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.