Published: 15:15, 25 March 2020
| Updated: 15:28, 25 March 2020
Things are not looking good for residents at the Pilgrims Retreat caravan park in Harrietsham.
A special steering group of councillors tasked with finding a compromise that would save residents from eviction has still not met - a month after Maidstone Council unanimously agreed that enforcement action would automatically begin in nine months' time if no solution could be found.
The council's planning officers had asked for permission to begin enforcement at the planning committee on February 27, but some councillors wanted one last chance to see if they could bring the owners of the park, Sines Parks Luxury Living Ltd, to the table.
It was decided that a steering group be set up to persuade Sines Parks to submit a new planning application that would be acceptable to all.
But to date, the steering group has not even met to decide its own terms of reference, let alone held any discussions with the park's owners.
A council spokesman said: "We are in the process of arranging a meeting with the chairman and vice chairman and the political group spokespersons of the planning committee and the two ward councillors. However, due to the Covid 19 outbreak we are looking at making new arrangements for this.
“As soon as the members have met to set out their terms of reference and negotiating position, then arrangements will be made to meet with the park owner.”
The council has several disputes with the company which is owned by the controversial millionaire Fred Sines - including the number of"mobile homes" on the site and the landscaping, but the key issue as far as residents are concerned is the terms of their tenancy.
Most bought their properties as their main and permanent home. But under the strict letter of the existing planning permission, although they can live there all year round, 180 of the homes are classed as holiday lets, and the residents should have a main residence elsewhere.
If the issue is not resolved by November, they could be given four years to clear out.
Many of the residents are elderly and some frail.
We spoke to one couple in their seventies, who asked not to be named.
They said: "When we were looking to buy, the park's advertising said you didn't need to engage a solicitor because there was no stamp duty payable - so we didn't get one.
"We regret that now. We had no idea that there was this requirement that it be your second home."
The couple said the situation was having a devastating effect on their health.
"Neither of us can sleep at night worrying about what might happen.
"We've thought about moving, but it's impossible to sell now."
They said they were not surprised that the steering group had failed to meet
They said: "Of course, the coronavirus situation will now give them a legitimate reason not to do so. We just hope that the nine months deadline is also postponed."
The site off Hogbarn Lane was first established in 1967, but has been expanded several times and has had a chequered planning history.
It currently has planning permission for 180 holiday homes and 18 permanent residential pitches.
The company submitted a “part-retrospective” planning application seeking a change of use from a mixture of holiday and residential units to fully residential, but at the same time, expanding from 198 lodges to 248. The application was refused by the council last October.
After the end of nine months, officers have permission to start five enforcement measures: to reduce the number of caravans to 198 within two years; to remove all the excess caravans and materials from the site within 30 months, to cease the permanent use of the 180 holiday homes within four years, to restore the southern part of the site to the its previous state before the recent changes and finally to implement a previously agreed landscape strategy.
Michael Rudd, a planning barrister acting for Sines Parks, had earlier said the company would appeal any enforcement action and warned the council it would lose.
More by this authorAlan Smith