Planning – Mobile Homes in Garden
Planning Law for Garden Caravans
There are three main citing’s regarding the use of caravans in gardens.
- Under s 55(2)(d) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 the use of any buildings or other land within the curtilage of a dwellinghouse for any purpose incidental to the enjoyment of the dwellinghouse as such is not to be taken to involve development of the land.
- The Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 Schedule 1. Use within the curtilage of a dwellinghouse. A site license shall not be required for the use of land as a caravan site if the use is incidental to the enjoyment as such of a dwellinghouse within the curtilage of which the land is situated.
- The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995. Part 5. Caravan Sites. Interpretations of Class A. A.2. The circumstances mentioned in Class A are those specified in paragraphs 2 to 10 of Schedule 1 to the 1960 Act.
However, although the citing’s refer to caravans, there is in fact no direct Law preventing one being kept in someone’s garden. A caravan in a garden is regarded as an article of movable personal property known as a ‘chattel’.
Section 55(2)(d) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 gives the laws about incidental buildings not requiring permission but technically a caravan is not a building.
The Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 Schedule 1 states that a caravan used within the curtilage of a dwellinghouse does not require permission. However the Statutory Instrument 1995 No. 418 that actually states the General Permitted Development Order 1995 that refers to the circumstances of the Caravans Act only refers to circumstances 2-10 and not circumstance number 1 which is for caravans in Gardens. So technically there is no permitted development for caravans, just as there is none for garden furniture or a car, all are considered ‘chattel’ articles of movable personal property.
The question is then how can a caravan be considered development or change of use or something requiring planning?
- If a structure deemed a caravan fails the test criteria, mobility size and construction for twin-units, then the structure maybe deemed a building or that unlawful building actives have taken place and in these instances would require planning approval.
- If the use of a caravan is not incidental to the use of the house and has become a separate dwelling, providing all the normal facilities for day-to-day living, then regardless of the ‘chattel’ nature of the caravan it could be considered a separate residential planning unit. Section 55(3)(a) of the Planning Act specifies that ‘the use as two or more separate dwellinghouses of a building previously used as a single dwellinghouse’ is a material change of use. Thus the caravan would require permission. This is a contentious issue as caravans must also be designed for human habitation meaning possessing the qualities that allow domestic habitation, presumably shelter, resting, washing and cooking facilities. A quandary that still remains a grey area of Law although the general approach of the Courts is that it is the actual use of a caravan that is the determinative factor to determine a caravans incidental nature rather than the nature of it’s facilities giving potential to be occupied as a self-contained residential unit.
- If the location of the caravan is considered not within the residential curtilage of the dwelling then it will not fall under the permitted development of the property.
So although there are no direct laws governing caravans in gardens, the structure must still conform to the technical definition of a ‘caravan’ it cannot be used as a separate welling, and must be located in the garden boundary of the main house. If these criteria are met then the caravan will fall outside of planning control and no development or change of use will have occurred.
Interpreting the wording of the Law for Caravans in Gardens
Dwellinghouse, Curtilage, and Incidental.
Both the Town and the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and The Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 use the terms; Curtilage, Dwellinghouse and Incidental when describing the lawful use of caravans in gardens
Definition of Dwellinghouse
The definition of a dwelling house is given meaning in the Rent Act 1977 (CAA01/S531):
A dwelling house is a building, or part of a building, which is a person’s home. A person’s second or holiday home is a dwelling house as is a flat that is used as a residence. A block of flats is not a dwelling house although the individual flats within the block may be. University halls of residence, accommodation used for holiday letting, a hospital, a nursing home or a prison are not dwelling houses.
Definition of Curtilage
The definition of a ‘curtilage’ or ‘domestic’ curtilage is usually a garden, but can include parking areas, access roads, vegetable plots, children’s play areas, and stables (where the horses are kept for pleasure rather than agricultural use). The domestic curtilage is not necessarily marked off or enclosed, but it should be clearly attached to the house or serving the purpose of the house in some useful and intimate way.
When all the land surrounding a property is garden and drive, assessing the domestic curtilage is clear. It’s the boundary of the parcel of land around your house, the front, back and side gardens, usually with some sort of boundary such as a fence or a wall between your curtilage and your neighbors. It will often be indicated on the house Deeds.
