UK Law for starting a campsites

There are several methods of starting a Campsite in the UK, each having their own merits and limitations. So If you are thinking of starting your own campsite, this guide will help you to decide which option is best for you and what you may require before you start your site. This is not a legal document and should be treated as a guide only  (* This guide is based on English law which may differ from laws in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Before undertaking any development independent planning advice should be sought).

What legislation applies to UK caravan sites and campsites

There are 4 main pieces of legislation which set out the legal allowance of operating a campsite in the UK. These are:

This act sets out the requirement of change of use of land and any construction required to establish a caravan/camp site.

This order sets out some basic allowances for campsite to operate without need for specific planning approval. Part 4 of the order gives land owners 28 days of use for most purposes and part 5 sets out provisions for sites to be used under exemption conditions in the legislation below.

This act is the primary piece of legislation which sets out the requirements, condition and exemptions for a caravan sites to operate. This act does not apply to tent campsites.

There are also model standards for campsite to adhere to when planning approval has been granted. There are different model standards for touring sites, static sites and residential park home sites.

This act sets out the requirements and exemptions for tent campsites.

 

*

Sets out the right of responsible non-motorised access, for recreational and other purposes in Scotland.

Secondary legistlation/regulations/guidance may include but not limited to:

 

Types of campsite:

  • Permitted site
  • Certified sites
  • Planning approved sites

Permitted sites

A permitted site is a caravan or campsite that does not require specific planning approval from a local authority or certificate from an exempted organisation. Sites of this nature are generally referred to as pop up campsites or stopovers.

Pop up campsites are permissible under the 28 day temporary use of land, permitted development right set out in The Town and Country Planning ( General Permitted Development ) Order 2015, class B part 4 schedule 2. This allows the use of land as a campsite for any 28 days in a 12 month period. Pop up sites are not permitted within the curtilage of a building ( garden ) and can not accept caravans, motor homes or campervans. Extended by Class BA to 56 days until 31st December 2021. Permitted tent camping sites do not require a licence for use upto 42 consecutive days or 60 total days in any 12 month period.

Stop over sites are caravan sites that can accept 1 caravan or motor home for upto 2 consecutive nights for any 28 days in a 12 month period. The Britstop scheme makes use of this exemption to allow motor homes to stay in car parks at pubs, vineyards and shops. This right of use is set out in class A part 5 schedule 2 of the GPDO and paragraph 2 of the 1st schedule of The Caravan Sites and Control of Devopment Act 1960, legal responsibility for the site falls to the land occupier ( owner/tenant ).

5 acre sites are land holdings that comprise of 5 or more acres of land which have no buildings. These sites can accept upto 3 caravans on any 28 days in a 12 month period.

There are also provisions for land to be used in connection with agriculture, forestry, construction, travelling showmen and local authorities.

Caravan / Camp sites of all type are also required to comply with the fire safety regulations. Please read

Caravans within the curtilage of a dwelling house: Occupants of a dwelling house may site a caravan within the curtilage of a dwelling house providing its use is incidental to the enjoyment of the dwelling house. Care should be taken to ensure use is incidental and not ancillary, where incidental use may improve the quality of the residential use by allowing friends and family to visit, while the permanent use of the caravan by a resident may be considered ancillary. The paradox is that if the use of a caravan is ancillary to residential use within the curtilage of a residential property and the siting of the caravan is not operational development, does the siting and use constitute development at all and is a caravan site licence required. Rental of a caravan within the curtliage of a dwelling house to a member of the public is almost certainly a breach of paragraph 1 caravan site exemption conditions in this context.

Certified sites

A certified site / location is a caravan/camp site that has been approved for use as a caravan/camp site by an organisation that has been granted exemption status under paragraph 12, schedule 1 of the 1960 Act and/or paragraph 6 of section 269 The Public Health Act 1936. The organisation may issue a certificate allowing the land to be used as a campsite without need for change of use planning approval from a Local Authority for recreational activities only.

