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High Court upholds campsite enforcement notice

The High Court has dismissed an appeal against an enforcement notice imposed by Cornwall Council in a dispute over when a campsite began operations.

In Hedges v Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government & Anor [2021] EWHC 2392 (Admin) His Honour Judge Jarman QC, sitting as a judge of the High Court, ruled against landowner Lesley Hedges in her case against the council and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Ms Hedges appealed under section 289 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 against an inspector’s decision dismissing her appeal against an enforcement notice issued under section 172 of the 1990 Act.

The notice related to a field she owns near St Austell on which Ms Hedges was alleged to have, without planning permission, made a material change of use from agriculture to stationing of caravans and tents.

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It required the removal of these and associated infrastructure within two months.

Ms Hedges argued that under section 174(2)(d) of the 1990 Act no enforcement action could be taken in respect of any breach because of the time limits for enforcement set out in section 171B.

These specify that enforcement can be taken within four years from the date of breach in the case of change of use to a single dwelling or 10 years in any other case.

The judge said: “It was common ground before the inspector and before me that the unlawful use of the land referred to in the notice had continued uninterrupted since 2010.

“The narrow disputed period was and is from 10 October 2009 (or earlier) until the end of 2009. Mrs Hedges' case was and is that the use commenced in July 2009 and she relied on evidence in support.”

HHJ Jarman said the point before him was that the inspector required evidence of actual use of the land as a campsite to give rise to a material change of use, and that this was contrary to case law which discourages a focus on actual use and requires the evidence to be considered in the round.

Ms Hedges argue that the inspector, in considering whether the material change of use took place before 10 October 2009 - so as to continue for 10 years before the date of the notice - failed to take into account factors other than actual use, such as the presence of mobile toilet and shower facilities on the land, signs, advertisements and bookings, which point to the land being used as a campsite at least by October 2009.

The judge said: “In my judgment the inspector did have regard to the factors other than actual use and expressly referred to the case of Mrs Hedges on these in paragraph 12 of his decision letter.”

He said the inspector had been entitled to reach his conclusion and “did not overly focus on use on a day to day basis.

“To the extent that he did so focus, then on the particular facts of this case, he was entitled to do so.”

Mark Smulian

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