Caravan park prevented from building on green belt land in latest dispute with Chelmsford City Council

A caravan park has been banned from building on a disputed area of green belt following a “long history of enforcement action” from Chelmsford City Council.

The city council argued in February that work had commenced at around September time last year at Hayes Caravan Park near South Woodham Ferrers on a stretch of land that fell outside the boundaries of the relevant planning permission granted in 2013 – and that it should be returned to grass.

The owners of Hayes Park deny that the disputed land falls outside the planning permission granted in 2013 permission and assert that in any event, the terms of its Caravan Site Licence (CSL) permit it to conduct much of the preparatory work already undertaken.

This is not the first time that the council and the defendants have engaged in litigation. The high court heard of an incomplete but lengthy history of planning appeals and enforcement proceedings, together with consequential litigation before the High Court, including potential committal proceedings arising out of alleged breaches of an injunction pertaining to land at the northern edge of the caravan park.

But with regard to a planning breach on the southern edge, Chelmsford City Council said work, including the addition of hardstanding, falls outside the planning permission boundary.

The defendants do not dispute that the site plan demarks a southern boundary which excludes the disputed land on which they have recently conducted works and deposited caravans.

Their case is that the site plan does not accurately reflect the true position of the boundary and that once the real limit is delineated it can be readily demonstrated that the 2013 Permission fully entitles them to carry out the works undertaken, and those they would wish to complete, together with an access road to the south.

However, Richard Hermer QC in passing his decision last week agreed with the council and granted an injunction preventing further work – in this case “not minor, or a minimal disturbance of the land that might render an injunction heavy handed, but rather significant construction works in the green belt”.

He added: “Secondly, I consider it relevant, although not of itself determinative, that when in October 2020 the council notified the defendants of a likely breach of planning conditions, and advised that work cease until the position was clarified, they elected to proceed with construction until constrained by interim injunction.

“This conduct inures in favour of the grant of an final injunction so that there is absolute clarity as to where matters stand and to avoid further breaches.

“Thirdly, I agree that an injunction has the benefit of clarity so as to prevent the residential occupation of caravans and the consequential difficulties that would arise to their occupants and the claimant.

“Fourthly, the history of the disputes between the parties inures in favour of the clarity and certainty brought by an injunction. For the reasons explained above I have been very cautious about engaging in the merits of the numerous disputes and would only have done so had it been necessary to fairly dispose of an issue before the court. Here though, irrespective of the merits or demerits of past and present disputes, the mere fact of the complex history supports the need for clarity.

“Fifthly, is the lack of corresponding hardship or prejudice that the grant of the injunction would cause. In contrast to cases such as those considered in South Bucks District Council v Porter and another [2003] 2 AC 558, no one is presently living on the site and the Defendants do not argue that an injunction would engage, let alone infringe, the Article 8 rights of any person.

“For these reasons I consider that it is just and proportionate to grant a final injunction.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter