Holiday park to be prosecuted over tenants staying on site all year round

Alan Forward, owner of Stonham Barns, has said holiday home owners were told they could not live on

Alan Forward, owner of Stonham Barns, has said holiday home owners were told they could not live on site all year Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Almost 200 holiday park tenants have been left without a permanent home after being told they can no longer stay at the Suffolk site all year round.

The holiday homes are part of a wider complex which includes attractions such as crazy golf Picture:

The holiday homes are part of a wider complex which includes attractions such as crazy golf Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Customers who bought static homes at Stonham Barns said they felt let down, as they believed they could live there permanently.

Some residents had lived on site for more three years but the park only has a licence to open 11 months out of 12. They were later told by management to leave the site during January - and ground rent was to increase by 11%.

Most of the site’s 200 residents have been affected, including many older people, single parents and some with serious illnesses.

Mid Suffolk District Council has confirmed it will prosecute Stonham Barns for breaching conditions after it found people living on site in January. Trading Standards also said it had been made aware of concerns but it was for MSDC to deal with.

Stonham Barns’ owner Alan Forward insisted the tenants had been told they could not live on site all year. He said some had made the site their main residence, despite knowing it was against the rules, and he was working with them and MSDC to resolve the breaches.

But Charlotte Meara, a mum-of-two, said she had been allowed to live on the site permanently from 2015 until a message appeared in the post room in November, saying everyone had to leave for January.

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The recruitment consultant, 29, said she struggled to find a place to stay and spent around £1,000 on hotels in January, before returning to the park. “I couldn’t just go off for a month’s holiday,” she said. “I needed to be here for work and I’ve got two young children. My eldest needs to be here for school. The stress was awful, my health suffered – it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever been through.”

She said she would never have bought the caravan if she had known the full facts.

Stonham Barns is also home to a popular shopping village Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Stonham Barns is also home to a popular shopping village Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

The holiday park is owned by Starglade Leisure, which also runs The Grange Country Park in East Bergholt. It includes static homes, touring caravans and lodges – costing up to £180,000.

Joanne Chipperfield said she would be lucky to receive half of what she paid for her static home in 2017 because of the difference in value between holiday and residential sites. She claimed staff had assured her she could live there all year.

“I said, surely this is a holiday park,” she said. “But I was told ‘don’t worry, speak to anyone and they’ll tell you they’ve been here for years without any problems’. I went along with it and felt like I’d been misled along with everyone else.”

Ms Chipperfield said she had been “horrified” to learn residents had to leave. “We didn’t know where to go, what to do or how to move forward,” she said. “Many are vulnerable; there are elderly people, some are terminally ill. I know couples who sold their old homes to help their kids and now fear they’ll lose everything.”

She said nearly 200 people lived on site all year round.

Keith Raymond, 62, said he bought his home as a retirement property after he stopped working through ill health.

Although Mr Raymond managed to get a refund from Stonham Barns he said others had not been so lucky. He said: “Those I’ve spoken to have no idea what the future holds – where are all of these people going to go?”

A former Stonham Barns staff member said that while buyers were told the caravans were holiday homes, to their recollection, they had never asked anyone to leave the site.

Mr Forward took over Stonham Barns in 2011 Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Mr Forward took over Stonham Barns in 2011 Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

A community leader, who asked not to be named, said the problems went unnoticed until late last year when “the dam burst”. “It became apparent a lot of people were living on the site unlawfully, there were adult social care issues, and there were people on the site who were very unwell,” he added. “At that point MSDC became aware and quickly kicked in with what I would call emergency measures involving teams from housing, benefits, Trading Standards and Citizens’ Advice.”

He said the problems surfaced after MSDC dealt with a “hybrid planning application” into issues, including licensing arrangements, a new play area, and using parts of the site for caravans.

MSDC granted the application in October – with conditions including that the site be vacated in January; and caravans not used as sole residences.

Although these conditions had already been in force, their inclusion in the application saw MSDC undertake enforcement, which is when it found people living there permanently.

A more recent application seeking permission for 28 static caravans to be occupied all year was refused on February 4.

Suzie Morley, who represents the area at MSDC, said that although the site had been granted planning permission in 2017, it only allowed for the holiday home owners to use the site for up to 11 months of the year, excluding January.

“The Stonham Barns site is a holiday park and is not a site for permanent residence all year round,” she added.

Ms Morley said the prosecution proceedings were being taken against the Stonham Barns business and not the people living on the site.

Advice for buyers

The National Association of Caravan Owners (NACO) said mis-selling had become a “big issue” in the industry.

NACO’s Dan Ellacott said: “We are dealing with inquiries across the UK. The difficulty is knowing just how major the problem is because it tends to happen under the radar and people are very good at working the system.”

NACO, based near Clacton, advises buyers to do research before handing over money and ensure they receive all the necessary contracts.

While static homes in genuine residential parks will often cost much more than holiday park equivalents, Mr Ellacott said they also offered added protections through regulations, including the Mobile Homes Act. But without documentation, Mr Ellacott said it can be difficult and expensive to take legal action. “Our advice is do your homework, ask questions and don’t handover money until you’ve seen a contract,” he added.

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