Burgh Castle Kingfisher Holiday Park we call home
PUBLISHED: 15:29 06 March 2011
Archant © 2011
FROM the outside looking in, it could be one of a hundred get-away spots offering a chance of respite from the stresses of day-to-day life.
The name – Kingfisher Holiday Park – is unambiguously displayed in gold lettering on the red brick wall entrance, while beyond a sign lists the latest on-site entertainment and a barrier threatens to block the entrance to those who have not paid in advance for their stay.
But the barrier is rarely closed, and for the vast majority of those within the Burgh Castle development this is not a holiday spot. It is where they hope to spend the rest of their lives.
Two weeks ago, this was a dream that looked under threat.
The residents discovered they had been living illegally in the holiday units on a year-round basis for many years; paying full council tax but breaching planning regulations that stipulated they had to move out for at least one month a year.
However, when confronted with an eviction order that could render up to 170 people homeless, many of whom are well into retirement, the borough council compromised.
Allowing current residents to remain, it will now enforce holiday use for any newcomers. But the dust has yet to fully settle.
For many, when the news emerged it was a threat out of the blue.
Jenny Duffield, former chairman of the occupiers’ association, had a stream of people at the door of her home after a report in The Mercury midway through last month.
“None of us knew anything about it till we read it in The Mercury,” said Mrs Duffield.
“We’ve had meetings with the council about this issue to tell them we pay full council tax and they admitted they had noticed the situation but couldn’t get involved.”
Echoing others, she described the council’s final decision as a “weight off the shoulders” of a community that had suddenly faced the prospect of being homeless.
She is now expecting a letter of confirmation from the council and hoping the decision would lead to an end in residents having to pay VAT on their ground rent which often totals around £500 a year on mobile homes costing up to £80,000.
“I do like living where I am, I love it here, we all look after each other” added Mrs Duffield, who moved in six years ago.
Driving through the park, and the atmosphere is one not so different from a traditional suburban neighbourhood.
The lamppost-lined roads, with names like Heron Close and Swann Court, have their own postcodes. You may even see a Royal Mail van dropping off parcels and letters.
Many residents spoke of their appreciation for the quiet life that the park offered, the lack of traffic and the feeling of a tight knit community that existed in a way it did not beyond park boundaries.
And like many villages, a pub - The Kingfisher - sits in the centre, while alongside carefully tended gardens surround the homes, many of which have been customised to reflect the character and needs of its owners.
On site, and one married 40-something, who did not wish to be named, was glad to have made the move from bricks and mortar and was “over the moon” when he heard about the council’s decision.
“Me and my wife moved here because of the wow factor we got when we saw the place and it has surpassed that,” he said.
“The people here are really nice, and if you have a problem we all help each other.
“If you come here in summer, everything blooms, there’s hanging baskets and it is a different sight. It’s just like living in a bungalow, you don’t notice the difference.”
But of course there are differences. Largely self-sufficient, the site is looked after by a maintenance team of three – despite paying band A council tax, residents do not receive standard services provided by the council such as waste collection.
And though many are generally happy with their lot, concern still remains in some quarters.
A number of otherwise satisfied residents did not want to be named for fear of possible repercussions – they are ultimately living on a privately owned site.
Others spoke of people they knew struggling to keep up with the charges that include an initial fee and yearly ground rent that can range between £1,000 and £2,000.
Another, who also wanted anonymity, added: “We’ve still had no feedback from the site people – we want some kind of reassurance. We’re happy with what the council have done, but we just want it sorted out.”
There were also concerns about security, and though a letter from the council confirming their decision is expected this week, some feel this may not guarantee the sense of security that many are hoping for.
Mrs Duffield, 58, stressed that though she was reassured the council had determined “they won’t prosecute us and we can stay here till we die”, this did not necessarily address the full issue.
She worried that when the 15-20 year leases were due to be renewed, were the mobile homes to be sold off site, or for holiday use, they could suffer from a dramatic loss in value. And for some, it could be a bitter financial blow, and one from which they might struggle to recover.
The Mercury contacted the owner of Kingfisher Park, but at the time of going to press had not received a reply.