By Brian Wheeler
BBC News politics reporter
Park homes provide settled communities, owners say
For most people in the UK, mobile homes conjure up visions of family holidays by the sea.
But for a growing number of young people locked out of the property market by soaring prices holiday homes are becoming permanent places to live.
And there are signs the government could be considering them as a possible solution to housing shortages, particularly in rural areas, despite warnings from homeless charities that they are no substitute for bricks and mortar.
Park homes, which can include everything from a static caravan to something resembling a bungalow, can cost as little as £20,000 to buy although a chalet in a desirable part of the country such as the Lake District can cost as much as £250,000.
This opens up the possibility of a cheap starter home for considerably less than the £60,000 target set by deputy prime minister John Prescott.
But, at the moment, park homes are not included in the government's definition of "affordable housing" and were not mentioned in its five-year housing plan.
A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) said: "We are not looking at this specifically as an alternative to getting people on to the property ladder."
But he said that could change if the number of sites increases and they "start to become a major factor".
The park home industry is currently lobbying the government to change its planning guidance to allow more sites.
It believes park homes are a viable form of low cost housing - for key workers on urban "brownfield" sites as well as in rural locations - and there are signs it is winning the argument.
Speaking at the British Holiday and Home Park Association (BH&HPA) 2005 annual conference, housing minister Yvette Cooper said park homes "do need to be recognised as having an important role in housing provision".
She told delegates: "Park homes are an opportunity to promote diversity in housing choice, to help enhance the environment.
"If the market demands it they should be able to grow, meeting high standards."
Her predecessor, Keith Hill, described park homes in January this year as a "great source of affordable housing".
Mr Prescott has also given his approval, agreeing in a November 2002 commons debate with Labour MP Hilton Dawson, who said park homes could be a "major contribution" to the affordable housing stock if the sector was properly regulated.
The UK's park home manufacturers are booming, with sales increasing by more than 20% a year. Some 2,800 new homes were manufactured in 2003, according to figures from the National Caravan Council.
But these were largely replacements for older models. In order to significantly increase the number of residents the industry needs a more favourable planning environment.
It may also have to overcome something of an image problem.
In the United States, trailer park homes are sold as a step towards conventional home ownership, with 8.8 million people thought to live in them.
But they are often beset by social problems and the stigma of residents being labelled "trailer trash".
According to a recent report by social scientists Sonya Salamon and Katherine McTavish many US trailer park dwellers end up "quasi homeless", at the mercy of unscrupulous park owners, poor safety standards and exorbitant fees.
The situation is very different in the UK, where about 250,000 people live in park homes on about 1,700 sites.
At the moment they are mostly retired people, with many sites barring entry to anyone under 55.
The government has recently brought in legislation to clamp down on unscrupulous park operators who force occupants out of their homes to claim the land - and to give local authorities a duty to monitor and enforce site standards.
It is currently holding roadshows around the country to explain the changes to park operators, residents and local authorities.
The government is under pressure to provide cheap homes
Residents were last year given the same rights as people living in flats or houses.
Joan Clark, director general of the BH&HPA, says the standard of homes on British sites are a "million miles away" from US trailer parks.
"It is not the same product. It is also nothing like gypsy or traveller sites, not that there is anything wrong with those."
She adds: "It is a very nice form of housing. It builds a very settled form of community."
She believes they are viable form of affordable housing for young people as well as elderly or retired people.
The ODPM would appear to agree, praising them in a January 2005 press release as "high quality" homes.
It said: "The cost of a park home is substantially less than the cost of equivalent bricks and mortar. The ability to buy is thus within the scope of a wide range of potential occupiers. Park homes are easy and inexpensive to maintain and the surrounding gardens are small and also easily looked after.
"Park Homes offer high quality compact homes, in secure park environments, with the opportunity to buy at relatively modest prices. They are suitable for a wide range of occupiers, from young couples to elderly single people and should be included within the definition of affordable housing."
But homeless charity Shelter warned ministers against turning to park homes as a cheap alternative to bricks and mortar.
Ben Jackson, the charity's director of campaigns and communications, said: "The government is right to acknowledge that homelessness is an increasingly acute problem in rural areas, yet they shouldn't be lured into a quick fix.
"Low cost park homes may be cheap to build and freely available on the open market, but they are not a solution to the shortage of long-term affordable housing.
"Much more investment in social housing is needed to ensure that people have access to the settled housing that they need."
Providing more affordable homes was a key manifesto pledge for Labour and Mr Prescott recently promised to get 100,000 households on to the property ladder by 2010.
Whether the government believes park homes can seriously add to the supply of low cost housing will probably not be known until March next year, when its Affordable Rural Housing Commission produces its first report.
The Commission, which starts work next week under the chairmanship of former Channel 4 political editor Elinor Goodman, is expected to include park homes within its remit.
But according to Joan Clark many young people are already voting with their feet, with waiting lists at some sites starting to lengthen.
Here are some of your comments:
Here are some of your comments:
Living in a county that has a large proportion of Park homes for holiday makers, I see no reason why this solution can't be used as a way of helping people onto the property ladder. My concern with the Governments plans is that in rural areas no thought appears to be given as to how the infrastructure of towns needs to be improved to cope with any increase in population. Councils seem happy to approve developments but make no provision for the extra doctors, dentists, schools, car parks etc. needed to ensure the existing community does not become over burdened. It would be better if the vast majority of low cost housing schemes were around bigger cities, where the economic impact of trying to find a property is more acutely felt.
Ok, maybe a silly suggestion but maybe a large plot can be supplied for these mobile homes. Large enough for the families to build a permanent house at their leisure. They could then sell off the mobile home to another couple, who could get their own plot and the process starts again.
Ian Hewat, Inverness, Scotland
Great! I'm nearly 60 and I'd love one.
Just like the old prefab, there are still some about now.
Jean Brennan, bucks England
How about simply taking steps to take the profiteering out of the housing market such as taxing the buy-to-let brigade heavily, and allowing house prices to settle to the reasonable values they were 6 or so years ago? But no that would mean that too many rich politicians would lose money so they want us all to live in camper vans instead. Great! Welcome to the UK!
And at the same time, the government is demolishing thousands of well built, characterful and desirable (once rennovated) terraced houses all over the North of the UK.... nice to see joined up thinking again !
Homeless charities comments on bricks and mortar is not totally true. I live in a wood constructed home in winter that can drop to -40c.and summers to 32c. Living is great, so England, wake up and use wood. Canada has more tree than you can shake a stick at!!
Richard Boyes, Prince George, Canada
What's wrong with living in a trailer except they don't stand up too well to hurricanes and people who live in them get labelled as trailer trash? Seriously, everyone was so happy when the conservatives sold off the council houses - there was a reason they existed and that reason has come back with a vengeance - the government needs to build new council houses!
Andrew Davis, Miami, USA (ex UK)