HC Deb 26 May 1966 vol 729 cc885-90

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. McBride.]

11.26 p.m.

Mr. Joseph Hiley (Pudsey)

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for detaining you at this late hour, but I feel that if I can help one of my constituents and do something for his happiness while, at the same time, doing nothing to the disadvantage of anyone else in the county, I shall have done a great service.

Mr. Taylor, my constituent, took a caravan at Welwick in East Yorkshire about four years ago. The farmer in whose orchard the caravan was placed was a good friend of his, and he understood what Mr. Taylor's position was. Mr. Taylor had been seriously ill for a long time, and it was felt that, if he could find a place away from everything where he could have some real peace and quiet, this would make a great contribution towards his recovery. For this reason, the farmer was glad to make it possible for Mr. Taylor to put the caravan in his orchard. It was not the farmer's intention to develop a caravan site in his own farm. In fact, he was particularly concerned that there should be no dogs or other sources of inconvenience associated with the caravan in the orchard.

Arrangements were made in that way, and, as a result of his frequent visits there, Mr. Taylor did ultimately recover. But it is still necessary for him to have a place where he can rest. He would not be interested in caravanning as such. He just wanted to have a place where he could recuperate. The idea of going on to a caravan site would not appeal to him. As I say, he is in no sense a ca ravanner.

I have here a plan of the farm and the position of the caravan, but I think that I can describe the situation fairly adequately so that the House can understand it. The entrance to the farm is between some out-buildings on the left and the farm house on the right. Farther to the right of the house is a large garden, which is at the side of the secondary road which leads only down to the river. It is protected from the orchard by an unusually high fence, higher than the top of the caravan. Further behind the house are other farm buildings.

Because of the hedge and the farm buildings, the caravan is not visible from the immediate frontage of the house and farm. One has to go a considerable distance down the secondary road before any part of the caravan can be seen from the road at all. Indeed, when the inspector from the local council came to examine the caravan, he could not find it and had to seek the assistance of the farmer to find out exactly where it was.

I appreciate that an indiscriminate number of caravans cannot be allowed in the countryside. Many even today are eyesores. But I suggest that this is not such a case. My constituent has grown fond of the place. As we say in Yorkshire, it does him good to go there fairly regularly. There is no access at all to the orchard by the public. Indeed, the caravan cannot be moved until harvest time, because the only way it can be moved from the orchard is over a ploughed field.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary not to disturb this man, who has enjoyed the peace of this countryside for four years without doing any harm to anybody else. It seems a pity that, because of some technical point, my constituent should have to remove his caravan after all this time.

I know there are some weaknesses in human nature. I believe that another individual at some time put a caravan on the roadside not very far away which obviously ought not to have been there. It seems that the man concerned, having been told by the authority about it, merely used the argument, "If I am not allowed to remain here, why should someone else have one on the other side of the hedge?" I do not think that the local authority or the Minister should be prepared to take notice of a complaint of that kind.

I do not see any point in labouring the case. I have explained honestly and fairly the situation of the caravan. I hope that I have convinced the hon. Gentleman that it is no eyesore. Indeed, it cannot be seen from the road. I hope that the Minister can give some encouragement, even if it is not possible for him to vary the decision he has already made. Looking at the plan, I find that, if the caravan were moved a few feet, it would still be invisible for a long distance down the road.

I would like to have some encouragement to take back to my constituent. I would like to be able to tell him that if he moves the caravan a little further away the Minister, as a result of representations made in this House, might be prepared to look more favourably at his application.

11.33 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)

The hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Hiley) has done his constituent a great service. For all the faults of this House—and there are many of them, as we know—one of its virtues is that individual complaints of this kind, trivial as they may seem to other people, but terribly important to the person concerned, can be raised on the Floor of the House by an hon. Member and a Minister has to get up and answer.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the trouble he has taken on behalf of his constituent. Whichever way the result goes, the hon. Member cannot be blamed for not trying very hard for the individual concerned. This case has thrown the spotlight on an activity of my Department which seldom attracts public interest, except in the occasional report in the local press.

The administration of planning appeals is an important activity of the Department, and it is well that it should come to the attention of the House from time to time. Between 8,000 and 9,000 appeals are decided every year by the Minister, and it is hardly surprising that some of them should cause heart-burning from time to time. Let me say at once that in this appeal, as in all others, the Minister's decision is final and the case cannot be re-opened. Nevertheless, I am glad of the opportunity to explain the reasoning behind the decision.

