THE national park authority has called for a government review of planning laws after admitting it was powerless to stop a small caravan site in the New Forest being turned into a development of over 80 residential mobile homes.
The isolated Vernon Dene site at North Ripley, between Bransgore and Ringwood, was bought for £2.5m by Park One Developments last year.
Clearance work carried out over the Easter weekend left people living nearby fearing it would become like other caravan parks at Milford and Christchurch which have been redeveloped with luxury residential mobile homes being sold for more than £400,000.
One local resident, who did not want to be named, told the A&T: “It’s extremely alarming and disturbing that you can in effect build almost 90 houses in the national park without planning permission. It’s potentially a very serious loophole and definitely a cause for concern.”
Another said: “It’s on a very narrow road which is already used as a rat-run so to have that many more people using it will make it even more dangerous.
“And I don’t know how local services such as doctors are going to cope with the extra demand.”
The nearly 2.6-hectare field had previously accommodated only a handful of touring caravans but a certificate of lawful use granted to former owner Jonathan Cox by the NPA in 2008 put no restriction on numbers.
In granting the certificate, the NPA said it was satisfied that the use had been in place for a period of at least 10 years and therefore had no grounds to refuse.
After Park One Developments put in a licence application to New Forest District Council – which is the licensing authority – for 86 units on site, the NPA promised to investigate.
NFDC has now granted the licence and the NPA’s executive director of strategy and planning, Steve Avery, has confirmed there is nothing his authority can do stop the redevelopment.
Describing it as an “extraordinary situation”, Mr Avery said in an email to parish councils in the area: “Many people will be concerned and at a loss to understand how a new residential mobile home park can be built in a field in the national park, immediately adjacent to an SSSI and close to the European designated sites, without the need for planning permission.”
He explained that once a lawful use certificate had been granted for a site it was open to subsequent owners to “exploit and maximise” the site under the 1960 Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act which dates back to 1960.
“Caravans and mobile homes are of course very different now to what they were in 1960,” continued Mr Avery.
“The fact that the site appears to have accommodated a few modest sized touring caravans for many years from before 2007 until now is of no relevance. These can and are about to be replaced by much larger, twin-unit residential homes.”
Once a licence has been issued there is normally no need to seek further approval for such matters as hard-standings, internal roadways or parking areas, nor are operators required to consider issues like the impact on wildlife and scenic beauty.
A barrister had confirmed the NPA’s hands were tied, with Mr Avery warning: “While these loopholes exist, our ability to protect the Forest from inappropriate development is seriously undermined.”
In light of this development, he said they had written to the government asking for a review of the planning legislation in national parks, and would be raising the case with Whitehall’s chief planner.
The NPA was also liaising with adjoining planning authorities where Park One Developments is carrying out similar developments.
The A&T has asked Park One Developments for a comment.