The great caravan debacle

Now that you have a basic idea about planning applications (and I have something to point people at later; handy, that), I can tell you what I really wanted to tell you about when I started typing that recent entry.

Because I live where I live, we have some overlapping entities dealing with planning applications that could affect us, so I check them all. They, of course, have jurisdictions that include far more than just my little local area, so I mostly skim past them, learning some of the more interesting place names as I go. Such would’ve been the case with this application had we not locally had such an uproar over a caravan site that made me wonder just what sort of caravan site was being proposed, and curious if the traveller caravan site proposed for Glossop had been relocated elsewhere in the National Park.

Turns out no, it’s got nothing to do with that traveller site. This application has a long, rich history all its very own. An absolutely crazy history. The deputy chair of the community action group Peak Park Watch has very helpfully outlined it in full in his first letter of objection. That really is worth a read in its entirety (it’s only four pages), but I’ll just put the first point he raises here to start with:

This application is not as described by the Chair of planning Paul Ancell “a normal application, which will be dealt with as such.” This application is an ill considered attempt by an Authority to cover up its own past serial lack of due diligences, and then a further attempt to inflict the consequences of these actions on the community by way of mitigation of these maladministrations. This application at best should never have materialised at all, at worst it should have been called in and dealt with independently. This application by any stretch of the imagination cannot be described as a “normal application”, by any informed responsible person.

I’m still learning my way around such things, but I believe that in England, them’s fightin’ words. Most things seem to be said in much more wooly language. Mind, as you’ll see, he has very good reasons for throwing down the gauntlet this way, but it is a very shocking opening paragraph.

But have a look at the history of this piece of land, and then tell me if you can disagree with Mr Hardwick’s language and tone – I can’t. First it was part of a farm. The farm’s been broken up, and sold off in pieces. The plot of land in question actually remains open agricultural (grazing) fields, surrounded by more of the same. Not for want of trying…

I can’t get all the documents – some of this is too old – but reading from what I can find, in 1998, planning permission was granted by the Peak District National Park Authority for a caravan site on this field. Except the planner accidentally left out the word “touring” from the notice granting permission, thereby leaving open the possibility of static caravans.

At this point, the non-British among us need to go figure out what the difference is between these. I believe Glossop Caravans is the largest retailer of caravans in the country, so let’s go have a look at their website:


Aha. Caravans seem to be the pull-behind trailers; motorhomes seem to be RVs; static caravans seem to be the mobile homes or manufactured homes that stay put. I’m reliably told that static caravans come in quite a range of levels, from basic to luxurious, from small to quite sizeable (though always single-wide, and indeed all the ones listed on Glossop Caravans right now are 10 to 12 feet wide), and as such inherently suffer no connotation issues of “trailer trash” or the like. Indeed, I’m told it’s quite common to mix mobile homes (static caravans) into sites catering for people with RVs, etc, for people to rent while on vacation – or even to have sites exclusively made of the mobile homes (static caravans) for vacation goers (holiday makers).

Well then, I don’t pretend to understand why the Peak District National Park is so opposed to static caravans being in the mix of this particular caravan park, but boy howdy, are they ever. Seems the developer that bought this piece of land with that permission already attached to it took them to court over it, and for some reason (I can’t find it), the High Court struck down whatever ruling was made, so the developer appealed to the Planning Inspectorate. Whenever a planning decision is made that the landowner doesn’t like, they can appeal to the appropriate federal government body, which is the Planning Inspectorate.

I found the case summary and the Inspector’s Decision, cluing us all in that the Peak District National Park’s argument was that in a separate explanatory note (specifically, in paragraph 3, subparagraphs a and b), reference was made to touring caravans, and that this separate, non-letterheaded sheet of paper which wasn’t referred to in the planning decision, was in fact part of the planning decision. For some strange reason, the inspector didn’t buy this. Since this is England, where we suffer from common law, his decision had the power to set precedent and affect planning law all over the country. He was thankfully aware of that and cautious about his actions:

In particular, it would mean that nobody could rely on the description of the proposed development given on either the application form or the planning decision notice, even if no other document was referred to at all, because there might just be another document submitted with the application that contained a different description.

A further point is that a document such as the explanatory note may contain nothing that identifies it as an important document. For example, as in this case, it might not be on letter-headed paper. Although in this case it is a typewritten document on good paper, in another case, it might just as easily be a hand-written note on the proverbial back of a cigarette packet. I think it is inconceivable that a planning permission and a planning application, both absolutely clear on their faces, could be overridden by some other, possibly nondescript document that happened to be sent in with the application. How would anybody looking at the planning permission decision notice know whether such a document existed or not? The only answer would be that specific reference is made to that further document either on the application form or in the permission, or both. Without such reference, it cannot be incorporated into either the application or the permission.


The Peak District National Park decided after this to buy the land back off the developer, at a massive loss. They put out a press release about how they “saved residents from developers”, glossing over why the developer got involved in the first place. Oh, and now they have access issues – the field isn’t immediately adjacent to the road, and they are now having trouble with the landowner of the bit the connecting road should go through. This issue hasn’t been cleared up yet, Mr Hardwick tells us. Brilliant! Even if it is, the turn will be on a blind bend – this was really well thought out, we can tell.

Image from the National Trust.

Image from the National Trust.

