Councillors have recommended that Government Model Standards for park homes (sometimes referred to as mobile homes) are not imposed on existing park homes where they do not currently comply. All park home residents will now be consulted on the recommendations of the Housing Scrutiny Panel, before they go to the Cabinet of Epping Forest District Council.
Local residents braved the wet weather to listen to the debate on licensing of park home sites at Epping Forest District Council on Wednesday 8 September 2010. Councillors of the Housing Scrutiny Panel were asked to examine potential amendments and make recommendations to the Cabinet after an earlier decision to adopt recommendations of the Government`s Model Standards 2008 met wide-spread opposition.
The Panel, chaired by Councillor Stephen Murray, looked in particular at existing hedges and fences over one metre high between park homes and combustible items such as sheds, which might enable a fire to spread. Whether to set a minimum distance between hedges and park homes was another issue. Many residents of local park homes had said the proposed new licence conditions were unnecessarily strict for existing sites. The Panel considered options to satisfy both health and safety as well as the convenience and comfort of mobile home residents.
Councillors were asked to consider the extent to which new licence conditions should be implemented and whether they should apply in part or full to existing park homes as well as any new sites in the future. Other issues included detailed porch construction and smoke alarms, domestic waste facilities and minimum distances between park homes and site boundaries.
Alan Hall, Director of Housing presented the report. He referred to the original decision of the Cabinet which was called“in and reviewed by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and the fact that the Council had received 5 petitions with around 300 signatures and accompanying letters between the Cabinet in June and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in July.
Although the original consultation with site owners and residents associations went beyond legal requirements, Mr Hall accepted that with hindsight his team would have undertaken more consultation before asking the Cabinet to make a decision, had the strength of public feeling been known earlier.
Mr Hall explained that councillors had to balance the views of the Government through the Model Standards and Fire Officers against the quality of life and concerns of residents. He added that most councils had previously adopted the earlier (1989) Model Standards, but so far few had updated to the 2008 Standards.
Councillors were also asked to consider the practicalities of enforcing new licence conditions, as well as the timescales of implementation.
Assistant Divisional Officer Stuart McMillan of Essex Fire and Rescue Service emphasised that the safety of residents was his organisation`s overriding concern and recommended to the Council to accept the Model Standards.
Councillor Murray invited the following representatives of local park home sites, and a site owner, to give their views to the Panel:
- Peter McMillan “ The Owl Caravan Park
- Estelle Martin “ Ludgate House Mobile Home Site
- Dr Claire Zabell “ Ludgate House Mobile Home Site
- Peter Baines “ Chairman Abridge Park Residents` Association
- B Leverett “ Woodbine Close Residents` Association
- John Sweeting “ Roydon Mill Park Residents` Association
- Paul Burling “ Chairman of the Elms Residents` Association
Speakers referred repeatedly to the rarity of fires on park home sites within the district over the previous 40 years. They emphasised the care taken by park home owners to protect and maintain their properties and asked whether the new 2008 Standards were proportionate. Park home owners were concerned for their privacy if the Standards were imposed in full. A site owner asked how she should enforce such conditions on her residents. Attention was drawn to the high standard of construction and materials used in modern park homes compared with older ones of a lower standard. They said many residents of park home sites are mature and experienced older people; one site has a minimum age restriction of 50 years. Officers were asked what other forms of residential dwelling had new standards that applied to existing conditions. Alan Hall gave by example the introduction of High Hedge legislation a few years ago.
Councillor David Johnson proposed that, whilst the Model Standards should be applied to both new and existing park home sites, any contraventions of the licence conditions at the time the new licences are introduced at existing sites should be allowed. The proposal was seconded by Councillor Rodney Barrett and approved by the Panel as a recommendation to the Cabinet.
Councillor Murray concluded by saying that councillors had listened to residents, considered very difficult and important issues that affect many residents` quality of life and thanked them for their help.
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