Residents of Leisure Park Homes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:04 pm on 27th February 2019.

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Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells 5:04 pm, 27th February 2019

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He knows, as I do, that what Brean lacks in quantity as against Skegness, we make up for in quality. I know he agrees with that.

There are effectively four groups affected by the issue. The local community beyond the park are frustrated that there is additional pressure on local services and infrastructure without any due planning process having been followed. Sedgemoor District Council has had to retrospectively allow planning permission to protect the value of the asset that the residents of park homes have spent money on, but there is a lack of consultation and transparency in the planning process when that emergency measure is taken. There is also a loss of tourism revenue, because permanent residents tend not to eat out and use local attractions as much as those visiting for just a week.

The local community is disadvantaged, too. Reputable, law-abiding caravan and leisure parks in the area miss out. There is the reputational risk to the industry of all operators being tarred with the same brush, which is unfair. When this issue arose two or three years ago, Sedgemoor employed a company called Capacitygrid. I am sure it did nothing other than what it was invited to do, but its method of checking that all the tens of thousands of caravans in the Brean area were legit was to be quite harassing in how it did its business, and how it got proof of another address. The park owners had to put up with their residents being affected by that company, which had been instructed by Sedgemoor to go in and check on the scale of the problem.

The local council has to pay for enforcement out of our council taxes. It has the grumpiness that comes with the difficult planning decisions that it needs to take if it is to retrospectively approve the caravans as permanent places of residence. As the caravans are already there, there is none of the community infrastructure levy or section 106 money that would come with a more routine planning decision, so there is none of the development that comes with having secured that money during the planning process.

Most importantly, the residents are so often taken for a ride. They are overly trusting, but they see an opportunity to have a permanent home in a place where they have enjoyed holidaying their entire working life. They take that opportunity and put their life savings into it, only to find that what they have bought is effectively worthless, because there is no planning permission for that residence to be used year round. I have had it reported to me that residents struggle to access local services. They are at the mercy of unscrupulous park owners.

I agree with so much of the expertise that has been shared with us about what could be done. There is plenty of legislation that protects consumer rights, and our first instinct should be to use what is on the statute book, rather than to develop new laws. However, it is important that we address this issue. From my experience in nearly four years as the MP for Wells, I have seen enough of this problem on the coast to know that it is something that the Government should address. I very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.