The matter becomes more complex with larger plots, gardens with surrounding land that is not directly part of the garden or farm complexes where there is no distinction when the domestic curtilage ends and the agricultural land begins. Courts have provided interpretation on the factors to be taken into account in determining what constitutes a curtilage.
The definition of ‘curtilage’ is given in Sinclair-Lockhart’s Trustees v Central Land Board 1950 as
“ground which is used for the comfortable enjoyment of a house…. And thereby as an integral part of the same, although it has not been marked off or enclosed in any way. It is enough that it serves the purpose of the house……in some necessary or reasonably useful way.”
It has also been held in Dyer v Dorset CC 1989 that the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary is adequate for most purposes. That definition is:
A small court, yard, garth or piece of ground attached to a dwellinghouse and forming one enclosure with it, or so regarded by the law, the area attached to and containing a dwellinghouse and its outbuildings.
In James v Secretary of State for the Environment 1990 it was held that there are three criteria for determining whether land is within the curtilage of a building, namely:
(a) physical layout;
(b) ownership, past and present, and
(c) use or function, past and present.
Definition of Incidental
The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 and the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act1960 both use the term ‘Incidental to the enjoyment’ with reference to the use of a structure or caravan in association with the main house.
The term “incidental” is not defined in planning law. A dictionary definition reads ‘happening as a minor accompaniment to something else’.
In general planning terms incidental means accompanying something. Often referred to as ‘ancillary use’ meaning supporting. The use of the caravan must accompany or support the use of the dwelling house, this way a ‘change of use’ of the land has not occurred.
Living, sleeping, eating, washing and storing belongings are often referred to as the ‘primary uses of a dwelling house’. If a caravan is used in any of the above manners and not say a business operation or rented as holiday accommodation, then the use of the caravan may be described as being ‘incidental to the primary uses of the dwelling house’.
Authorities can often be concerned a caravan or mobile home could be used as an separate dwelling as it may have all the facilities that allow independent living. This is further complicated by the legal requirement that a caravan must be ‘designed or adapted for human habitation’. Meaning capable of being lived in.
Although a caravan can have full living, sleeping, washing and cooking facilities (designed for habitation) and be used in a residential manner on an on-going basis under the primary use of the house, the use should accompany or depend on the house in a vital or non-trivial way.
Each situation of use is unique. A clear example of incidental use would be resident family members who sleep and wash in the caravan but will have meals, store belongings and conducts daily activities in the dwelling house. The caravan itself might also depend on the services and access of the main dwelling.
Non-incidental use for example may be use by a person who has had no previous association or registration at the address or owners. The caravan might have its own access and service connections. If demonstrating use is difficult consider making a sworn statement with the Council that the caravan will not become a separate dwelling.
Incidental Use or Separate Dwelling Contention?
If the location of the caravan is clearly in the garden and the structure physically can be defined as a ‘caravan’ then demonstrating how and why the use of the caravan is ‘incidental’ to the enjoyment of the house can often be the main obstacle when seeking confirmation from the Authorities.
Whether the caravan includes facilities for primary living accommodation, such as an en suite guest bedroom is unlikely to create a development control issue given that the siting of an incidental caravan in the garden of a house will not be considered to be a material change of use under section 55(1) of the Planning Act, merely an ‘intensification’ of the pre-existing residential use. Courts have ruled that intensification of a use that is within a Use Class cannot be material, and dwelling houses are within such a Class (C3).
However, Case Law gives mixed decisions making this a ‘grey area’ that can often require addressing. The quandary of this circumstance is this;
- On one hand – Section 55(3)(a) of the Planning Act specifies that “the use as two or more separate dwellinghouses of a building previously used as a single dwellinghouse” is a material change of use. Considering this Act, a mobile home caravan sited in a garden with all the facilities that allow it’s use as a separate dwellinghouses will mean a new planning unit, i.e. house, has been created and planning approval will be required. If, however, the caravan doesn’t have all the facilities that allow it to be used as a separate dwelling, for example it has no kitchen, then it may not be considered a separate or secondary planning unit. So no breach of planning will have occurred provided the caravan is not capable of being used independently.