I should like to say a word about general caravan policy. Our general approach is to encourage the concentration of caravan sites at suitable points instead of allowing them to be scattered over a wider area. It is particularly necessary to avoid an excessive number of caravan sites on or very close to the coastline. A booklet called "Caravan Parks—Location, Layout, Landscape" was issued by the Department in 1962, giving general advice about the location, landscape treatment, layout and equipment. Circular No. 46/60, which followed the passing of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act, 1960, gave general advice on the control of caravan sites conferred on local authorities and mentioned in paragraph 26 that single caravans or very small groups of caravans could often be accommodated satisfactorily, and more easily than larger caravan sites, in secluded places where they would be screened by trees, hedgerows or buildings.

The appeal by Mr. F. G. W. Taylor was dealt with on the basis of written statements and a visit to the site by one of the Ministry's inspectors. Certainly the site complied with many of the requirements for a single caravan. It was, as the hon. Gentleman said, placed in a farm and was screened on one side by farm buildings and on the west by an 8-ft. hedge. There was, however, open land to the south and east from which it was visible. Mains water and electricity were available but not main drainage.

The road in which the farm lay was a cul-de-sac and the caravan did not occupy a promiment position in the countryside. It had been on this site for three years without planning permission, and Mr. Taylor claimed that as it had given no offence during that period he should be allowed to retain it for holiday purposes as he had done in the past. It may be thought that this was a case in which permission might well have been given, particularly as the caravan was already in position. But the fact that people sometimes neglect to obtain planning permission which they require is really no justification for granting permission retrospectively if it would have been refused in the first place. To do so would give them an unfair advantage over others who do not flout the requirements of planning control. The appeal was, therefore, dealt with strictly on its merits.

The local planning authority had stated in the development plan that it was essential to control the numerous shacks, bungalows and caravans in Holderness, many of which dated from the time when people had sought somewhere to live after the air raids on Hull. The indiscriminate siting of holiday accommodation of various kinds with little regard for the landscape had created one of the main planning problems in the East Riding. The planning authority's policy was to concentrate caravans into selected sites and to remove isolated caravans from the district. They pointed out that a site was being provided at Easington only four miles to the south-east and another already existed at Kilnsea, 6½ miles to the southeast.

I fully appreciate the desire of the appellant Mr. Taylor to site his caravan where he could have seclusion. This is a natural desire which is shared by very many other people. This gives rise to applications for caravan sites which individually are harmless, as indeed, Mr. Taylor's site was. The trouble is that too many sites of this sort completely transform an area and pepper the countryside with caravans which have a marked effect on the amenity of the district. Holderness, and particularly its coastline, is a valuable holiday area and the local authority is right to seek to preserve its amenities and deserves support in that aim. Opinions are bound to differ about ministerial decisions on planning appeals, but I think that in this case the right decision was taken.

I should like to assure the House and the hon. Gentleman that the decision was certainly not taken lightly and that Mr. Taylor's representations were taken fully into account. As I have said, the appeal cannot be reopened, but it is always possible for an unsuccessful appellant to make a further planning application to the local authority. If that is refused, there is the right of appeal to the Minister, but it is only fair to add that the Minister is not. likely to change hits decision unless new circumstances can be shown which justify the change.

If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, it seems that Mr. Taylor intends to resite his caravan. I am not sure where, and it would not be for me to find out at this state, as on appeal the matter would come before us again in a judicial capacity. But, if that is so, he would have the right to apply to the local planning authority for permission and, if refused, could put the matter before us again. I give the hon. Gentleman every assurance that we shall treat it on its merits.

I say again to the hon. Gentleman that the debate has been useful in drawing attention to a duty continually carried out in my Ministry which we seek to discharge with humanity and understanding at all times. While recognising why he has raised the matter on the Adjournment tonight, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take it from me that we went into this application very thoroughly, but, for the reasons I have given, disqualified it. That does not deny Mr. Taylor the right to make a further application if the circumstances change.

Mr. Hiley

I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for what he has said and I am rather encouraged by the information he has given. I feel that the new siting of the caravan will be such that the planning authority at any rate will be prepared to accede to the application on this occasion.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.