Analysis of responses to consultation on mobile home sites regulations
- This summary presents an overview of responses to the Scottish Government's consultation on their proposals for regulations supporting the new licensing system for mobile home sites with permanent residents. Part 5 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 set the framework for a new system for licensing mobile home sites licensed to have permanent residents. The 2014 Act gives Scottish Ministers powers to make regulations and in 2015 the Scottish Government published a consultation paper setting out what it proposed to include in these regulations.
- The consultation ran from 17 November 2015 to 12 th February 2016 and asked 11 main questions. A total of 30 responses were available for analysis. Of these 30 responses, 17 were submitted by groups and 13 by individual members of the public.
- The first two consultation questions covered the information required to be submitted with a licence application. The Scottish Government proposal was that regulations would require an applicant for a licence to provide a range of information, including the applicant's name, address and date of birth and a contact address for the day-to-day management of the site. The regulations would require the same information to be submitted for first site applications, renewals, and applications to transfer a licence. The majority of respondents agreed that the information provided should be the same.
- Reasons given for supporting this approach included that it would help ensure a consistency of approach amongst local authorities and site-owners and that it will simplify the application process. However, a local government respondent that disagreed with the same information being required suggested that applicants should be permitted to reference previously supplied documents or plans where no change has occurred. A private sector organisation or trade body raised broader concerns about how the proposed system will affect the viability of park home businesses and suggested that proposals around licence renewal are disproportionate.
- With particular reference to licence renewal, a small number of respondents suggested that it should only be necessary to provide information concerning any changes since the initial licence was granted.
- The next three consultation questions covered the fees required to be submitted with a licence application. The Scottish Government proposed using their powers under the 2014 Act to set out the issues a local authority can take into account, but not to set the maximum fee that a local authority can charge.
- Respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with ten separate matters that a local authority could take into account when setting fees. These included receiving, logging and electronically storing information, checking planning permissions, applying the 'fit and proper person' test and deciding whether to issue or refuse a licence.
- At each of the matters, the majority of respondents who answered the question agreed that the matter should be one that a local authority can take into account when setting its fee levels. Reviewing representations made by an applicant received once a local authority has informed the applicant they are considering refusing the application was the matter with which the highest number of respondents disagreed.
- Many of the further comments were general to all the matters concerned and included that this approach would be in line with practice in other areas and that cost recovery, reflecting the actual resources used in processing an application, is a fair and reasonable approach to take. A general comment made by a private sector organisation or trade body respondent was that costs should be calculated on a similar basis to that for planning fees and should take the scale of the operation into account. Suggested additional costs a local authority should be able to take into account included the costs of compliance inspections to ensure site licence conditions are being met, and preparing for and attending any appeal if a licence is refused.
- The majority of respondents agreed with the proposal not to set maximum fees at this stage. However, the majority of private sector organisations or trade bodies and individual respondents disagreed. Respondents who had agreed pointed to advantages they considered would come with this approach, including that it will allow local authorities to set a fee which reflects their experience of assessing applications once the new regulatory framework is introduced. It was also suggested that it would allow local authorities to take account of any particular factors affecting their local area. The most frequently-raised issue amongst those who had disagreed was that this approach would be open to misuse.
- Questions 6 and 7 of the consultation paper covered the timescales for making decisions and giving reasons. The 2014 Act requires Ministers to set timescales within which a local authority must decide on a licence application, renewal, or transfer. If a local authority does not make a decision within these timescales then an application is automatically approved. Under the 2014 Act the Scottish Ministers can also set the timescales within which a local authority must provide reasons for its decisions under the new licensing system. The Scottish Government proposes requiring a local authority to provide its reasons on the day that it tells an applicant of its decision.
- The majority of respondents agreed with the proposed 3 month time limit for deciding on a first site licence. However, the majority of local government and private sector or trade body respondents who answered this question did not. Those who had agreed pointed most frequently to the timescales appearing sufficient, reasonable, or realistic. Those who had disagreed generally suggested the proposed 3 month time limit would be insufficient. Comments included that the 3 month time limit may be sufficient for more straightforward cases but would not be long enough to allow for responses from consultees to be received and considered and for reports to Licensing Sub-Committees to be prepared.
