A textbook example

Every now and then an inspector writes a decision which is quite simply a textbook example of how to approach a particular situation. Here is a good one relating to a log cabin within the curtilage of a dwelling (DCS Number 400-024-865) which you might wish to file and use for reference, should you come across a similar proposal during your own work.

In this case the appellant was seeking a certificate of lawful use or development for the stationing of a caravan (a log cabin) to be used incidental and ancillary to the dwelling, which was in Kent. The inspector firstly identified the main issues, which were whether the log cabin would meet the planning definition of ‘caravan’, if not, whether it would be a building for planning purposes, and if not, whether its use would involve a material change of use of the land.

Turning to the first of these issues the inspector recorded that “Subsection 29(1) of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 as amended (‘the CSCDA’) says that a ‘caravan’ means any structure 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) and any motor vehicle so designed or adapted, but does not include (a) any railway rolling-stock, which is, for the time being, on rails forming part of a railway system or (b) any tent.” She went on; “Subsections 13(1) and (2) of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 as amended (‘the CSA’) define twin-unit caravans as follows: (1) a structure designed or adapted for human habitation which (a) is composed of not more than two sections separately constructed and designed to be assembled on a site by means of bolts, clamps or other devices; and (b) is, when assembled, physically capable of being moved by road from one place to another (whether by being towed, or by being transported on a motor vehicle or trailer), shall not be treated as not being (or as not having been) a caravan within the meaning of Part I of the CSCDA by reason only that it cannot lawfully be so moved on a highway when assembled.”

Summarising this legal context the inspector explained “It is a well-established principle that when considering whether or not a structure is deemed to be a caravan or, as in this case, [the case before her] a twin-unit caravan, the commonly applied ‘construction’ and ‘mobility’ tests should be considered. The following are relevant considerations; there has to be a structure, it has to be designed or adapted for human habitation and that structure must be capable of being moved as a single structure. A structure composed of not more than two separately constructed sections which are designed to be assembled on site, and, when assembled, is physically capable of being moved by road, is not excluded from the relevant legislative provisions.”

In respect of the intended purpose of the log cabin the inspector recorded that section 55(2)(d) of the Town and Country Planning Act states that “(2) The following operations or uses of land shall not be taken for the purposes of this Act to involve development of the land – (d) 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.”

At this point in her decision the inspector set out case law in which the interpretation of the construction and mobility tests has been tested in the courts, together with case law relating to the meaning of ‘incidental to the enjoyment of the dwelling’. Rather than set it all out here we would refer you to the original document.

Applying the case law to the appeal before her, the inspector found that, considering firstly the construction test, there was no evidence to support the appellant’s claim that the log cabin would be formed of two halves. Turning to the mobility test, she noted the appellant’s statement that the two halves could be easily transported from the site when required. The inspector pointed out, however, that the test requires that the caravan should be physically capable of being moved from the site when assembled. It was not clear, she found, that the structure would be able to physically withstand being loaded onto a trailer or being towed. She ruled that the log cabin could not be deemed to be a caravan or, as claimed by the appellant, a twin-unit caravan.

Moving on to the second of her main issues, the inspector considered whether or not the log cabin amounted to a ‘building’ for planning purposes. In this regard she related that Section 336(1) of the Act includes in the definition of the word ‘building’ any structure or erection, and any part of a building, as so defined. This description, she added, has been interpreted by the courts to include structures which would not ordinarily be described as buildings. She listed the primary factors which have been identified as decisive of what is a ‘building’ are: (a) that it is of a size to be constructed on site, as opposed to being brought on to the site, (b) permanence, and (c) physical attachment. No one factor is decisive.

Again, applying the case law to the appeal before her, the inspector noted that the log cabin would be constructed on site, it would not be physically attached to the ground, but could be considered immobile by its own weight, and given its scale, would result in physical attachment to the ground. She judged that its substantial size would be consistent with a building, and noted that there was no evidence that the building would be moved once it had been constructed. On the particular circumstances of the case the inspector determined that the log cabin would be a structure that fell within the definition of the word ‘building’ in s336(1) of the Act.

In view of her conclusion that the log cabin would not be a ‘caravan’ but would be a ‘building’, the inspector concluded that it was development that required planning permission. Given that the basis of the application was that the proposal was not development for which planning permission was required the inspector concluded that the council’s refusal to grant a certificate of lawful use or development was well-founded, and that the appeal should fail.

Further information on garden caravans, together with appeal examples, can be found at section 24.6 of DCP Online.