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Not quite park and ride

In the drive to deliver more affordable housing, park homes are being pushed as an ideal vehicle to help solve the problem. But have proposed changes to national planning policy left them shunted off the road and stalled in the lay-by?

The argument has arisen out of the arcane world of planning policy, with the Government’s move to replace the existing Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) 3 for housing. Park – more accurately called mobile – homes have a brief mention in this document, along with a number of other special interest groups, which is seen as a crucial key necessary to unlock local planning office doors.

Any mention of park homes, however, has been deleted from the Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 3 document drafted to subsequently replace the existing national policy framework. To the National Park Homes Council (NPHC) this is tantamount to airbrushing the industry out of the housing policy picture.

Alicia Dunne, the NPHC’s policy development director, said: “Without any recognition at national planning policy level, residential park home development could disappear and we have major concerns about that.”

Part of the problem, Dunne suggests, is that the Government has shifted its definitions of ‘affordable housing’ to cover social rented and intermediate properties, to the exclusion of market housing no matter how low the cost of the latter might be.

Though top of the range mobile home models can cost up to £250,000 in choicer parts of the country,

they can be bought for as little as £30,000. When the deputy prime minister John Prescott issued a challenge to the construction industry to build highquality houses at low-cost, the target set was twice this.

“Park homes are very much seen as low cost market housing,” Dunne added. “The Government doesn’t consider this affordable, [but] park homes are addressing the needs of low cost housing. They offer an opportunity to a whole host of people. The industry can meet sustainability and it can meet affordability. The issue we have is that when we get to the door of the planners, it is firmly kept closed. They don’t consider park homes as any kind of viable form of housing tenure.”

Currently, there are around 2,000 residential parks in the UK, providing space for some 48,000 properties housing around 250,000 people. Many of them are at the older age range of 55 and upwards. However, there is no reason why they cannot be taken up by younger people and families. The use of this housing type has been suggested as a way of accommodating key workers, for instance, or addressing the rural housing crisis. New parks could also be built on brownfield sites, the organisation says.

“It’s a question of extending parks that exist in rural areas where they have their own small little communities,” Dunne added. “If permission is granted for new developments then park homes could be opened to whole new categories of people who can’t get on the housing ladder at the moment. With the land and the permission to develop we can realise the aspirations of different markets. There’s a lot it can provide.”

The homes are owned in perpetuity, just like any other market house. They can be sold or given to family members. They tend to come fully furnished with modern fittings included and are set in landscaped parks. All that is required is an agreement from the park operator, which can only be escinded through the courts. Owners pay a fee to the park owners, which can be seen as the equivalent to ground rent on a leasehold property.

At the moment, it is seen as very much a ‘lifestyle’ option, hence its favour amongst the older generation. Many a park homeowner has released capital from the sale of a traditional house, which has freed the property up for others, and gone to live in what are said to be tight-knit, neat and peaceful communities. Some residential parks are large enough to have shops and even GPs’ surgeries. The fear among the industry is that without provision in the planning documents, existing parks will not be able to expand, or new parks will not be created to open this ‘lifestyle’ to others.

Legally, park homes are caravans even though they look nothing like them, or indeed the infamous US image of the trailer park. To look at these homes, the observer can be forgiven for mistaking them for fixed ‘bricks and mortar’ structures since they resemble bungalows. This belies the mobile nature hidden by a brick skirting. All park homes are manufactured off-site and are delivered in two modules for assembly. Likewise, they can be disassembled and moved to a new site. Beneath the settled appearance and that skirting lies a chassis and wheels.

This mobility, together with being built to modern standards of sustainability, energyg efficiency, and quality standards at a lower cost to traditional housing, the NPHC argues combines to meet government

requirements for housing planning policies. In fact, as if to add insult to injury in this current spat, overnment figures have publicly acknowledged the role and potential that this kind of housing type and tenure can offer.

The consultation period for the PPS3 draft ended in February. That same month under secretary of state Baroness Andrews was a keynote speaker at the British Holiday and Home Park Association conference.

She told the audience: “Let me categorically state park homes are part of the solution to meeting needs for homes. It is clear that the industry wants to grow and the redevelopment of parks is part of that process." "I am here today to highlight that I believe that park homes do have a role to play in the department’s vision of sustainable communities… But I am aware that many of you have concerns with the planning system and that you don’t think that the role of park homes in creating sustainable communities is properly appreciated.”Andrews went on to dismiss these concerns.

Instead she challenged the industry to present their case in local planning offices to ‘demonstrate that park homes can and do meet national planning criteria’ and also show that they can provide homes ‘within mixed and balanced communities’ which can provide homes for a range of household types and

sizes, ages and situations.

“We accept that park homes are popular with older people,” she added, “however we want to avoid the creation of large artificially gated communities which park homes have in the past encouraged with age restrictions. Park homes have more to offer the housing market.”

On the latter score, Dunne and her colleagues are in agreement, but she said: “We’re disappointed with

the Government’s failure to recognise that it’s not just a case of plodding along with an application, because applications are granted or refused on the basis of national planning policy guidance and that’s why PPS3 is so crucial to the industry – without the mention we really do fear for the future.” So for the make of a handful of words in a policy document, the industry’s growth and potential contribution is talled – but the NPHC is determined that park homes won’t be towed away into the sunset.

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