Selaine Saxby: If we’re to make the most of holidaying in Britain, Minister must help us gear up to meet demand

28 Jun

Selaine Saxby is MP for North Devon.

As the pandemic continues to disrupt international travel this summer, the Government has an opportunity to turn this negative into a positive, and deliver the long Great British summer we need. Allowing families to take advantage of holiday opportunities in the UK, whilst simultaneously reinvigorating rural economies.

However, a quick look at many holiday accommodation sites will tell you that tourist accommodation space, across the UK this summer, is often expensive, and scarce; an unsurprising reality as, this summer, the UK absorbs a significant proportion of 70 per cent of holiday nights which, in normal times, would have been spent abroad.

A solution that I and parliamentary colleagues support, in order to meet the huge demand for holiday accommodation from this year’s staycation boom, is to support landowners in opening temporary campsites, by changing permitted development regulations to allow sites to open over the whole summer season, rather than just a limit of 56 days as prescribed by the current regulations.

Not only would an extension support UK holidaymakers by offering secure, affordable holidays, but it will also support areas that stand to benefit from increased UK tourism; many of which have been deeply economically impacted by the pandemic. The wide ranging benefits of this extension are clear when looking at the breadth of support for the “Carry on Camping” campaign which is leading the call for the change, supported by the National Farmers Union, Countryside Alliance, Federation of Small Business, Historic Houses and the outdoor holiday booking website, Pitchup.com.

The Government has previously been supportive of an extension to permitted development rights (PDR). Last year, to assist the reopening of the economy the Government introduced a regulation to temporarily extend PDRs for the temporary use of land for temporary events. The allowance was doubled from 28 to 56 days and has since enabled farmers and rural land-based businesses to benefit by opening temporary campsites to meet the huge increase in demand for holidays in the British countryside. All with negligible instances of complaints over the last year.

In my own constituency of North Devon, Stitchpool Camping on Exmoor have been able to soak up much of the demand for coastal holidays by opening their farm to pop-up campers, delivering spacious, Covid-safe holiday accommodation.

But whilst the extension to 56 days has been welcome as a way for rural business to rebuild afer the Covid lockdowns, the limit of 56 days means that campsites can only open for a portion of the camping season which usually lasts between Easter and the October half term, depending on the weather. This is because when the 56 day period begins, it cannot be easily paused during wet weather, midweek days when demand is low or the time taken for temporary structures such as WC and shower blocks to be erected and taken down.

An example of the problems around the inability to pause the 56 day period is one temporary site that operated last summer but had to shut due to a flood just before the August bank holiday, losing 13 days of its 56 day allowance. The closure led to 212 bookings having to be cancelled which could not be rescheduled because the 56 days had been used up. The business faced a revenue loss of £13,614.

By taking a common sense approach, allowing more flexibility for rural business to offer camping when there is demand and giving stacationers more options this year, we can allow

rural business to have an opportunity to rebuild their businesses over the full summer season, whilst delivering affordable tourist accommodation in the stunning British countryside.

Of course, it is not only new and existing sites which can earn on average £12,500 annually that will benefit from the extension, but also the wider economy. In particular, the more rural economies will reap the rewards from increased footfall across village pubs, attractions, and farms. With an average off site spend per night of £46 during a camping and caravan holiday, this is a vital source of income for pubs, shops, and the tourism industry after the very many difficulties that they have faced during the pandemic.

North Devon, like many constituencies around the country are already feeling the impact of a rise in ‘fly’ or ‘wild’ camping which brings with it problems associated with litter, fires and a lack of sanitary facilities. An increase in the number of official campsites with toilets, fresh water and rubbish disposal would reduce the impact of unofficial camping in rural areas.

In order for the Government to seize this excellent opportunity to reinvigorate local economies up and down the country, it needs to act quickly. An extension to the 56-day period needs to be in place within weeks to enable new sites to be in place and ready to capitalise on a most welcome extended season.

Few positives have arisen from this terrible pandemic, but the Government does have a chance to deliver one this summer in the form of rural tourism; by acting quickly to extend permitted development rights, it can deliver a fabulous result for tourists and rural communities alike.

Matthew Elliott: Please apply to invest in Britain’s future and win £10,000

19 Oct

Matthew Elliott was Editor-at-Large of BrexitCentral

Coming from the world of think-tanks and campaign groups, I have a strong interest in the policy ecosystem that surrounds political parties.

