Occupation and eviction rules for Travellers on their own land
Travellers using their own land as a caravan site without planning permission risk being removed from that land.
Rights of travellers on their own land
Some Travellers buy their own land to use as a caravan site. To do this Travellers will normally need to gain planning permission and then a site licence.
For more information on site licences see the section on Mobile homes.
A site licence is not required if the land is not being used for more than two nights. Site licences can be granted indefinitely or for a specific period of time and can have conditions attached (eg limiting the number of caravans allowed on the site).
Travellers occupying their own land without planning permission risk being removed from that land.
The principal law governing the development and use of land is the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as amended, notably by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, the Planning Act 2008, and the Localism Act 2011.
The government's policy in relation to Gypsy and Traveller sites is set out in the Planning policy for traveller sites (replacing ODPM Circular 01/2006 from March 2012). The policy was updated in August 2015. It should be read in conjunction with the National Planning Policy Framework.
Local planning authorities (LPAs) must have regard to government's policy when:
preparing local development plans
making planning decisions.
The stationing of a caravan on land requires planning permission in most cases. An application for planning permission is made to the LPA. A fee is payable.
For the legal definition of a caravan, see the page Definition of a mobile home.
Breach of planning control
The stationing of a caravan on land without planning permission in itself is not a breach of planning control. The question, in any particular situation, is whether the stationing of a caravan for residential use by Gypsies or Travellers would constitute a material change of use of the land. For example, the stationing of a caravan on non-residential/agricultural land will constitute a material change of its use, as in most cases would the use of a touring caravan site as a residential site for Gypsies or Travellers.
There are exemptions from the requirement to apply for planning permission but only in limited circumstances. These include the stationing of a caravan within the curtilage of a dwelling house, or travelling with a single caravan and stationing it on land for no more than two nights, subject to an overall limit of 28 days per year in which caravans may be used on the land for human habitation.
Local planning policies
The government's 'Planning policy for traveller sites' sets out that LPAs should make their own assessment of need when preparing plans and taking action on Gypsy and Traveller sites. Amongst the other matters to be considered are:
protecting the green belt from 'inappropriate development'
increasing the number of traveller sites in appropriate locations with planning permission
addressing under provision and maintaining an appropriate level of supply
promoting more private traveller site provision
aiming to reduce the number of unauthorised encampments and to make enforcement more effective.
Where there has been a breach of planning control the LPA can take enforcement action. The government has published guidance for LPAs on ensuring effective enforcement of planning controls.
There are a number of options open to the LPA when dealing with an alleged breach of planning control.
If there has been a breach of planning control then, subject to certain time limits, the LPA can issue an enforcement notice. Enforcement notices contain details of the breach of planning control, and the steps required to remedy the breach. An enforcement notice must be served 28 days before it is due to take effect and no more than 28 days after the date of its issue.
If a person, or persons, fail to comply with an enforcement notice within the period for compliance (subject to any appeal), the LPA can take direct action to enter the land in order to remedy the breach of planning control.
An enforcement notice may be served by posting it to the usual or last known place where the intended recipient was living, or to the address on the land registry documentation relating to the property in question.
Where an enforcement notice to remove Gypsies who had been occupying a site they owned for three and a half years without planning permission was not complied with, the High Court held that it was appropriate to grant an injunction to remove them from the site, and that to consider such an injunction a disproportionate interference with their rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights would risk undermining the planning system and criminal law.
Once an enforcement notice has been issued, the LPA can also issue a stop notice requiring that the activity that comprises the breach of planning control ceases within three days of service, or in special circumstances within a specified period.
Temporary stop notice
The LPA also has the power to issue a temporary stop notice where it is satisfied that there has been a breach of planning control that should be stopped forthwith. There is no requirement for an enforcement notice to have been issued. The temporary stop notice takes immediate effect and expires after 28 days. After this period, the LPA cannot issue a further temporary stop notice unless it has taken some other enforcement action first.
