Caravans Act (Northern Ireland) 2011: Review

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 30 November 2021.

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Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP 2:15, 30 November 2021

3. Mr Irwin asked the Minister for Communities for an update on the preparatory work for the review of the Caravans Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. (AQO 2824/17-22)

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

It may be useful to remind Members of the origins of the Caravans Act and my Department's involvement in it. It was introduced in the Assembly as a private Member's Bill. Initially, the Bill was to replicate other jurisdictions' protections for residential occupiers on protected sites.

It was subsequently agreed that those with static caravans that are permanently pitched on caravan sites that are licensed for holiday use should be afforded protection in the form of a seasonal agreement. Although my Department has responsibility for residential caravans and a mandatory duty to review the provisions relating to that sector, the Act also contains provisions relating to holiday caravans. That is why I took the decision to look at the Act in its entirety and widen the remit of my Department’s review.

I acknowledge the concerns that have been brought to my attention by MLAs across many constituencies in recognition of the forthcoming review, particularly because of the issues that have impacted on the sector over the last 20 months throughout the pandemic. The preparatory work for the review of the Caravans Act 2011 is progressing well, and I assure you that it will allow all interested stakeholders to engage and provide their views, which will ultimately help inform the overall review. The time frame is to have a 12-week stakeholder engagement launched before the end of this year, with analysis and recommendations completed thereafter.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

I thank the Minister for her response. One caravan owner had been on a certain caravan site for almost 50 years, but, because he would not replace it with a new caravan that he could not afford, the crane was brought in and his caravan was taken out. Does the Minister agree that there needs to be more protection for caravan owners?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

Yes, definitely. I am sure that you have heard similar stories in the past 20 months; I have heard those stories myself. I have no remit over caravans that are used for tourism or as second homes. My departmental remit under the Act covers caravans that are residential property. That said, I have widened the scope of the review to look at all of those issues. Obviously, tourism falls within the remit of the Department for the Economy, but that is not picked up in the Act. The Department for the Economy is involved in the review, and we want to hear the stories that stakeholders have. If, as part of the review, we can build in greater protections for those who lease caravans on those sites, that is what we will want to do. That consultation and engagement will be important. Once we go public with the consultation before the end of this year, if you have constituents out there with concerns, encourage them to get involved in those sessions.

Photo of Maolíosa McHugh Maolíosa McHugh Sinn Féin

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire fosta as ucht a freagraí go dtí seo. Minister, the problem of caravan owners feeling exploited by site owners and being forced into choosing between buying expensive upgrades or being expelled from the site is a growing problem in many areas. It is not confined to the North of Ireland; it happens in the Republic as well to residents from the North of Ireland. Following the review of the Caravans Act, will you commit to raising the issue with the Economy Minister to reduce the exploitation of caravan owners by a small number of unscrupulous site owners?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

The review will focus on all areas of concern, including the upgrading of caravans and other issues that may not be specifically mentioned in the legislation. We will review the Act in its entirety, and we have given a commitment to conduct a meaningful engagement with all of the key stakeholders who would be impacted. As I said, we want to go out to consultation before the end of this year. That will last for 12 weeks, and, once we get the responses in, they will be analysed, and the three Departments will evaluate them in making recommendations. We will work with the Department for the Economy and others, as we have been doing until now, as part of the review. We will sit collectively to see how we can take that forward once the consultation exercise has been completed.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Does the Minister agree that, among the many issues that need to be reviewed, there are two in particular that cry out for attention, namely the need to bring regulation to exorbitant increases in pitch fees, which, in some cases, have been as high as 35% in any one year, and the need to bring security of tenure for caravan owners on their existing sites?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

In the review, we want to go wider than when the Act was first brought in to look at all of the issues of concern that Members have raised today and that have been raised repeatedly with me before. Obviously, this comes from constituents who have been affected by issues that have also been brought to light as a result of the pandemic, with the closure of many sites. That will be part of the review. The consultation exercise with stakeholders will be critical, and we will put it out shortly. I encourage all Members, if they have stakeholders in their community, to encourage them to come forward and tell us their experience. If they have proposals or recommendations for enhancing protections, we will be more than happy to listen to them.