- On the other hand – The Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act1960 and 1968 both states that a caravan must be designed for human habitation meaning possessing the qualities that allow domestic living. Additionally practically every single caravan commercially available has all the facilities, by their very natures, which allow domestic habitation. Regardless of physical scale or the passage of time, almost all commercially available caravans can be used as dwellinghouses.
So the quandary is that a caravan by it’s very nature must have the domestic facilities that allow habitation but any structure placed in a garden that is used as a separate dwelling will require planning. There is a no apparent ground in Law to refuse the use of a caravan as being non-incidental by nature of its facilities alone. It must be the use of those facilities in association with those of the house that is evaluated, not the mere presents of them. So a caravan can have all the facilities for separate domestic living but presumably they can’t all be used. A number of vital domestic facilities of the main dwelling must be used to demonstrate the caravan is not being used independently.
Solution to the Separate Dwelling Contention?
Documenting, demonstrating and evaluating the manner in which the facilities of a caravan are used in conjunction with the domestic use of the primary dwelling house can be impractical. The Councils approach to exclude some of the facilities from the caravan makes sense but in these situations it can be unrealistic to remove say a kitchen from a static caravan or purchase a commercial caravan that doesn’t have a toilet.
Considering that practically all commercially available caravans and mobile homes worldwide have washing, cooking and sleeping facilities and the current definition of a caravan requires in it’s very nature a caravan must have the elements for ‘human habitation’ both give clear conclusion that a caravan cannot be considered non-incidental or development purely by that fact that it has the facilities that allow it to be used as an habitable dwelling. This must be determined on the use, not the structural elements like the number of bedrooms or the existence and quantity of facilities that allow habitation. The general approach of the Courts is that it is the actual use of a caravan that is the determinative factor not the presents of domestic facilities. It’s recommended here, that as a resolution of the incidental use contention, the users of the caravan make a sworn and legally binding declaration, for example in the form of an affidavit, that states that the caravan will not become a separate dwelling house.
Notable Case Law for Incidental Use of Caravans
Wealden D.C. v S.O.S. & Day 7/12/87
The degree to which use as a day shelter can be held to be ancillary to the agricultural use of land was the subject of this Court Case,. A caravan for storage, shelter and food preparation was considered to be incidental to the permitted use of agricultural land and therefore did not represent a breach of planning control, despite the fact that the caravan was designed and equipped for human habitation.
Whitehead v Secretary of State and Mole Valley District Council [1991)
The term "incidental" is not defined in planning law but intimated that semi-independent housekeeper's accommodation in a barn within a dwelling's curtilage could be incidental to its enjoyment and thus permission was not required.
South Bedfordshire 19/11/90 DCS No.056-472-135
Enforcement action was taken with regard to a mobile home at a dwelling. An inspector observed that the mobile home had its own water and electricity and was equipped with cooking, washing and toilet facilities. It could not be regarded as ancillary or incidental to the normal enjoyment of the dwellinghouse.
Uttlesford District Council v Secretary of State for the Environment and White 
It was held that the conversion of a garage in a residential curtilage to a granny annexe had not resulted in a material change of use, despite it including facilities that enabled the occupier to live independently
Bromley 11/1/00 DCS No. 049-743-268
Enforcement action was taken against a caravan in the garden of a suburban dwelling. An inspector considered that any caravan used to provide primary residential accommodation was lawful provided it was comprised within a single residential planning unit. The council argued that the dwellinghouse was not occupied and therefore the caravan could not be ancillary to it, but an inspector disagreed. He felt that it had all the requirements for day to day living, if cramped and cluttered. The caravan provided the appellant a welcome refuge in which to eat and relax away from the discomfort of the main building. The notice was quashed and costs awarded to the appellant.
Mole Valley 3/7/00 DCS No. 043-754-593
The occupation of a caravan within the curtilage and same planning unit as a permanent dwelling was found to be independent and not incidental to the main house, mainly because use of washing facilities and laundry at the house by the family occupier of the caravan had varied, was a matter of choice and had not taken place for a period of some seven years even though at the time of the appeal use had resumed. The inspector found evidence of independence of lifestyle and independent occupation of the caravan and granted a LDC.
