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How to set up a campsite or caravan park: what permissions do I need?

Make sure your site's legit with licensing and planning permission

 

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At Pitchup.com we're often approached by landowners or start-up companies about the practicalities of setting up a campsite or caravan park.

There's a long list of things to consider and many are well covered elsewhere. Buymydreamhotel.com has a comprehensive article on buying and running a campsiteFarmers Weekly has written a good guide, and Metro covered what it's like to ditch city life to live the dream as a campsite owner. Information on rural development grants is fairly easy to find, too.

But what about the permissions you need to open your site to the public? All site owners have to grapple with this complex area, so we've written a guide on how to get your site legit*.

To set up a campsite or caravan park you'll need to think about whether you need a site licence and planning permission:

Site licence

A licence is required from your local authority if:

  • The land is to be used for tented camping (including trailer tents) on more than 42 consecutive days at a time or more than 60 days in 12 consecutive months (Public Health Act 1936, Section 269) (not required in Scotland)
  • The land is used for caravans (including static caravans, touring caravans and motorhomes) for human habitation (Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960). You must have planning permission for the caravan site before this licence can be granted and the licence must normally be issued within two months.

In the case of sites with mixed accommodation, including tents, sites are normally licensed as a single site, with tents deemed to be touring units for the purposes of the conditions.

The licence may contain various conditions - relating to the number and type of units (tent, touring caravan, static caravan, etc.) permissible at the same time, spacing between units, toilets, waste water, showers, refuse disposal, fire safety, roads, footpaths, electrical installations, LPG storage and recreational space. In drafting conditions the local authority is likely to consider the government's 'model standards' for holiday static caravan sites [PDF] and touring caravan sites [PDF].

It's generally a criminal offence to operate a campsite or caravan site without a licence, if one is required. If a licence is in place, it's likely that regular environmental health inspections will be made to check compliance with the conditions. Gas safety certificates, spacing between units, fire points and other aspects may be inspected, and failure to comply with site licence conditions may lead to prosecution.

Exemptions

No licence is required if the units are being used in connection with the owner's dwelling, for building or agricultural purposes, for stationing of a caravan for not more than two nights (as long as caravans had not been present for more than 28 days during the previous year), or for stationing up to three caravans on a plot of five acres or more. Travelling showman and sites owned by the local authority also do not require a licence.

In addition, certain recreation organisations, such as the Scout Association, Caravan Club and Camping and Caravanning Club, benefit from exemptions from the camping or caravan site licensing requirements. For example, the two Clubs can permit 'certified locations' (CLs) and 'certificated sites' (CSs), which operate without a site licence but subject to a Club-members-only policy. Please note that if your site is members-only your potential customers may be limited, as customers can book a nearby site that doesn't require membership. We do not normally accept members-only sites as bookable sites on Pitchup.com and options for promoting your new campsite may be severely restricted.
 
Members of some exempt organisations can put up tents on any site, or stay in touring caravans, motorhomes or trailer tents during rallies without a licence. Natural England, which administers the exemption certificates in England, has published this comprehensive guide on the exemption process [PDF]. Exemptions in Wales are handled by the National Assembly for Wales and, for Scotland, by the Scottish Executive.

How do I apply?

The fee to apply for a licence ranges from zero to £600 or more, depending on your local authority, and there is normally no expiry date unless the site's planning permission expires. As part of the process you would normally be expected to submit a site plan. If your application is refused, you can appeal to the local magistrates' court.

Planning permission

Except in the two scenarios below, you will need planning permission from your local authority for:

  • The use of the land as a campsite or caravan site during a specified period
  • Any related development, including engineering works to install utilities, metalled roads, ablutions blocks, offices, lighting and other facilities

How permission is sought, if it's necessary at all, can be a complex matter and it may be worth consulting a planning consultant or solicitor or surveyor with planning expertise (see also 'Useful links' below).

The two alternatives to planning permission are:

1. Permitted development (The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, Schedule 2.)

(a) 28-day tent camping rights

Many tent campsites operate under the '28-day' rules, a form of 'permitted development' allowing land to be used without planning permission 'for any purpose for not more than 28 days in total in any calendar year...and the provision on land of any moveable structures [tents] for the purposes of the permitted use'.

This suits the typical summer campsite perfectly, allowing not only tent camping but also portable buildings for ablutions and offices. Note that planning permission is still required for any engineering work to install drains, electricity, roads, etc.

The rules on 28-day camping are vague. In particular, it's not clear whether the 28 days have to run consecutively, so many owners 'cherry pick' the busiest periods, sacrificing some of the summer period for spring bank-holiday weekends. Technically, land must be restored to its original condition between the periods of use, and any moveable structures removed, so a continuous period of 28 days may be more viable. However, some owners take advantage of different 28-day periods on different parcels of land under the same ownership.

The 28-day rights are not available for land within the curtilage of a building, or for use of land as a caravan site.

(b) No caravan site licence required

Planning permission for use as a caravan site is not required is where a caravan site licence is not also required. An exception to this is winter accommodation for travelling showmen, which does not require a caravan site licence but does require planning permission!

