Sussex farmer Carola Godman Law has won the backing of the local constabulary in a dispute with her district council over the siting of mobile homes on her land.
Mrs Godman Law farms 142ha (350 acres) of beef and arable at Ote Hall Farm at Wivelsfield Green and another 324ha (800 acres) of arable, sheep and apple orchards at Court Lodge Farm in Ewhurst.
“The dispute relates to our Ewhurst farm, where we have two mobile homes for seasonal workers,” she explained. “We have overseas staff in four times a year – for lambing, shearing, apple picking and pruning.”
The trouble has arisen because, when the mobile homes are empty, Rother District Council has insisted that she moves them away. Mrs Godman Law says she has nowhere to move them to and, even if she did, the cost of doing so four times a year would be excessive. “They’re not caravans,” she said.
But her main concern is that, when her mobile homes are empty, the incidence of crime on her otherwise unoccupied holding escalates. “We’ve had numerous break-ins. Fertiliser has been stolen, padlocks have been broken, tyres have been slashed and last week the roller blinds on our grain store were cut.”
Diesel tanks have also been targeted, as has a licensed storage facility she has on the farm. If the mobile homes were removed altogether, she reckons it would be a free-for-all, with local gangs and gypsies helping themselves.
“I have written to the chief constable about this because, every time we have an incident, we have to get the police involved,” she told Farmers Weekly. “That uses up valuable police time and represents a cost to both them and me. I have now had a letter back from the chief constable and he comes heavily down on my side.”
Mrs Godman Law says she hopes this will encourage the council to take a more reasonable approach. “Rural crime is getting worse and worse, and it’s always the most isolated farms and houses that are targeted.”
But a spokesman for Rother District Council planning department said that the legislation relating to mobile homes did not take any account of these issues.
“Permission for temporary caravans for farmworkers is granted under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995. One of the requirements of this is that, when the need for the seasonal worker no longer exists, the caravan shall be removed.
“The problem from any local authority’s point of view is that, if the use of the caravans continues for a sufficiently long period of time, they will become lawful. This could have serious implications on the character of the countryside – particularly the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”