Caravan residents threatened with eviction amidst legal chaos

Residents of 44 residential caravans are threatened with losing their homes in Aberystwyth Holiday Village at Trefechan after it was discovered that they had been sold plots without planning permission over a period of up to 20 years.

The issue arose in last week’s Development Control Committee which heard a retrospective planning application for the residential caravans from the site owner. The application is attempting to rectify a situation that had been brought to light by Plaid Cymru councillor Aled Davies during his successful by-election campaign in July 2008 when he took up the many legal irregularities on the site on behalf of residents. Of the 172 caravans on the site 68 are lived in permanently but only 24 of these have planning permission for permanent residential as opposed to holiday use. The conditions on the site currently fall well short of those legally required for permanent dwellings.

The problem for the County Council is that, as they now fully acknowledge, the situation should have been sorted out when they issued the current owner with a new license as far back as 1989. At that time, with the site having just changed hands, there were even more unauthorised residential caravans on the site than now, and yet a license was still issued. In the intervening years council inspectors have failed to do anything about this situation and, indeed, the council has been claiming council tax on the dwellings. This makes the legal situation extremely complicated. The whole shambles is really a relic of a bygone, less stringent age and could keep lawyers busy for years.

I went round the park with Aled during his by-election campaign and spoke to many of the residents. Almost all had bought caravans to live in permanently because they couldn’t afford to buy a house and had put all their savings into buying these places. Because buying a caravan doesn’t usually involve all the legal checks entailed in buying a house they had only become aware of the planning situation as time went by.

If the residents are thrown off their plots, as long-term residents, the council would be responsible for housing them, adding substantially to the already huge waiting list for local housing.

The meeting also heard that if these people weren’t allowed to live at the holiday village any longer there would be no decrease in the number of caravans, just a change in their occupants - from full-time residents to holiday makers. These caravans are currently well looked after by largely retired people who care about them.

Planning officers recommended that the application for residential use be refused in line with the Council’s general policy against residential caravans. However, mindful of the desperate need of these particular residents, members of the Development Control Committee voted to give the owner of the holiday village two months to agree to strict (and costly) conditions for bringing the site up to a legal standard with a view to granting planning permission if he can comply.