(c) Work required by site licence

Any development required to comply with the conditions of a site licence is also exempt.

Note that the above permitted development rights may not be available if a landowner has signed a 'Section 106' agreement with the council (Town and Country Planning Act 1990, Section 106), or if land has been the subject of an 'Article 4' direction (The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, Article 4).

2. Lawful use

If a campsite or caravan park has been operating without planning consent, it may be possible to apply to the local authority for a Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) as an alternative to seeking planning permisssion. An LDC is a legally binding declaration that 'development' (in this case, use of the land as a campsite or caravan site) either does or did not need planning permission, or has become lawful due to the passage of time. 'Passage of time' means 10 years for use of land, or four years for building works, but note that the burden of proof falls on the applicant. (Town and Country Planning Act 1990, Section 191.)

The fee for an LDC based on 'passage of time' is the same as for the equivalent planning application (see below). 

An application for an LDC must be decided within eight weeks of registration. Unlike an application for planning permission, the decision hinges only on factual evidence about the history and planning status of the development, and the interpretation of planning law. If the application is refused or granted in a different form, or the decision is not made by the statutory deadline, there is a right of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

Applying for planning permission

If your ambitions go beyond a 28-day camping site and you're not in a position to apply for an LDC, you need to apply to your local authority for planning permission. Contact your local council's planning department to discuss the matter and determine what sort of planning application is required - it may be that the land benefits from existing planning consent and you simply need to apply to change a condition, or a full planning application may be necessary. (Part III of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990)

When submitting your application, include information on the economic value of the campsite or caravan site, both direct (benefits to your own business) and indirect (benefits to other parts of the local economy). See the links at the bottom of this article for data on the size of the camping and caravan market, and its economic contribution.

How much is it?

Fees vary widely depending on factors such as existing planning consents and plot size. As an example, in England it costs £170 to apply to construct a car park, and £335 to change the use of land. See the Planning Portal for more information on pricing in England and Wales and how to create the compulsory location plan and block plan, as well as an application tool.

The process

After submission, the local authority will publicise the planning application to members of the public and 'consultee' organisations. Consultees may include the local parish council, wildlife trust, public rights of way officers, the Environment Agency, tourist boards and agencies responsible for Heritage Coasts, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

After receiving consultee responses and comments from the public, officers in the council's planning department will produce a summary of the application and recommendation to approve or refuse it. The officer's recommendation should be based solely on the application's 'planning merits' - normally, whether it conforms with the council's development plan and central government guidance, rather than political factors such as the amount of local objection.

The planning officers may present the application and recommendation to a committee of local councillors who will approve, refuse or defer a decision the application; however, minor, uncontentious applications are increasingly being decided by planning officers under 'delegated powers', which avoid having to wait for a committee decision.

Central government's planning guidance is in the process of being completely rewritten. The Good Practice Guide on Planning for Tourism, released in 2006, is among the planning policy documents to be replaced by a simplified National Planning Policy Framework, whose presumption in favour of sustainable development will accelerate the planning process, it is hoped, to the benefit of rural tourism business.

How long does it take?

The statutory time limit for the local authority to decide an application is eight weeks from registration by the authority, unless the application site is larger than one hectare (13 weeks) or an Environmental Impact Assessment is necessary (16 weeks). If permission is refused, or the decision is not made by the statutory deadline, it is possible to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

Useful links

Hopefully this guide has helped you navigate the maze of campsite and caravan site legislation to work out what permissions and licences you need, or even better, avoid them altogether!

Best of luck with setting up your new business and do get in touch if we can help.

General

Find suppliers of caravan site services (National Caravan Council)

General business start-up advice (Business Link)

Business rates calculator (Business Link)

Funding and economic impact

Statistics on camping and caravanning and links to industry associations (Pitchup.com)

Economic contribution: holiday and touring parks across the UK (British Holiday and Home Parks Association)

Economic impact of holiday parks and campsites (British Holiday and Home Parks Association)

Rural development grants
Rural Development Programme for England
 
Rural Development Programme for Wales
 
Scottish Rural Development Programme
 
Rural Development Programme for Northern Ireland
Exempt organisations

Organisations exempt from tent campsite licences or caravan site licences (Natural England)

Specialist advisors

Find a planning consultant

Find a chartered surveyor

Find a solicitor

Business Advice Service (free consultation with a chartered accountant)

Firms specialising in caravan parks and campsites

Fox Leisure (chartered surveyors, business agents)

GVA Humberts Leisure (chartered surveyors, business agents)

Lambe Planning & Design (planning consultants)

Tozers (solicitors)

Colliers (business agents)

Edwards & Partners (business agents)

Savills (business agents)

Members can also receive advice from associations such as the Country Land and Business Association or National Farmers Union.

* Please note that this article relates to sites for holiday use, rather than owner-occupied or residential parks, in Great Britain only (there are different rules for Northern Ireland). It also comes with the usual health warning to seek your own professional advice on implementing the rules.

(February 2012, updated February 2013, November 2014, January 2015)