There is a right of appeal against an enforcement notice on seven specified grounds, which include:
planning permission ought to be granted
the condition or limitation concerned ought to be discharged
any period specified in the notice falls short of what should reasonably be allowed
the alleged breach of planning control has not occurred.
An appeal must be lodged before the date on which the enforcement notice comes into effect. The appeal is made to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and in most cases will be heard by an inspector from the Planning Inspectorate. The Planning Inspectorate has published guidance on the appeal process.
There is no right of appeal against a stop notice or temporary stop notice. In such cases, the LPA's decision to issue such a notice can only be challenged by way of judicial review. However, compensation can be claimed in certain circumstances, such as when it turns out that the use complained of is in fact lawful.
The LPA can apply to the county court or High Court for an injunction to restrain a breach of planning control where it considers it necessary or expedient.
In deciding whether to grant an injunction the matters the court will need to consider include:
evidence of the degree and flagrancy of any breach
the personal circumstances of the occupiers of the land
whether an injunction is a proportionate remedy
the relevance of any previous planning decisions.
It is a criminal offence to contravene:
an enforcement notice (unless there is an outstanding appeal)
a stop notice
a temporary stop notice.
On conviction a person can be fined.
If a person fails to comply with an injunction they can be committed to prison for contempt of court.
Certificate of lawful use
If a Gypsy or Traveller can show that s/he has lived on land for ten years without enforcement action having been taken, then even if no planning permission exists s/he can apply for a certificate of lawful use.
LPAs must consider whether a decision to grant or refuse planning permission to Gypsies and Travellers, or to take action against alleged breaches of planning control, is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In any particular case, it is a balancing exercise between the Gypsy and Traveller's human rights under Article 8 of the ECHR, and other factors such as harm to the countryside in green belt areas.
The courts have also considered the issue of human rights and the availability of conventional 'bricks and mortar' housing when deciding whether to grant planning permission to Gypsies and Travellers.
In one case, a planning inspector had dismissed an appeal against refusal of planning permission because the council had offered a conventional property to the applicant. The court held that the decision had been made wrongly and was in breach of the applicant's rights under Article 8 and Article 14 (enjoyment of substantive rights without discrimination) because it was contrary to his culture to accept conventional accommodation. However, the judge also made it clear that all the circumstances had to be taken into account, and that this judgment did not mean that all Gypsies would be automatically granted planning permission where the only other accommodation option open to them is conventional housing.
Last updated: 4 March 2021
para 2 Planning policy for traveller sites, DCLG, March 2015.
Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications, Deemed Applications, Requests and Site Visits) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2014.
Restormel BC v Secretary of State for the Environment  JPL 785.
Part 5, Sch.2, Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995; Sch. 1, Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960.
para 4 Planning policy for traveller sites, DCLG, August 2015.
s.172 Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
s.178 Town and Country Planning Act 1990; R (on the application of Eastwood) v Windsor and Maidenhead RBC  EWCA Civ 437.
ss.329(1)(c)and (4) Town and Country Planning Act 1990; s.233 Local Government Act 1972; Newham LBC v Ahmed  High Court (Divisional Court) 2 February 2016, as reported in Arden Chambers Housing View bulletin, 8 February 2016.
Doncaster MBC v AC and others  EWHC 45 (QBD).
s.183 Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
s.171E Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
s.171F Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
s.174(2) Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
s.187B Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
South Buckinghamshire DC v Porter  EWCA Civ 1549.
s.179 Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
s.187 Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
s.171G Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
ss 171B and s191 Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
Chapman v UK  ECHR 43; Durant & Anor v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Anor  EWHC 321 (Admin).
Moore v (1) Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government (2) Bromley LBC  EWCA Civ 1194; Chiltern DC v Webb  EWHC 1686 (QB).
Lee v (1) Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (2) Runnymede BC  EWCA Civ 558; Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v (1) South Gloucestershire Council (2) AZ  EWCA Civ 74.
Clarke v Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and Tunbridge Wells BC  EWHC Admin 800.