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Court rules on caravan history

Jul 27 2012 Posted by Laura Canning

A senior judge found himself researching and writing on the history of the caravan this week, as the Court of Appeal ruled on a planning dispute.

A dispute involving Bonnie Smith, who lives in a caravan on green-belt land in Berkshire, ended up focusing on the meaning of the word ‘caravan’.

Ms Smith had moved another ‘caravan’ onto her site, which the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead claimed breached a court injunction from 2009 forbidding her from ‘allowing further caravans to be brought onto the land’.

Ms Smith disagreed, saying the additional ‘structure’ was not a caravan but a ‘portacabin…on wheels’, which was not lived in but used as a shower and toilet block.

A High Judge agreed with her and ruled in her favour, but the council appealed against the ruling. Three judges have now dismissed the appeal, with one of them, Lord Justice Rix, adding a footnote to the judgement explaining the history of the word ‘caravan’.

‘Caravan' was derived from the Persian "karwan" and its first meaning was a "company of merchants", he wrote.

‘I am intrigued to find that, etymologically speaking, “caravan” is derived from the Persian "karwan", so that its first meaning is a company of merchants or pilgrims travelling together.

‘Hence the important concept of mobility: but in its origin at any rate a caravan could not come as a single unit, and it does not seem that there was any conception of the caravan being a place of abode.’

The Court of Appeal upheld the original ruling that the ‘structure’ near Ms Smith’s home was not a caravan as it had been ‘neither designed nor adapted for human habitation’.

Lord Justice Rix added: ‘I have to say that, to judge purely from the photographs, the adapted portacabin unit in this case looks very much like a caravan.

‘It would be only on entering it and seeing that it was not fitted out as other than a shower and utility space, that one might be persuaded that its functions were just too limited to permit it to be so described.’