Exemption certificates

Paragraph 4 certificate. This certificate allows the use of land as a caravan site under the supervision of an exempted organisation for temporary use. Generally activities that occur under this paragraph are known as rallies or temporary holiday sites. There are no legal limitations to the duration or capacity of activities on these sites however Natural England would normally request the duration to be limited to 28 consecutive days as a condition of certification. Events operated under this certificate are open to every one, however the club must provide a person onsite to supervise activities.

Sites occupied and supervised by exempted organisations

Subject to the provisions of paragraph 13 of this Schedule, a site licence shall not be required for the use as a caravan site of land which is occupied by an organisation which holds for the time being a certificate of exemption granted under paragraph 12 of this Schedule (hereinafter referred to as an exempted organisation) if the use is for purposes of recreation and is under the supervision of the organisation.

Paragraph 5 certificate. This certificate allows the use of land as a caravan site for upto 5 caravans. There is no legal limitation to the duration a caravan can remain on site however the use of certified site is strictly for recreational purposes therefore most clubs limit continuous occupation by an individual to 28 days. The  1960 act state that the site is for use of members of the respective organisation, however does not explicitly restrict use to members only, therefore the opinion of Natural England and our club is that these site are open to non members, while the Welsh Planning Directorate interpret the legislation as for members only. There is currently no definitive legal judgment as to which interpretation is correct.

Sites approved by exempted organisations

(1) Subject to the provisions of paragraph 13 of this Schedule, a site licence shall not be required for the use as a caravan site of land as respects which there is in force a certificate issued under this paragraph by an exempted organisation if not more than five caravans are at the time stationed for the purposes of human habitation on the land to which the certificate relates.

(2) For the purposes of this paragraph an exempted organisation may issue as respects any land a certificate stating that the land has been approved by the exempted organisation for use by its members for the purposes of recreation.

(3) The certificate shall be issued to the occupier of the land to which it relates, and the organisation shall send particulars to the Minister of all certificates issued by the organisation under this paragraph.

(4) A certificate issued by an exempted organisation under this paragraph shall specify the date on which it is to come into force and the period for which it is to continue in force, being a period not exceeding one year.

Paragraph 6 certificates. This certificate allows the use of land as a caravan site for meeting of club members only. Meets are not limited by capacity but are limited to 5 days duration.

Meetings organised by exempted organisations

Subject to the provisions of paragraph 13 of this Schedule, a site licence shall not be required for the use of land as a caravan site if the use is under the supervision of an exempted organisation and is in pursuance of arrangements made by that organisation for a meeting for its members lasting not more than five days.

Paragraph 6 of section 269. This certificate allows the use of land as a tent campsite for recreational purposes. There is no limit of duration or capacity however organisations must ensure sites used under this exemption are kept in good sanitary condition do not give rise to nuisance.

(6) If an organisation satisfies the Minister that it takes reasonable steps for securing—

(a) that camping sites belonging to or provided by it, or used by its members, are properly managed and kept in good sanitary condition; and

(b) that moveable dwellings used by its members are so used as not to give rise to any nuisance,the Minister may grant to that organisation a certificate of exemption.A certificate so granted may be withdrawn at any time, but while in force shall for the purposes of this section have the effect of a licence—

(i)authorising the use as a site for moveable dwellings of any camping ground belonging to, provided by or used by members of, the organisation;

(ii)authorising any member of the organisation to erect or station on any site, and use, a moveable dwelling.

In this subsection the expression “member” in relation to an organisation includes a member of any branch or units of, or formed by, the organisation.

When an area of land has been granted exemption by an exempted organisation the change of use of that land is granted planning approval by the Secretary of State by virtue of Article 3 and Class A and/or Class C of part 5 schedule 2 the GPDO 2015. The use of land reverts to its former use once the conditions of the exemption are no longer to be applied.

There can be no other caravans on land to which a paragraph 5 certificate relates for the purpose of human habitation. Land to which a certificate relates to can not be subdivided therefore any caravan within the same planning unit would likely render an exemption unlawful. To determine if you land is a single or multiple planning units the test set out in Burdle V The Secretary of State for the Environment should be applied.

