Burgh Castle community escape eviction

VILLAGERS breathed a sigh of relief this week after a homelessness threat was lifted from their Broadland caravan community.

Up to 170 people have been living illegally in holiday units, many as plush retirement sanctuaries worth up to �80,000, at Kingfisher Holiday Park in Burgh Castle, after buying them in good faith.

Officials at Great Yarmouth Borough Council have been weighing up the best way to deal with the problem after it emerged that hundreds of holiday-use caravans were being lived in permanently, breaching planning regulations. Keith Piper, 55, a former resident whose mother, brother and sister still live on the site, said it had been an anxious time for his family and dozens of others.

He claims they were told in 2003 that the 11-month occupancy rule had changed and there was no need to vacate for four weeks, adding to their sense of security.

However, it emerged the units were still classed as holiday use – the council having the power to take “a firm stance” that could mean evictions and prosecutions.

On Tuesday, council head of planning policy Peter Warner told members of the development control committee that the saga stretched back years and that a compromise solution was the only way forward, with a 10-year deadline looming. He said: “The site is identified as holiday use and is not a location in planning terms for normal residential development. It involves people’s livelihoods and their homes, and the council has to grasp the nettle and decide whether to issue an enforcement notice.

“Doing nothing would establish a residential use that could grow and set a precedent.”

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His “assisting rather than threatening” solution was aimed at minimising the impact on the residents and safeguarding the council’s reputation. The aim was to allow the occupants to stay in their homes until they move or transfer ownership, when the notice will have to be complied with, gradually returning the park to holiday use.

Councillor John Burroughs said the council had a role to play in the breach which should have been discovered sooner because occupiers were paying council tax at the usual residential rate.

Jenny Duffield, speaking for the residents, broadly welcomed the compromise solution, saying that the saga had been going on for years and that all they wanted was clarity.

Councillor Mick Castle, however, said: “This is no longer a holiday park. In reality this compromise would blight the whole lot. The answer is an amnesty that would give the place a living future.”

Councillor Mark Thompson, whose borough council ward includes the “lovely” site, strongly disagreed saying owners still had every incentive to maintain their properties under the compromise solution.

Some members voiced concerns that the caravans would be worth less as tourism units, leaving their owners out of pocket.

A report to members said the unofficial “estate” could put pressure on local services and change the nature of the quiet village.

Committee chairman Charles Reynolds said: “If we do not take some form of action what on earth would happen? We know we have problems on other sites. What we have here is the best compromise we can get that will bring security to these people who must be worried out of their minds.”

Mr Piper described it as a close-knit community where people took pride in their homes, many with added decking and “skirts”. Most people had down-sized and expected to spend the rest of their days at the site which had long cast off memories of its holiday heyday. With no pool or play areas and an open-to-all clubhouse, the site was resolutely residential and, for most people, their only home.

He added the change would have little effect on caravan values because they depreciated anyway. Mr Piper said he was also concerned about the issue of VAT which residents have to pay on their ground rents, amounting to around �500, which was a lot for people to find.

Council members voted to go ahead with the compromise solution and bring the issue to its powerful cabinet committee for further discussion to make sure a similar situation doesn’t evolve elsewhere unchecked.

Officials are still working out the nitty gritty of enforcement letters that will be sent to owners in due course. advising them of the change.