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Caravans sites: fit and proper persons

In 2020 Parliament provided for a register of fit and proper persons to manage residential caravan sites. In the first case to come before the First Tier Tribunal under the legislation, the Tribunal has upheld the refusal by Arun District Council to register five companies as fit and proper persons, writes Philip Kolvin QC.

In The Willows General Management Limited, The Marigolds Management Limited, Aldingbourne Park Management Limited, Rustington Management Limited, The Beaches Management Limited v Arun District Council (CHI/45UC/PHR/2021/02-06) the five sites involved were each licensed to a separate company under the provisions of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. Each company shared the same two directors. None of the companies had significant capital or income. Management of each of the sites was carried out through a large caravan site property group called the Wyldecrest Group, yet none of the companies were legally connected to the Group. There was no evidence that the companies themselves or their directors were actually involved in the management of the sites.

The companies argued that the sites had been properly run over many years and that the site licence fees alone were enough to pay for the proper management of the sites. Nevertheless, the Council refused to register the companies as fit and proper under The Mobile Homes (Requirement for Manager of Site to be Fit and Proper Person) (England) Regulations 2020, including because none of the companies had appointed a named site manager, evidence of the actual legal estate or equitable interest had not been provided, and nor had sufficient detail been provided of the ability to secure the proper management of the site, the manager’s competence to manage the site or the management structure and funding arrangements.

On appeal, the applicant companies criticised the Council for an overly technical approach, given that the sites had been properly run by and through a well-resourced corporate group. The Council relied on the well-known test for fitness and propriety in R v Warrington Crown Court ex parte Chief Constable of Cheshire Constabulary [2002] 1 WLR 1954, namely that the test concerns whether the applicant has the personal qualities and professional qualifications to do what they seek permission to do.

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The Tribunal held that the question was whether the five companies were fit and proper, not whether the Wyldecrest Group was, or whether the sites had been properly run in the past. It rejected as irrelevant an argument that many other local authorities had approved other companies within the Wyldecrest Group as fit and proper. Applying the test in Hope and Glory, it held that the Companies had failed to discharge the evidential burden upon them to demonstrate that the refusal to register them was wrong, and that they had also failed to comply with the information requirements upon them under the Regulations.

The strong, and clearly correct, message for practitioners is that it is wholly insufficient under this regime to assert the quality of management of the site, or even the competence of a wider corporate structure to manage the site. The Council is concerned with whether the applicant for registration is fit and proper. In this case, the information provided by the Applicant Companies was lacking, and so the Council was not just not wrong but, in the words of the Tribunal, right to reject the applications.

Philip Kolvin QC of 11 KBW acted for Arun District Council in the appeals.

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