Planning approved sites

Sites that have been approved by the Local Authority to operate as a caravan or camping site under the TCPA, the 1960 act and/or the public health act 1936. These sites are generally commercial sites of considerable size. These sites must comply with the 1960 act requirements, caravan site model standards and any condition set out in planning approval / licence issued by the Local Authority. 

Warning: Planning approval does not automatically grant a caravan or camping site licence. While operating a site without planning approval may be a breach of planning control which is not unlawful in its initial stages, operating a site without a licence/exemption or exceeding 42/60 day tent camping is a criminal act even if planning approval has been granted. If you have been granted planning approval please ensure you apply for a licence before opening. If your Local Authority fails to determine a licence application within 42 days for a caravan site licence or 28 days for tent camping the licence is deemed to have been granted unconditionally. A caravan or camping site licence can not be issued by a Local Authority prior to planning approval.

Further more, licences are non transferable with conveyance. If you have purchased a caravan or camping site, you or the vendor need to make an application to transfer the licence under section 10 of the 1960 Act or make a new licence application.

When is camping or caravanning unlawful

To camp or use a caravan ( inc motohomes and campervans ) for human habitation on land in England or Wales requires express permission from the land occupier and the land occupier must ensure they have sufficient rights to allow camping or caravanning on the site. You should not use your caravan or camp on unadopted land, carparks or in laybuys other than those with express permission granted such as motorway service or truck stopovers. Doing so may constitute an unauthorised encampment and be enforceable under section 77 of The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

* Scottish land reforms allow non motorised wild camping on any land however permission should be sought for the land occupier. The gives further guidance on Scottish sites

What is a caravan

The Legal Definition of a Caravan

Section 29 (1) of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 defined a caravan as:

“… Any structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another (whether being towed, or by being transported on a motor vehicle or trailer) and any motor vehicle so designed or adapted but does not include

(A) Any railway rolling stock which is for the time being on rails forming part of a system, or

(B) Any tent”

Mobile homes and twin-unit caravans

section 5(1) The Mobile Homes Act 1983 defines a mobile homes to have the same meaning as caravan

Section 13 of part 3 the Caravan Sites Act 1968 limits the size of a caravan to L20m excluding tow bar, W6.8m and internal height of 3.05m. Structures beyond these dimensions can not be caravans IE double decker busses, 2 storey movable structures.

Touring caravans fall within The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 and restricted to L7m excluding towbar, W2.55m and total height of 4.2m (3.66m without notice). Max weight 750 KG unbreaked, 3500 kg breaked.

Touring caravan equivelent structures : Campervans, motorhomes, glamping pods, shepherd huts, bow top caravans, showman caravans etc.

What is a tent

There is no legal definition of a tent however the generally accepted definition is:

A portable shelter made of cloth, supported by one or more poles and stretched tight by cords or loops attached to pegs driven into the ground

Caravan and Camping Site

Section 1(4) of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development act 1960 defines a caravan site as :

In this Part of this Act the expression “caravan site” means land on which a caravan is stationed for the purposes of human habitation and land which is used in conjunction with land on which a caravan is so stationed. 

Section 269 of the public health act defines camping sites as:

land which is in the occupation of the same person as, and within one hundred yards of, a site on which there is during any part of any day a moveable dwelling shall be regarded as being used for camping purposes on that day.



Note: A camping site licence is not required for use of a site for 42 consecutive days ( Days will be consecutive unless a minimum period of 48hrs has occurred between use )  or 60 days in any 12 month period, however these time frames will only be usable on site which fall into the correct use class or have a certificate of lawful development. Without change of use a site will be limited to 28 days use by the TCPA. ( 56 days during 2020 and 2021 ).


Caravan, Building or Chattel

The defining factors in the classification of a caravan is mobility and purpose. These factors are often challenged by Local Planning Authorities and land owners alike. Mobile homes being legally classified as caravans which may be constructed on site from 2 parts and have a footprint of upto 6.8 x 20 meters, have utility fixings and only have to be capable of being moved ( not requiring to be moved at any point ), it is easy to see why conflict of views can occur.

