Nightstop Thoughts – by Ian Biggar and Sue Stanley

Ian & Sue's Blog offers some good reading

Ian & Sue’s Blog offers some good reading

Editor’s Note:  This article was submitted as a comment on a previous article on this subject but it runs to 1,500 words and is very well written, so I thought it deserved a bit more accessiblity than it would have posted as a Comment.  Ian and Sue are experienced motorhomers and they write their own Travel Blog, which you can visit by clicking HERE.  It contains some very good reading.

I see you are pursuing a topic close to our hearts.

Although members of the Caravan Club for many years, we haven’t been following the forums on CC for the very reason that you felt driven to set up another venue for discussion of this topic! So here is our five-pennyworth on the subject…

The establishment of plentiful aires/overnight stopovers for motorhomers around this country is a dream close to our hearts and we have followed the progress of various UK campaigns, but their dedicated efforts seem dwarfed by the enormity of the project to catch up with our continental neighbours.

Most local authority’s departments that have an input to this are ignorant of what motorhomes are and what motorhomers do, and show indifference to the revenue motorhoming can bring to tourism in their area. They seem unable to swiftly remove itinerants on public land, yet are up to their eyes with over-restrictive by-laws, planning rules and regulations, which they hasten to embellish and over-use to restrict even daytime parking for motorhomes, let alone overnight stops!

An important distinction, regularly re-iterated in Europe, is the difference between “parking” and “camping” – as soon as the chairs, table or awning come out you are Camping and the authorities will take a stern view. We as motorhomers need to remember that and act accordingly if we are not to damage our own interests. We mustn’t act like itinerants of the infamous kind, or give the impression we want to park up for months, raise our kids, pester the populace and despoil the area! All we are asking for is the right to park.

So, the various motorhome groups are all doing their bit, but who has influence with the real power brokers in government, tourism and local authorities?

Lets look at the situation in France, Germany and Italy. All are countries with strong and competitive motorhome industries, and all are liberally supplied, with Aires, Stellplatz and Area Attrezzatta respectively, even Spain (now with a motorhome industry) and Portugal are catching up with Area de Servicios along the French model.

Read about this on Ian&Sue's Blog

Read about this on Ian&Sue’s Blog

You can’t tell me that the continental manufacturers didn’t have a significant influence behinds the scenes, in the corridors of power, on the development of the aires/stellplatz network: they knew that there was no point in making motorhomes if their owners had nowhere to stay in them! They would argue that demand stimulates employment, jobs equate to votes and so on – facilities must be provided! How much effort does the UK motorhome industry make in lobbying the key players?

I’m pretty sure that to achieve a comprehensive turnaround in the provision of overnight stops in the UK, four fundamental breakthroughs will be required.

1) An understanding by all government bodies (national and local) of the needs and purposes of motorhomers – not just from the UK, but our friends from the Continent too, many of whom would dearly like to tour the UK but find it just too difficult and expensive… we are all tourists!

2) A willingness by local authorities to provide such an amenity because they appreciate the benefits for the local and regional economy.

3) A provision and relaxation of the appropriate laws to facilitate the setting up of aires, “France Passion” schemes, and “overnight parking” on other public and private land.

4) Finally, an effective mechanism for removing those who outstay their welcome, itinerants, protest groups, etc.

A tall order you might think.

But we have the CC promising to “explore the possibilities” – oh really!! I remember back in 2005 the Chairman was making speeches on the continent condemning the growth of free facilities as not promoting “sustainable tourism”. I quote: “Free, unregulated facilities which encourage wild camping is not free – the people who indulge in it pay with the reputation earned by the responsible caravanner” !! Has there really been a culture change in the CC?

Of course the CC is only interested at looking at developing existing assets, what else could they do; land is too expensive to think of purchasing it for the low revenue that an aire would return as a parking/service area in itself. The fact is that most aires are provided as a service by municipal authorities (for various enlightened reasons), or by campsites to pull in extra business (which is where the CC comes in), or by private concerns that happen to have a bit of spare land and think they can put it to profitable use.

As for giving the CC a leading role: have you experienced the Caravan Club’s idea of a motorhome service area… Put a wheel down the manhole yet? Done your back in trying to lift the cover of said manhole? Trapped your fingers trying to put it back? Sheer idiocy – when a simple road gutter type drain or better still a concrete catchment funnel (as used all over Europe), would do the job a thousand times better! My eyes glaze over, we have tried lobbying with letters and with the wardens but nothing changes; the CC is apparently immoveable on the subject.

Read about this on Ian & Sue's Blog

Read about this on Ian & Sue’s Blog

Rant over, but you get my drift: we have seen what happens all over Europe when some motorhomers are presented with a silly grid or manhole/trapdoor – they get broken, blocked or just ignored.

The essence of a stopover is just a relatively safe place to park for the night before we move on, or after we have visited our chosen town or tourist attraction, or just a “bit of piece and quiet” in the country (a farmers field is perfect, but not at £14 per night, with unwanted electricity and shower blocks included – thank you CC again!). That is because we prefer to spend our money at our destination, on tourist sights, food, fuel, pubs and restaurants – not wash blocks, kiddies play areas, wardens, multiple signs and lifting barriers!

And, importantly, the service areas don’t have to be alongside the parking; sometimes the two are not compatible. We are in Portugal at the moment and there are an infinite number of places where you will not be bothered parking overnight, mainly because of low population density and the lack of petty restrictions, but also the relaxed attitude of the Portuguese people – who really appreciate the value of tourism.

At the same time, Areas de Servicos are springing up all over, on the outskirts of villages, in garages, supermarkets and even fire stations! Put the two together and you have a viable, indeed wonderful motorhoming setup, where the environment is protected and motorhomers are welcome.

