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Guest blog from CAMpRA on their Campaign for Real Aires in the UK

19th January 2021

This month we have a guest blog from CAMpRA.  CAMpRA represents some of the 386,325 motorhome owners in the UK.

Last year saw a huge increase in the number of people taking holidays in the UK.  It was the year of the Staycation.  Sales of tents, caravans and motorhomes went through the roof as people who were unable to take their usual foreign holidays made the best of it here in the UK.

Whilst this was undoubtedly good for some businesses, it did bring with it some not inconsiderable problems.  Hotels and campsites were fully booked for months in advance (and indeed, many are already booked up for 2021 too); beauty spots and car parks were over-run, there were a considerable number of news articles highlighting the problems of litter and waste.  The phrase “dirty camping” was coined.

The immediate reaction of many councils was to blame motorhomes and put up height barriers on many car parks, along with notices prohibiting sleeping in vehicles and banning motorhomes altogether.  Yet in many areas, the problems of litter and human waste persisted.  Not surprising really, since motorhomes – with their onboard toilets and water tanks – were unlikely to be the culprits in any case, and who were appalled that blame for such behaviour was laid at their door.

There is a stark warning here.  With no end in sight to the pandemic, it is likely that similar problems will occur in 2021.

Yet the UK, on the whole, has done nothing to accommodate motorhome tourism.  Scotland, on the other hand, concerned about the influx of motorhome tourism last year, has seen a huge growth in the number of motorhome parking places and facilities - known as Aires.  These are dedicated places where motorhomes can stay overnight; some have facilities for emptying waste (including toilet waste) and replenishing fresh water.  However, most are simply car parks in town or village centres where motor-homers can stay over-night whilst they take advantage of what the locality offers.

The reason Europe is so popular with motorhomes is that almost every town and village has an Aire (known as Stellplatz in Germany, and Sostas in Italy).  Many towns and villages in France have more than one Aire, and in total there are nearly 6000 such motorhome stopovers in France alone.

The boost to the economies of these places is immense.  British motor-homers alone spend in the region of £800m each year whilst on their travels. 

Unfortunately, the universal cry is that we should use campsites.  However, campsites are unsuitable, in the main, for motorhomes because:

  • motorhomes tour, moving on every day or so; campsites often have minimum stay requirements, often 4-5 days;
  • motor-homers want to be close to town and village centres where they can take advantage of local shops, cafes, pubs etc
  • campsites have toilet/shower blocks, entertainment, playgrounds etc; motorhomes don’t need these because they carry their own facilities with them.

CAMpRA (the Campaign for Real Aires in the UK) was founded by a motor-homer in July last year and in just six months, has grown to over 15,000 members.

We are working with local authorities and land owners to increase awareness of the needs of motor-homers and the benefits they can bring.  We have been instrumental in persuading the National Trust to allow overnight parking at some of their properties, and United Utilities and Northumbrian Water also now allow overnight parking at some of their reservoirs.  We are working with a French company, Camping Car Parks, who are hoping to break into the UK market, to identify suitable locations.

In addition, we have engaged the attention of many MPs, some of whom are actively helping us in our quest to amend the outdated Caravan Sites & Control of Development Act 1960, which many councils and land owners - erroneously - cite as their reason not to set up Aires.  (I say erroneously because the original Act was intended for static caravans and mobile homes, not motorcaravans, yet in the absence of any other legislation it is used to prevent the setting up of Aires.)

It is not costly to set up an Aire; for the main part, it is easy enough for councils to designate specific spaces for motorhome parking, and to change their Traffic Regulation Orders to permit overnight sleeping in vehicles.  Skipton, Ingleton, Settle and Helmsley have already done this, and motorhomes are permitted to park overnight (with sleeping) for around £6 per night.  If there is a toilet block, it is not difficult to add a fresh water tap and an access to the sewer for black (toilet) and grey (washing up) water etc. 

CAMpRA have produced a Strategy Document to help councils and landowners to realise the potential of the motorhome tourism sector.  You can find out more here.


Carolyn Mitchell


Guest blog from CAMpRA on their Campaign for Real Aires in the UK