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Council wins appeal over tribunal ruling requiring it to issue caravan site licence

The First-tier Tribunal (FTT) acted irrationally and put a council in an impossible position when it ordered it to issue a caravan site licence, the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) has decided.

Judge Elizabeth Cooke sent the case between Amber Valley Borough Council and Haytop Country Park back to the FTT for re-hearing.

The FTT had required Amber Valley to issue a caravan site licence to Haytop under section 3 of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960.

Haytop is a caravan site near Whatstandwell bought by its present owner in 2016, who wishes to operate it for park homes.

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It applied 2018 for the transfer of the previous site licence, but Amber Valley refused on the basis that it had expired.

Haytop then reapplied and noted that the site had had planning permission for caravans since 1952.

This though was for 30 touring caravans and one granted in 1966 for another 30 for holiday use.

In Ambervalley Borough Council v Haytopcountry Park Ltd (PARK HOMES - CARAVAN SITE LICENCE) [2020] UKUT 68 (LC)  Judge Cooke said: “There is clearly an issue, therefore, as to whether the use to which the respondent wishes to put the site is a breach of planning control.”

Proceedings were in progress between the two sides over which planning interpretation is correct and in December 2018 Amber Valley refused the licence as the site did not have appropriate planning permission and that Haytop had been convicted of two offences under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and so was not a ‘fit and proper person’.

The FTT described Haytop’s conduct as “reprehensible, not merely incompetent” and said repeated breaches of statutory obligations made a strong case for refusing a licence.

It concluded though that refusal would be disproportionate in view of the £750,000 investment, the council’s long failure to enforce the requirement for a licence and that it was likely that the planning issues would be resolved.

The FTT therefore directed Amber Valley to grant the licence. The council appealed on grounds that the FTT erred by ordering it to grant a licence without stipulating the essential particulars  and that allowing Heytop to evolve a caravan scheme during the unresolved planning proceedings was an abuse of process.

Additionally Amber Valley said it was ‘Wednesbury’ unreasonable to order a licensing authority to issue “a wholly inappropriate licence”.

Judge Cooke found: “The effect of the FTT’s decision is that the local authority has a choice. It must grant a licence, and therefore must do so either subject to conditions (as to number and type of caravan) that permit the current use of the site, which the [council] regards as illegal, or subject to conditions requiring compliance with the 1952 planning permission, which would require the removal of all the existing park homes and is not what [Haytop] wants.

“The [council] reasonably regards both those options as unacceptable, and I take the view that it was irrational to make a decision that placed a public authority in such an impossible position.”

She said the FTT could have stayed the appeal pending resolution of the planning position or upheld the authority’s decision leaving Haytop free to apply again, or could have directed Amber Valley to grant a licence only if the planning dispute was resolved in Haytop’s favour.

Mark Smulian

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