Read about this on Ian & Sue's Blog

Read about this on Ian & Sue’s Blog

There are masses of possibilities in the UK, but a sea change is required in attitude in authorities of all kinds. An English “France Passion” is seemingly not possible with current by-laws. The water companies, Forestry Commission and National Trust all have locations eminently suitable for “overnight parking” but all ban it because there isn’t the will, and/or their own rules or other legislation prohibit it.

Some garages, as on the continent, now have cafes or restaurants attached: one with a pressure washing station already has a vital waste water drain facility in place (which we often use), only a couple of extra taps and an accessible sewage drain cover or “outside toilet” are needed. We have stayed on the parking area of such places with a little negotiation: again just some education, lobbying and easing of regulations required.

Likewise, many pubs welcome motorhomers overnight from enlightened self interest, either by individual request or because they have signed up to schemes like the Pub Stopover or the Club Motorhome database.

There is so much potential out there, but as you might have gathered Stuart, I’m sorry to say I think we are barking up the wrong tree with the CC – they will only be interested in what revenue can accrue to the club and anything outside of that narrow scope will fall by the wayside.

The Camping and Caravanning Club at least offer a “Camper Service” linked to a few hours use of campsite facilities – but at our last count it cost as much as an overnight in a cheap CL!

There is no single answer or single body (other than national government) that can bring about swift change; we need education and enlightenment, rule relaxation, and a willingness to innovate and promote the concept of the night stopover in every sphere that motorhomers move – and that covers everything from motorway service areas, to park and rides (such as Canterbury), to public and private parks, to farmers fields!

What is required and would make a difference, is lobbying at the highest level in government and local authorities to promote the concept of overnight stops, encourage some freethinking and ease up petty regulations. That could be partly contributed by the CC if they are willing – but as in the past, they probably only see alternatives as competition. Surely those with the biggest influence (apart from ourselves – individually and collectively) are the motorhome industry Chief Executives?

Ian Biggar & Sue Stanley

2 Responses

  1. Stuart says ........

    You write very powerfully Ian/Sue and it all makes sense to me. I have no illusions about CC’s willingness or capacity to take up this opportunity but at least they are being given the “heads up” and I have been encouraged by the direct contact I established with Natasha McDonald, CC’s Head of Future Products.

    And as it happens they have woken up to the sorry design of their motorhome service points and they are now planning to redesign and improve them – so there is hope.

    If the caravan Club decide to get involved they would have the advantage of being able to bring a bit of weight and experience to the situation and I hope they will. But as one contributor to the discussion on CC’s Club Together pointed out, it will happen sooner or later and if they don’t pick up on it someone else will.

  2. Ian and Sue says ........

    If you were left wondering why it is SO DIFFICULT to get local authorities to consider Motorhome parking, below is the proof that until national government gets involved, little will change. The news clipping is from the Falmouth Packet in Cornwall; the gist of it is that travellers have taken over a public car park for eight years and cannot be shifted because the county council has a “DUTY OF CARE” to the travellers!

    The parish council is scratching around for a loophole in the law to enable them to evict the travellers – who are not exactly travelling; more accurately, they are squatting. Unless the relevant laws are revised so that the traveller’s lawyers cannot bend them to their will, we will be whistling for a long, long time to get dedicated Motorhome parking, let alone overnight provision.

    (Traveller vehicles that have blighted a beauty spot car park for eight years could be moved on within 28 days if a legal loophole is proven.

    St Keverne Parish Council is looking into whether it would be able to evict the travellers from Coverack’s North Corner car park, if it became tenants.

    Cornwall Council, which owns the land, is unable to do so because it has a duty of care to the travellers – but a question mark hangs over whether the same would be true of the parish.

    Councillor Anthony Richards said: “Can we find out the legal situation as to us being tenants and evicting them ourselves?

    “Just because Cornwall Council has a legal obligation to find sites, if we did lease it, it might be a different story.”

    After hearing the parish’s county representative Walter Sanger was looking into this he added: “I would like for us to find out ourselves – is there another avenue we could explore?”

    Clerk Mrs Hatton said she was asking Cornwall Council’s solicitor whether the parish had the same duty of care to the travellers as the unitary authority, but had yet to hear back.

    If it didn’t, the travellers could potentially be evicted within 28 days.

    Members heard that Cornwall Council had money for a dedicated traveller site, but it had to be spent by April 2015.

    The parish council had been asked by a resident living behind the car park to “put pressure” on Cornwall Council to get the money spent, before it was withdrawn next April.

    Clerk Grace Hatton said the unitary authority was meant to have different sites in mind, but it had yet to announce the locations.

    Chairman Roger Combe reminded members that the parish was supposed to have received a report from Cornwall Council last October saying what was being done about identifying replacement sites and moving the travellers.

    Councillor Bill Frisken said: “I think we want to put pressure on them, even if just to say we understand there’s money available until next year.”

    He described the top section of the car park, which is in three levels, as now “absolutely chock-a-block” with mobile homes, claiming: “They’re not mobile homes, they’re not travellers – they don’t travel.”

    Mr Frisken added: “There are so many mobile homes on the top part of the car park the travellers are having to park their vehicles – the ones that actually move – down on the next stage, taking up even more room in the car park.

    “The people in the parish are just getting heartily fed up with it.”

    Councillors agreed to write a letter pushing the county’s legal team for an answer, with Mr Frisken pointing out: If we asked the legal department at Cornwall Council about this then they jolly well ought to answer. That’s what they’re paid for!”

    The travellers have been living on the car park since August 2006.)