypsies among its population.
An increasing number of Middlewich residents have raised concerns about various domestic operations and activities undertaken by Gypsy families more recently settled in the town. Specifically, residents query whether those families are in breach of planning legislation by hard surfacing the whole or a major part of their gardens; by installing elaborate decorative railings; by keeping and using one or more caravans in their gardens; and by installing shower and lavatory blocks and electricity points in the gardens to facilitate living in the caravans.
For the past two years, the CW10 residents action group has been trying to establish why our local authority allows mini-caravan sites in the cartilage of dwelling houses without the need for planning permission, licence conditions such as those for health and safety, or enforcement, which are the normal requirement for any land where the intensification of use has occurredthat is, where a material change of use has taken place.
The council has considered the issues and two barristers, each specialising in Gypsy-related planning law, have been consulted. Their advice is that caravans do not need planning permission if they are ancillary or incidental to the use of a dwelling house. What is incidental varies according to the particular facts of each case, and to ascertain those facts, the proper approach is to investigate and judge each case on its merits, taking into account, first, the degree to which each caravan is functionally connected with and subordinate to the use of the dwelling house. For example, to what extent do those who sleep in the caravans use facilities in the
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house? Do the caravans provide independent living accommodation or are their occupants dependent on facilities in the house, too?
Secondly, the relative scale of accommodation available in both the dwelling house and the caravan must be taken into account. For example, caravans providing sleeping accommodation for a small overflow of family members may well have a subordinate, functional link to the main house, but may not where the caravans provide more accommodation than the house itself. Thirdly, account must be taken of the relative size of the dwelling house, its garden and the caravan. The larger the first two and the smaller the latter, the more likely it is that a subordinate, functional link exists. Fourthly, the relationship between the occupants must be taken into account. Extended family groups are more likely to share functional links.
To help to decide whether caravans are incidental or require planning permission, enforcement officers would need to ask each family questions along the following lines. Who lives in the house? Who lives in the caravan? What is the relationship between those people? What size of rooms and what kind of facilities exist in the house and caravan, and who uses what? How are utilities such as electricity, gas, water and waste shared? Are any payments shared? Is rent paid? What are the family's intentions for the proposed use of the caravans, including time scales?
The borough council considers that hard surfacing of part or all of the garden will generally be permitted development and that the erection of decorative railings will follow normal permitted development rules that apply to all means of enclosure. Likewise, the construction of shower and lavatory blocks might require planning permission, or might be permitted development, depending on the usual spatial allowances that apply to all residential properties.
Congleton borough council's stance has been that multiple caravans sited in the gardens of houses are permitted development because they are incidental to the enjoyment of the dwelling house and occupied by extended family members.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The situation that my hon. Friend is describing reflects exactly what is happening in part of my constituency in Rushden. Several caravans form part of something that is, in my view, a permanent structure, and local residents are incensed that planning action is not being taken.
A planning application or site licence are not required for such caravans, and the number of caravans allowed in a single curtilage cannot be limited. However, the CW10 residents action group has found that siting multiple caravans in the gardens of houses is a material change of use and not permitted development. Putting a dwelling in the curtilage of another dwelling is always a material change of use and, in turn, cannot be incidental to the enjoyment of the dwelling house, so surely planning permission is required. Furthermore, the same group believes that an extended family member includes three generations of the same familygrandparents, parents and their childrenbut not other independent family units, such as aunts, uncles, cousins and so on.
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My constituents and I would be grateful to receive clarification from the Minister on a considerable number of questions, not least whether caravans are assessed for council tax purposes as additional facilities. On enforcement, paragraph 29 of circular 01/94Gypsy sites and planningstates:
"Some kinds of activity will not fall within the definition of 'development' in section 55 of the 1990 Act, and will not therefore require planning permission. Any gypsy living in a dwellinghouse will not require planning permission to use a caravan within the curtilage of the dwellinghouse, provided that the purpose is incidental to the enjoyment of the dwellinghouse as such. A caravan within the curtilage of a dwellinghouse may have a number of ancillary uses for which planning permission would not be required. For example, it could be used for additional living accommodation, provided that it remained part of the same planning unit as the dwellinghouse and the unit remained in single family occupation."