In Measor V SoS & Tunbridge Wells BC, 3 test to satisfy the mobility of a structure was defined. The test of size, permanence and attachment was used to differentiate between a chattels and  buildings, however these test remain somewhat subjective and a matter of fact and degree.  It is often considered that a mobile structures that are attached to utilities in operations normally undertaken by a person carrying out a business as a builder ( defined as building operations by 55(1a)(d) of the TCPA) and the intent to retain the structure permanently is a building, as can be seen in R (Save Woolley Valley Action Group Ltd) v Bath and North East Somerset Council [2012].

Caravans are specifically for the purpose of human habitation. A movable structure designed or adapted for human habitation fall within the statutory definition of a caravan. Therefore a commercial vehicle adapted to be used for human habitation would become a caravan and a caravan adapted for a purpose other than human habitation may no longer be a caravan but a building or chattel.

The siting of a caravan does not constitute operational development and only if the caravan is used for human habitation does a change of use of land take place to a caravan site, however if a caravan is used for a purpose other than what is ancillary or incidental to current uses  planning approval may be required. IE caravan storage, shop, takeaway food supplies.


Planning units

Planning units are conceptual entities that allow a clearer understanding of when planning should apply to different areas or structures. There is no formal definition of a planning unit however there are a number of judgements giving some guidance.

The key test to planning units was given in the case of Burdle V SoS of the environment [1972] in which no judgement was made but the case was referred back to the SoS for further consideration with recommended test to aid in a decision.
  1. if 1 single purpose can be identified for the whole unit of occupation, the unit should be considered as 1 planning unit.
  2. if composite uses which fluctuate in their intensity over time but have no defined areas, the unit of occupation should be considered to be 1 planning unit
  3. Where there are distinct uses within distinct areas of a unit of occupation these should be considered as separate planning units.
Further refinement of these test  was given in the cases of Fuller v SOSoE, Rawlins V SOSoE & Tanbridge DC, Ralls V SOSoE and Westminster CC v British Waterways Board.

In the case of Fuller V SOSoE a number of farm occupations under common interest were found not to be a single planning unit even though a single use could be identified. The degree of physical separation was deemed to be sufficient to make the sites distinct. Contrary to this concept in the case of Ralls V SOSoE, 5 separate pieces of land had been in common ownership of a family group, each piece of land having separate title deeds in different family member names, gave a total of 70 days of permitted development for open air markets under provisions of the GPDO part 4 class B, temporary use of land. The 5 separate pieces of land were found to be in common interest, in common use and judged as a single planning unit, limiting the use for open air markets to 14 days across all 5 sites. Further more the case of Rawlins V SOSoE considered a larger planning unit to be a single unit even though the site was in multiple occupancies. Finally Westminster CC v British Waterways Board addresses the scope of ancillary uses, when a primary use of land is considered to have ancillary uses, these uses must fall within the same occupation and can not be extended outside the original planning unit, where a site is used for ancillary uses only this should be considered as a separate planning unit.

Planning permission is only needed if the work being carried out meets the statutory definition of ‘development’ which is set out in Section 55 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

‘Development’ includes:

building operations (e.g. structural alterations, construction, rebuilding, most demolition);
material changes of use of land and buildings;
engineering operations (e.g. groundworks);
mining operations;
other operations normally undertaken by a person carrying on a business as a builder.
subdivision of a building (including any part) used as a dwellinghouse for use as two or more separate dwellinghouses


The categories of work that do not amount to ‘development’ are set out in Section 55(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. These include, but are not limited to the following:

interior alterations (except mezzanine floors which increase the floor space of retail premises by more than 200 square metres)
building operations which do not materially affect the external appearance of a building. The term ‘materially affect’ has no statutory definition, but is linked to the significance of the change which is made to a building’s external appearance.

Local Planning Authorities have considerable discretion when determining what is development or whether enforcement action is expedient. Development such as gravel hard standing for caravans is often considered de minimis by Local Planning Authorities however this can not be applied broadly, no Local Planning Authority publish guidance as to what may be considered de minimis and in our experience Local Planning Authorities are unlikely to confirm de minimis development prior to development taking place.