Ahead of Tony Blair’s victory in 1997, think-tanks such as Demos and the Institute for Public Policy Research were established. And in the 2000s,a plethora of think-tanks (Centre for Social Justice/Policy Exchange), campaign groups (Business for Sterling/Countryside Alliance) and websites (ConservativeHome/Guido Fawkes) were launched and play an influential role in political discourse.

As well as playing a role in two successful referendum campaigns (NOtoAV and Vote Leave), I helped set up the TaxPayers’ Alliance (2004), Big Brother Watch (2009), Million Jobs (2012), Business for Britain (2013) and BrexitCentral (2016), so policy entrepreneurship is one of my passions. And even though my focus is now more in the private sector, I still enjoy helping and mentoring new policy entrepreneurs who are setting up the next generation of campaign groups and think-tanks.

At the beginning of my career, I was helped by the entrepreneur and philanthropist Stuart Wheeler, who sadly passed away at the end of July. I was 25 when we launched the TaxPayers’Alliance. I didn’t know any potential financial supporters, so I wrote to the signatories of a Business for Sterling advertisement with my ‘Strategy Plan’.

I thought, if they like BfS, there’s a good chance they’ll like the TPA. Stuart was one of the people who very generously sent a contribution which, along with some other donations, gave us the resources to cover my salary for three months, giving me the confidence to leave my position as a researcher to the Conservative MEP (now Lord) Timothy Kirkhope, and go full-time with the TPA.

Seventeen years later, I now find myself in a different position. My most recent project – the news website BrexitCentral – sent out its 1,085th and final daily email bulletin to the tens of thousands of subscribers we had accrued on February 1, the day after the UK formally left the European Union.

Alongside those essential morning emails put together by the indefatigable Jonathan Isaby and his team, we had published more than 2000 articles by over 500 authors, including the current Prime Minister and many of his Cabinet, not to mention Erin O’Toole, the man who was elected leader of the Canadian Conservative Party over the summer.

We are now in the final stages of winding up the company – a task which has been somewhat delayed by babies and Covid-19 – so, along with Georgiana Bristol, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the show on the road, we are left with the issue of what to do with the last remaining funds.

When we were discussing the matter, I thought about the support that Stuart Wheeler and other donors had given me as we launched the TPA, and we decided that it would be very fitting to use those remaining funds to support the young policy and campaigning entrepreneurs of today – people with the ideas that will tackle the policy challenges of the coming years.

We have two cheques for £10,000, and we would like to hear from people under the age of 35 with an exciting idea or contribution to policy debate. It could be:

  • A campaign group or think-tank you have set up, or are hoping to set up;
  • A book proposal that you want to take a sabbatical from your current job to research and draft;
  • A think-tank report you want to take time off from your current position to write;
  • A website or podcast you want to establish, or a short film you wish to make.

That is not an exhaustive list – we are interested in all ideas, the more innovative and entrepreneurial the better. And because Brexit was supported by people from across the political spectrum, we are open to proposals from all policy positions.

To stress, we are not looking for proposals relating to Brexit or Britain’s future relationship with the European Union – we are looking for submissions on any issue, policy or subject that you feel passionate about.

Entries should be emailed to policyentrepreneurs@brexitcentral.com by midnight on Sunday 8th November 2020 and should cover (on no more than two sides of A4) an outline of your plan an dhow you hope to execute it. All submissions will then be sifted and judged by a panel comprising Jonathan and I, plus Kate Andrews, Peter Cruddas, Helena Morrissey, Jon Moynihan and Mark Wallace. And the two winners will be announced by the end of November.

Since I became active in politics, the barriers to entry for policy entrepreneurship have been massively reduced thanks to the Internet. When I interned at the European Foundation whilst at university, it had an office in Pall Mall, it had copies of its European Journal and European Digest professionally printed, which were then posted to subscribers and the opinion formers in Westminster, Whitehall and Fleet Street that it was trying to influence. It sent press releases out by fax, business was conducted on the telephone or by post, and all these costs were before the general overheads and payroll costs that also needed to be covered.

Fast forward twenty years, and the cost of campaigning has fallen significantly. From setting up a website to using social media, broadcasting ideas and opinions to the world is so much cheaper. But there are still financial barriers, so I hope that this small project will help two policy entrepreneurs of the future, just as Stuart Wheeler helped me with the creation of the TaxPayers’ Alliance all those years ago.

I look forward to reading your entries and announcing the recipients later this year.

This article was originally published on ConservativeHome on Monday October 19, and we are re-publishing it during each weekday this week in order to advertise this project.