Is the above definition for a single caravan, or an unlimited number of caravans, being permitted to be stationed in the garden of a house without the need for planning permission? When would that definition no longer apply so that planning permission would have to be sought by the occupants of the dwelling house? To what extent would the usage of caravans in the gardens of a property fall under the definition of being incidental to the enjoyment of the dwelling house? When would the usage of the caravans fall outside that definition? Furthermore, would the intensification of caravans in the garden of a house be classified as incidental to the enjoyment of the dwelling house?
Under the above definition, what would the usage of the caravan be if classified as ancillary use? What would its usage be when it falls outside that definition? Are there any time limitations for caravans to be stationed in the gardens of a house under the definition of incidental to the enjoyment of a dwelling house? What about the impact on neighbouring properties?
If the primary use of the dwelling house remains residential and within one planning unit, would it be possible for more than one caravan to be sited without the need for planning permission? Furthermore, would caravans stationed in the garden of an unoccupied house be incidental to the enjoyment of that dwelling house? If so, are there any time limitations without the need of planning consent? When would such cases require planning consent?
Under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995the GDPOwhen would the stationing of caravans in the curtilage of a dwelling house fall within the definition of permitted development? Would the number of caravans and extent of use have any bearing on that definition? Also, under the same GDPO, when would the stationing of caravans in the garden of a house fall within the definition of material change of use, and would the number of caravans and extent of use have any bearing on that definition?
When would provisions on the health and safety of the occupants of the caravans, the dwelling house and their neighbours come into effect if multiple caravans, cars and vans are compacted into the curtilage of a
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single dwelling house? Who would be ultimately responsible for ensuring that those checks are carried out?
When would the following extract from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's "Planning Guide for Householders" apply to the stationing of caravans in a single residential curtilage? The following are examples of when one would need to apply for planning permission:
"If you want to divide off part of your house for use as a separate home (for example, a self-contained flat or bed-sit) or use a building or caravan in your garden as a separate residence for someone else";
When would the following extract taken directly from a letter to the CW10 residents action group from a planning policy adviser at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister apply in connection to multiple caravans stationed in the garden of a house? I quote:
"Each local planning authority has to take a view on whether any particular activity amounts to 'development' within the meaning of section 55 of the main Act. There are two types of development'operational', such as building or engineering work, and 'material change of use of land'. A boat or vehicle would be a chattel rather than a building or a structure, so could only be considered as development if it represented a material change of use of land (eg, if someone set up a commercial boat-repair business in what was supposed to be his back garden).
Similarly, a caravan, as defined under section 29(1) of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, as modified by section 13(1)(b) of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 is not a building. However, if someone started using one as a self-contained dwelling within the curtilage of a dwellinghouse the local planning authority would require a planning application for change of use of land. Putting one dwelling into the curtilage of another is always a material change of use".
Will the Minister please specify a rule of thumb when determining who will fall under the definition of extended family used in planning guidelines? Moreover, when would that definition no longer apply in respect of a family member? Finally, when would permanent occupation of caravans require planning consent within a single residential curtilage, and when would permanent occupation not require planning consent?
Given the complexity of planning law and that to judge the facts and degree of each case would involve significant intrusion into the lives of the families concerned, it might be appropriate for the Government to be invited to consider changes to planning legislation to clarify the issues. One suggestion from Congleton borough council is that a limit be imposed on the number of caravans permitted to be kept within the residential curtilage of a property to no more than one, whether occupied temporarily, permanently or not at all. Above that limit, planning permission would be required, and it would be clear to all where the distinction lay. It would then be a matter for the local planning authority, when required to determine an application for more than one caravan, to balance the merits of each case in the light of the development plan and any other material considerations.
I would appreciate the Minister's clarification of those important issues, which are of understandable concern to the residents of Middlewich. There seems to be one rule for one group of people, but my constituents
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want equity among all local residents, and they want planning regulations to be unequivocal in application. I have gone into considerable detail about the matter, and I am happy for the Minister to write to me if he cannot respond to all the points that I have made in this short debate.