Listed Buildings and the curtilage of Listed Buildings: Works effecting the character or appearance of a listed building and/or the curtilage of a listed building requires authorisation from the Local Planning Authority. If any part of a listed building or its curtilage is to be used for the purpose of a caravan or camping site, consultation with your Local Planning Authority is advised. This is a complex matter beyond the scope of this guide.
 

*** Caution. Use of portable structures as permanent buildings. The sitting of a portable structure where the intent is to retain that structure permanently may require planning approval regardless of its ability to be moved. A portable toilet block that is permanently connected to water, drainage or electricity is likely to require planning approval.

Use Classes

Caravan and Camping sites do not wall within F2 ( formally D2 ) use classes. Legal judgements involving the Rugby Football Union and English Bridge Union determine that use classes relating to recreation and sport require a degree of competition and physical activity. Caravan and camping sites not being a physical or competitive activity are to be considered Sui Generis ( a use of their own ). Equestrian or sports venues should not change uses under The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 / The Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020.

Enforcement or prosecution

Material change of use of land to a caravan and/or a camping site is likely to be a breach of planning control and enforceable by your Local Authority, if you do not have planning approval or you have not attained immunity from enforcement. Planning approval may be granted by your Local Authority specifically to your site or in a Local Development Order. Planning approval may also be granted by the Secretary of State by virtue of a development order ( E.G The Town and Country Planning ( General Permitted Development ) order 2015 ).

Immunity from enforcement can be achieved if your site has been operating in breach of planning controls continually for a period of 10 years or more. You can confirm with your Local Authority that your site is immune from enforcement by applying for a certificate of Lawfulness of existing use or development under section 191 of the TCPA. Any break in use or authorised use ( including permitted development ) may constitute abandonment and restart the clock for the purposes of immunity. Immunity would only apply to the established use, any intensification or extension of period of use may continue to be enforceable.

Planning approval granted by the secretary of state by virtue of a General Permitted Development Order may be withdrawn by a Local Authority by means of an Article 4 direction.

The conditions of planning approval granted by the SoS under Article 3 of the 2015 GPDO also require regard to section 75-78 of the Conservation of Habitat and Species Regulation 2017. Sites within or close to a European conservation area may require an appropriate assessment and prior approval of permitted development from the Local Authority. European conservation areas are designated as Special Areas of Conservation ( SACs ) Special Protection Areas ( SPAs ) and Ramsar sites. Local and National SSSIs, LNRs, NNRs are not to have such effect.

The Mansi principal prevents Local Authorities from enforcing the material change of use of land to a caravan or camping site which would otherwise be lawful or authorised. It is often noted that Enfocement Notices contain a condition to cease the use of land as a caravan / camping site. This condition is contrary to the Mansi principal. Any enforcement action which prevents uses that are lawful / authorised or have subsequently become so by a development order will cease to have effect on implementation of authorised use by virtue of section 180 of the TCPA.

Irrespective of appropriate planning approval or immunity from enforcement, operating a caravan or camping site is a licenced activity, requiring a licence, exemption from licensing or limited to less than 42/60 days for tent camping. This is a criminal act and liable to summary conviction ( a criminal act is any regulated act which incurs a penalty as a means of discouragement ). As a summary only offence, activities beyond 6 months would not normally be prosecuted. Fines for this activity are low and under a summary only conviction a Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation order would not be applicable, however cost of prosecution and/or a compensation order may be made by a magistrate ( anyone can bring a private prosecution of a criminal act including competing caravan sites or local residents but not unincorporated groups. Cost of private prosecutions may be recouped win, loose or draw from central funds). Private prosecution may be taken over and stopped by the Crown Prosecution Service or Director of Public Persecutions, this is likely to happen if allegations are frivolous, vexatious, malicious or lack reasonable grounds/evidence.

Permitted development for campsite amenities

Fences and walls

Part 2 GPD order 2015
Class A – gates, fences, walls etc

A. The erection, construction, maintenance, improvement or alteration of a gate, fence, wall or other means of enclosure.