- The majority also agreed with the proposed 3 month time limit for deciding on an application for a licence renewal or a licence transfer. Again, some respondents commented that these timescales appear reasonable, particularly since the majority of renewals should involve little or no change to the information provided at application. However, it was noted that the situation may be complex if there are to be new owners. A private sector organisation or trade body respondent also stated that all commercial purchases of caravan parks are subject to the transfer of the site licence and noted that time will be of the essence. They favoured a one month time limit for licence transfers.
- The majority of respondents agreed that when a local authority is required to give reasons for its decision it should do so on the same day it communicates its decision. Those who had agreed tended to point to this approach being reasonable, transparent and/or courteous. Comments made by those who had disagreed included that a small amount of further time could be required.
- The 2014 Act gives a local authority which has issued a site licence the power to apply to a sheriff to appoint an interim manager for a site. It gives Scottish Ministers the power to set out in regulations matters around the appointment, powers, and duties of an interim manager and the draft regulations specify the powers which a sheriff may give to an interim manager.
- The consultation asked respondents whether they agreed with each of 15 matters relating to an interim manager set out in the draft regulations. These matters included giving the interim manager the power to take possession of the site, carry out works, appoint or dismiss agents or staff and make and receive payments. At each of the matters, the majority of respondents who answered the question agreed that the matter should be set out in the regulations covering interim managers There was one matter with which all respondents who answered the question agreed - that a sheriff can make provisions related to an interim manager's appointment and termination of appointment. The matter at which the highest number of respondents disagreed concerned giving the interim manager the power to carry out works in connection with the management of the site.
- Many of the further comments were general to all the matters concerned and included that the various provisions offer a necessary and/or reasonable approach to allow the site to be managed in the interest of that site, its residents and its neighbours. It was also suggested that in order to carry out their duties effectively, an interim manager needs to have full control of the site.
- In terms of any additional powers an interim manager should have, the most frequently-made suggestion came from four individual respondents and was that interim managers should be given powers to prevent the site owner from entering the site. Those seeking this provision pointed to a need to protect residents from being bullied or intimidated by site owners who have had their licence revoked. The other main suggestion concerned powers to allow the interim manager to apply to transfer a licence.
Effect of an appeal
- Under the 2014 Act an applicant can appeal against the decisions a local authority makes under the licensing system, including a decision not to issue a licence, not to renew a licence, and to revoke a licence. The appeals are made to the sheriff court. The 2014 Act gives Scottish Ministers the power to set out what happens until an appeal is decided or withdrawn. The proposed approach would result in the current situation continuing until an appeal is decided or withdrawn. For a site licence renewal an applicant would keep their licence until the appeal is decided or withdrawn and for a site licence transfer the current licence holder would keep their licence until the appeal is decided or withdrawn. If a local authority revokes a licence and the licence holder appeals, the licence would remain revoked unless the appeal is successful.
- The majority of respondents agreed with the proposed effect of an appeal on first site licence application, licence renewal, transfer of a licence and revocation of a site licence. On revocation of a site licence, comments included that this approach makes provision for the site to continue running and would allow residents to continue to occupy their properties.
- The final consultation question concerned possible changes to the maximum permitted caravan dimensions. The Caravan Sites Act 1968 sets out the maximum permitted size of a caravan in Scotland. The Scottish Government considers that, given the changes in the use of mobile homes over the past decades including people now living in them as permanent homes, the maximum permitted size of a caravan should be larger. The proposed change would increase the maximum permitted size of a caravan by around 10% and would bring the maximum caravan dimensions in Scotland in line with those that apply in England and in Wales. The majority of respondents supported the proposed increase.
- Those supporting the proposal pointed most frequently to the advantages of harmonising the approach in Scotland with that in England and Wales. The specific benefits identified were making a greater range of park homes available to purchasers, allowing manufacturers to standardise their product range, and recognising that people have increasing expectations around quality and space standards. The potential benefits of an increase in the dimension of mobile homes allowing for improved insulation was also raised. However, it was also noted that it will be important to ensure that pitch size regulations and requirements around the space between mobile homes are still respected.