Carmarthenshire 10/7/03 DCS No. 037-166-164
An enforcement notice alleged use of a caravan for residential purposes. It was claimed that the use was incidental in that it was used by a cancer sufferer who required a place for quiet relaxation near to his family living in the main dwelling. An inspector observed that the caravan was provided with all mains services and could support separate residential occupation. The appellant admitted that about half the time the caravan had been present it had been occupied and for the remaining time he had lived in the main house. It was concluded that this level of residential occupation could not be considered incidental
Medway 3/5/07 DCS No.100-048-615
This case refers to a caravan sited on a plot in Open Counrtyside. The large size of a caravan in the curtilage of a dwelling in open countryside meant it could not be regarded as permitted development due to bringing harm to rural character and appearance via it’s incongruous and substantial size. Although the occupation by an elderly relative with all meals being prepared in the main house was incidental to the main house, the excessive size of the accommodation went beyond what could be considered as incidental, personal circumstances not outweigh harm.
Sedgemoor 06/06/08 DCS No.100-055-796
An enforcement notice required the removal of a caravan from land that the council asserted was outside the curtilage of a dwelling, and could not therefore be incidental to its use. It further argued that even were it to be held to be within the curtilage, it was not being used for purposes incidental to the enjoyment of the dwellinghouse. The inspector sided with the appellants on both counts.
Ashford 2/12/08 DCS No.100-059-030
A mobile home used as additional living space in the curtilage of a rural dwelling was found to not be permitted development due to its substantial size which the inspector considered to be tantamount to a new dwelling and not an annex.
Wokingham 8/4/09 DCS No.100-060-956
An unauthorised caravan occupied by a care helper of elderly relatives in the main dwelling was accepted as incidental accommodation in the curtilage of the house.
West Lancashire 12/11/09 DCS No.100-065-256
An inspector approved a Lawful Development Certificate for two caravans used ancillary accommodation by the sons of the occupier of the main dwelling. The caravans were situated within the curtilage and were used for sleeping and entertaining. Even through they had all the facilities for independent living they we’re not being used as self-contained accommodation because meals and laundry took place in the house.
West Midlands 2007 appeal case DCS Number 100-050-239
An inspector found that rear garden parent’s accommodation was a ‘mobile home installed as a structure’, where specially constructed supports or foundations had been constructed and plumbing and sewerage systems installed. The inspector noted that the parents concerned always slept in the accommodation, used the bathroom and toilet, rested in the unit in the afternoons, and took some meals there. This led him to believe that a separate dwelling was not ancillary to the main house had been created.
The general approach of the courts is that it is the actual use of a caravan that is determinative rather than its potential to be occupied as a self-contained residential unit. So permission may not be required for the mobile home.
the mere fact that a structure is termed a caravan using the criteria cited in the 1968 Act, may not necessarily mean that it is not a building operation for the purposes of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. In the case of the ‘lodge’ type of accommodation you mention it may well be that its supports and service connections give it sufficient characteristics of permanency for permission to be required
The main matter to be resolved is whether a separate residence has been established on the land resulting in the creation of a new planning unit requiring planning permission.
In the case you describe many of the indicators that the accommodation is separate, and does not rely on the main house, seem to be in place.
Such a ‘lodge’ building is certain to provide all the necessary domestic facilities enabling it used independently. The lifestyle question, namely how the accommodation is actually used, is also part of the matrix of considerations that may arise in evidence.
The final consideration concerns the input of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995. If the lodge is deemed to be a building, and provided it is within the curtilage of the dwelling house, as a ‘incidental’ garden structure it is likely to fall within Part 1 Class E as permitted development. However, according to the government’s controversial interpretation of the Order this does not apply if the building is immediately used for primary living accommodation.
In summary, in order for your council’s potential enforcement to be successful and survive the likely appeal, it does need to assess very carefully whether it has sufficient hard evidence to justify an allegation of an unauthorized building and/or a material change of use.