In last month’s blog we looked at some of the planning challenges arising from the increasing demand for short term let holiday accommodation, but there are of course other ways to enjoy your holiday in the UK this summer, including camping and motorhoming.

However, like short term lets, the rise in popularity of these holiday options has raised concerns about the impacts they have on the most popular destinations. Those concerns relate primarily to, for example, overcrowding, increased traffic, littering, water pollution and campfire damage, with the view often being expressed that such impacts could prejudice the very reason that people visit these areas in the first place. So, what can planning do to help address these issues?

In Scotland, the codification of the historic common law right to roam through the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 includes a right to be and remain on land for recreational purposes, which includes wild camping, subject to some exceptions and the requirement for campers to abide by the Outdoor Access Code. This right does not however exist elsewhere in the UK so, in response to the current increase in demand, there has instead been a rise in the number of pop-up campsites. This has been facilitated in England at least by the extension of permitted development rights for such temporary developments from 28 to 56 days as part of the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, with these being cited as not just meeting the demand for camping facilities but, importantly, also as providing a lifeline for small businesses, such as farms and stately homes on whose land they have been sited. There are though calls for the permitted development right period to be extended further to make it viable for such businesses to provide toilets and other facilities, and to train staff. Also, and significantly for many operators of pop-up campsites, 56 days is the total number of days that a campsite can be in place over the course of the year, so a period of bad weather without campers within that time can have a substantial impact on the viability of the business.

Meanwhile in Scotland, the right to wild camp applies only to non-motorised camping and, although it is already possible to use existing permitted development rights to provide small scale caravan and motorhome sites in specific circumstances, there are some great examples of organisations finding new ways to enable the use land to address some of the pressures generated by the rise in motorhome ownership.

Forest and Land Scotland’s Stay the Night initiative, for example, allows motorhomes that are self-contained and have their own toilet facilities to stay overnight (for one night only) in some of their car parks until the end of October this year.

Perhaps most notable though is the initiative taken by The Highland Council to enable the temporary creation of Àirighs (the Gaelic equivalent of Aires, which are motorhome stopovers) at appropriate locations, and importantly to do so without the need for planning permission where it is considered safe and reasonable to do so. Such stopovers are not intended to be destinations in themselves, but rather are for overnight stops only, providing facilities for water collection and waste disposal for motorhomers who are able to otherwise be self-sufficient.

Aires are common, and popular, elsewhere in Europe, but it is understood that The Highland Council is the first local authority in Scotland to combine the Government’s temporary relaxation of planning controls (in respect of which the Chief Planner’s letter of March this year specifically highlighted the potential use of appropriate locations over overnight stops in motorhomes without formal planning permission) with a relaxation in licensing regulations to facilitate the development of its Àirighs. In this case, there is no specific restriction on the time period that motorhome stopovers may operate, although the relaxation of planning controls is currently in place only until 31 December, with the potential for these to be reviewed even before then.  Indeed, the Scottish Government noted earlier this month that the move to Level 0, which is now to take place on 19 July, may impact on the functioning of the planning system. That could then threaten the future of Àirighs even before they have been allowed to take off.

It does then seem that planning – or rather, in this case, the lack of planning – could have a significant impact on your holiday plans this year if you’re looking to stay in the UK and your short-term let turns out not to have consent! But it remains to be seen if these temporary initiatives are able to alleviate concerns about the potential environmental impacts of the new demand for camping and motorhoming, and how the planning system can continue to support businesses, communities and landowners to do that in the longer term.

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Thanks for reading!

Pippa and Maggie

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