Carry on Camping (Pods)?

“Camping pods” are an increasingly popular addition to the mixture of tents, caravans and mobile homes that may make up holiday campsites. However, a recent Planning Inspectorate decision (APP/B9506/C/18/3210831 and 3213790 (10 February 2020)) highlights that they cannot always be treated as equivalent to these in planning terms.

In August 2018 the New Forest National Park Authority issued an enforcement notice against the erection or siting of four buildings used as camping pods. The pods measured approximately 3m x 4m x 2.5m (high) and were delivered to the site already constructed. They were offloaded into position using a lorry-mounted crane onto pre-prepared concrete bases, with a section of decking at the front. The pods, which weighted 1.5 tonnes, were not insulated or double glazed, and they lacked water supply, bathroom or kitchen.  

Among the grounds of appeal, two are of importance. The first considers the question of whether the pods met the statutory definition of ‘caravan’. The second considers whether the pods constituted ‘development’.

Definition of a Caravan

To be considered ‘a caravan’ in planning terms, a structure must meet the criteria laid down in the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 (“the 1960 Act”). The pods fell within the dimensional requirements to qualify under the 1960 Act (e.g. they weren’t too large). The question therefore turned to the second limb of the test, namely whether the structure was ‘designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another (whether by being towed, or by being transported on a motor vehicle or trailer’.

In this case the Inspector found that a number of factors pointed to the pods not being designed for human habitation:

  • They were not insulated, the doors and windows were not double glazed, there was no water supply, toilet or shower/bath and no kitchen area. Moreover (unlike conventional caravans) there was nothing inherent to the pods to show they were designed for human habitation;
  • Although the pods contained a number of elements that facilitated human habitation (an inflatable bed, a corner shelf with microwave, a kettle, wall mounted heater and electrical sockets) this did not amount to an adaptation of the structure to such habitation. The Inspector used the comparison of garden sheds, which often have an electrical supply without being adapted for habitation.

Taken together, as a matter of fact and degree, the pods had not been adapted for human habitation and did not therefore meet the legal definition of a caravan under the 1960 Act. (There was no need to also consider here whether the unit could be moved).

On this basis the alleged breach of planning control in the enforcement notice was correct.

Pods as ‘development’

Under another ground of appeal, the Inspector was also required to determine whether the pods constituted ‘development’ and so would require planning permission. Central to this was the question of whether the pods were ‘buildings’, and in particular whether they were truly portable.

In this case the Inspector considered the following factors relevant:

  • The size of the pods. Whilst not as large as some structures on the site, they were nevertheless large enough to form ‘structures’;
  • The manner in which the pods could be moved. Aerial photographs showed the pods had been in the same position since May 2017. Furthermore, although not physically fixed to the ground, the weight of 1.5 tonnes effectively held them down to the extent that they could be considered attached to the ground. The weight and gear needed to lift them also made their movement unlikely.
  • The pre-prepared concrete bases and decking in front of the pods. These were material as they indicated that the pods were intended to remain where they were.

Taken together, the Inspector found the pods were of sufficient size, degree, permanence and physical attachments to be buildings. In this case they were therefore development as defined by s.55(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and planning permission was therefore required under s.57(1) as none of the relevant exclusions applied. Since planning permission had not been granted, there had therefore been a breach of planning control.

Conclusion

As with most planning appeals, much rests on the individual facts and circumstances in this case. The range of camping pods on the market vary significantly in terms of size, structure and amenity, so further cases may reach an alternative conclusion. However, notwithstanding the fact that camping pods may have much in common with the other caravans or mobile homes in the same camping site, they will not necessarily be treated the same in planning terms. Developers should not therefore presume that these can escape the more onerous planning requirements that might otherwise apply.

Posted on: 24/02/2020

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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