Development not permitted
A.1 Development is not permitted by Class A if—
(a) the height of any gate, fence, wall or means of enclosure erected or constructed adjacent
to a highway used by vehicular traffic would, after the carrying out of the development,
exceed—
(i) for a school, 2 metres above ground level, provided that any part of the gate, fence,
wall or means of enclosure which is more than 1 metre above ground level does not
create an obstruction to the view of persons using the highway as to be likely to
cause danger to such persons;
(ii) in any other case, 1 metre above ground level;
(b) the height of any other gate, fence, wall or means of enclosure erected or constructed
would exceed 2 metres above ground level;
(c) the height of any gate, fence, wall or other means of enclosure maintained, improved or
altered would, as a result of the development, exceed its former height or the height
referred to in paragraph (a) or (b) as the height appropriate to it if erected or constructed,
whichever is the greater; or
(d) it would involve development within the curtilage of, or to a gate, fence, wall or other
means of enclosure surrounding, a listed building.

Interpretation of Class A
A.2 For the purposes of Class A, “school” includes—
(a) premises which have changed use under Class S or T of Part 3 of this Schedule (changes
of use) to become a state-funded school or registered nursery as defined in paragraph X of
Part 3; and
(b) a building permitted by Class C of Part 4 of this Schedule (temporary buildings and uses)
to be used temporarily as a school, from the date the local planning authority is notified as
provided in paragraph C.2(b) of Part 4.
 

Roads


Part 2 GPD order 2015

Class B – means of access to a highway

B. The formation, laying out and construction of a means of access to a highway which is not a trunk road or a classified road, where that access is required in connection with development permitted by any Class in this schedule (other than by Class A of this Part).

Signs

Classes of advertisement benefiting from deemed consent

Class 2(C) permits notices or signs which relate to: ● any religious, educational, cultural, recreational, medical or similar institution; or ● any hotel, inn or public house, block of flats, club, boarding-house or hostel; provided that the advertisement is displayed at the premises and does not exceed 1.2 square metres in area. If there is more than one entrance to the premises on different road frontages, two advertisements of 1.2 square metres each may be displayed (each on a separate frontage)

Flags


A number of categories of flag may be flown without consent, subject to certain restrictions regarding the size of the flag, the size of characters on the flag, and the number and location of the flags. Categories of flag that can now be flown

1 : • House flag - flag is allowed to display the name, emblem, device or trademark of the company (or person) occupying the building, or can refer to a specific event of limited duration that is taking place in the building from which the flag is flown
• Any sports club (but cannot include sponsorship logos)
• The horizontal striped rainbow flag, such as the “Pride” Flag
• Specified award schemes - Eco-Schools, Queens Awards for Enterprise and Investors in People


Flying one or two flags within the grounds of a building You can now fly up to two flags (before the changes only one flag was allowed) within the grounds (the regulations refer to “curtilage”) of a building subject to the conditions listed below:
• There are no restrictions on the size of the flag, but any flagpole may not exceed 4.6 metres above ground level
• Consent is required if the flag is to be flown in a controlled area
• Up to two flags can be flown without consent in the grounds of a building, but only one flag can be flown within the grounds of a building if another flag is either being flown from the roof, or is projecting from the building

Change of use of buildings


Part 3, Class R – agricultural buildings to a flexible commercial use


Permitted development
R. Development consisting of a change of use of a building and any land within its curtilage from a use as an agricultural building to a flexible use falling within Class A1 (shops), Class A2 (financial and professional services), Class A3 (restaurants and cafes), Class B1 (business), Class B8 (storage or distribution), Class C1 (hotels) or Class D2 (assembly and leisure) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order.

Development not permitted
R.1 Development is not permitted by Class R if—
43
(a) the building was not used solely for an agricultural use as part of an established
agricultural unit—
(i) on 3rd July 2012;
(ii) in the case of a building which was in use before that date but was not in use on that
date, when it was last in use, or
(iii) in the case of a building which was brought into use after 3rd July 2012, for a period
of at least 10 years before the date development under Class R begins;
(b) the cumulative floor space of buildings which have changed use under Class R within an established agricultural unit exceeds 500 square metres;
(c) the site is, or forms part of, a military explosives storage area;
(d) the site is, or forms part of, a safety hazard area; or
(e) the building is a listed building or a scheduled monument.