Caravan site to be shut down by order of High Court

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A permanent caravan site for vineyard workers in Tillington will have to be shut down following a High Court ruling.

River Farm has become home to 21 caravans lived in by workers employed in the burgeoning English viticulture industry.

However, a senior judge’s ruling today means they can now only be lived in by agricultural workers employed on River Farm itself.

They will also have to be moved off the site twice a year so they are only there during the grape growing and harvesting season.

Landowner David Langmead argued the workers were badly needed by the growing number of wine growers in the southern counties but Mr Justice Lane dashed his hopes of being able to keep the caravans on his land permanently.

Mr Langmead was granted planning permission in 2005 by Chichester District Council to lay down an agricultural hard-standing, a new access track and an earth bund.

But that was subject to tight conditions that caravans on the site should only be lived in by agricultural workers employed on River Farm. The council also said they had to be removed immediately at the end of the viticulture season, between March 1 and October 31 each year.

In 2009 Mr Langmead was granted temporary consent to use the caravans to accommodate seasonal workers employed in agriculture locally.

That expired in 2014 but, since then, the caravans have been permanently stationed on the site, said the judge, and have been used throughout the year to accommodate workers ‘employed in viticulture in various places in southern England’.

In November 2016, the council issued an enforcement notice demanding removal of all caravans from the site, other than those occupied by agricultural workers employed on River Farm.

Following a public inquiry, that decision was upheld by a government planning inspector last September.

The inspector said there was ‘no evidence that any of the people who occupy the caravans work at River Farm’.

“Year round occupation by workers working elsewhere has resulted in what is in effect a permanent residential caravan site,” he added.

The caravans created a ‘significant urban element’ that affected the ’tranquillity and character of the national park’.

Although their presence only had a ‘very slight level of visual effect’ on the local landscape, the inspector upheld the enforcement notice.

Challenging that decision, Mr Langmead pointed out many vineyards rely on the workers who call the caravans home.

He argued the inspector had ignored his proposed mitigation measures, including erection of fencing and hedge and tree planting around the site.

Dismissing his appeal, however, Mr Justice Lane could find no flaw in the inspector’s conclusions.

The inspector had been right to say that, even if the enforcement notice were overturned, the seasonal condition would still apply and the site would still have to be cleared of caravans twice a year.

And the proposed mitigation measures were not relevant to the issue of whether the caravans could be occupied by workers not employed on River Farm.