The park waited a few years, presumably hoping for residents’ memories to fade, and filed this application for this caravan site. I think they’ve not included the static caravans, but they have included camping pods, which I had to look up. It’s a wooden hut which you’re to think of as a replacement for a tent – you’re meant to bring everything else. Only some are heated and lit. They cost as much to rent as a hotel or B&B. (We probably won’t bother with them.) Now the residents are up in arms about the pods – I can see their point that these would be better suited for wooded areas than open fields.

It would be funny if it weren’t our money they were wasting with their shenanigans – and in such amounts, too. Mr Hardwick suggests the purchase price was something like £700,000; who knows what the legal fees amounted to. He suggests putting in the infrastructure for the touring caravan site will cost another £200,000, plus whatever’s needed for the access. He cautions that the financial blight on the village could end up costing the authority another £1 million. I know better ways to spend … something like £3 million than on some piece of grass! How bout that round the world cruise, for a start…

As it is, we can only shake our heads and know that at least there are incompetent fools everywhere. It’s one thing to have made the mistake and missed out the word “touring” in the original planning permission … but why compound the error by wasting so much money on the court case and the planning appeal, and then buying the plot of land? Truly, why is it so important that static caravans not be allowed? I don’t get it.

A primer on planning applications

One thing I do on a regular basis is look through the local planning applications and consultations. It keeps me informed about what businesses might be going in where, or expanding; the Derbyshire and Peak District National Park ones in particular educate me about town names beyond the area I know well; and, of course, it keeps me abreast of anything I may have strong feelings about one way or another.

I don’t actually know how the equivalent of planning applications might work in various places in the US. For one, as I keep reminding my UK friends, each local place in the US has its own rules and regulations, so “how does this work in the US?” is rarely a question that can be answered in a sentence or two if it’s the truth you want. For two, I didn’t get involved in this stuff when I lived there, so I don’t even know how it worked in one place. I can only tell you how it works here.

Why people file planning applications …

First, we’ll talk about planning applications. When someone wants to modify a building or plot of land, they have to put in a planning application. I think they only have to do this for modifications that can be seen from outside, unless the building is listed (that is, it has some special historical status, so it is protected), in which case all modifications seem to have to be submitted for planning application. In and around the Peak District National Park, rules are stricter in order to keep it looking nice, so some things must be applied for here that aren’t applied for elsewhere, as well as restrictions on materials used that I’m told aren’t enforced elsewhere – things like our stone buildings, or at least buildings that look like stone, as the price of stone buildings becomes prohibitive, and slate roofs (again, or slate-look roofs), and so on. I see ordinary householders applying for permission to change their windows – I hope this is because of these tighter restrictions because of the park, and not more widespread than that.

When someone wants to change the use of a building or piece of land, this requires a planning application, too. Currently, there’s one for a change of use in the Glossop Market Arcade from a clothes shop to a nail salon, for example.

When the planning department grants planning permission, they usually do it with a number of conditions attached. Once the applicant has fulfilled one or more of those conditions, they then need to come back and file another application, a Discharge of Conditions. This means they’ve met it and they need permission to proceed with the rest of what they want to do. Often they need to show the planning department the materials they want to use, or more specific blueprints, or another bat survey, or some such, before they can proceed to this or that step of the development.

Commenting on planning applications …

Anyone can weigh in on any planning application that they want to. The planning officer or committee charged with deciding that application should consider all submissions (including source and what was said). Naturally, lots of hard feelings abound when the planning decision goes against popular opinion, but people forget that they’re dealing with bureaucrats – they have to tick boxes. They have rules they have to follow, and as with all bureaucrats, it works best if you speak to them in their own language: most of them can’t translate.

If you want to comment on a planning application, don’t just write, as I see so many people do, “This is a stupid unneeded thing, don’t let them put it here!” or something vaguely like that. Realize that when they reject planning applications, they can’t use that argument at all. They must, instead, use their rules to reject it. Go find those rules and tell them what rules the proposed thing would break. Loss of amenity is always a favorite.

Finding the rules was great fun for me, starting from scratch with absolutely no knowledge of how the UK government works, when I first was riled up enough to object to a planning application, but I managed it. I spent about two days familiarizing myself with the regulations, and then another day drafting my eight-page letter telling them, rule by rule, all the ways I could see their proposal broke the rules. After that, I’m familiar with it, so it doesn’t take nearly so long when I get riled up enough to comment on an application. What are these rules? All of us in the UK have the National Planning Policy Framework to start with. After that, check here (type the post code or town you’re interested into in that search box near the top) to see what local authority deals with planning there. If you type in Youlgreave, for example, you’ll get a drop down menu – Youlgreave has both the Peak District National Park Authority and the Derbyshire Dales District Council to contend with. Choosing the local authority you’re interested in gives you a host of links; the Local Plan link is the one you want.

For the Glossop area, we have these currently:

  • High Peak Borough Council Local Plan – until the one currently being reviewed is approved by the Inspector and published, we’re using the 2008 Local Plan (pdf) (link)
  • Peak District National Park Authority Local Plan – (link)
  • Derbyshire County Council Minerals and Waste Planning Policy – link
  • National Planning Policy Framework (pdf) (link)

Planning applications have to abide by all of the policies for the jurisdictions applicable for their site, so figure out which those are, and then go through these rules and find which apply to the application you’re looking at, and use those rules to bolster your argument.

You can read more about the process on wikipedia. Another good summary is on the website of one of the local councillors, Anthony Mckeown, here.

Right, I came here to tell you about a particular case I’ve tripped upon today, but this primer has grown so long that I’m going to leave it to stand on its own and share The Case Of The Caravan Park with you in another entry.