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Editorial - Not Welcome?

Why on earth are British towns so anti-motorhome?  In the past few months we’ve been as far a field as Cornwall and Scotland and found pockets of anti-motorhome behaviour in both.  It has to be said that the worst culprits seem to be local authorities of one kind or another but one wonders why the local business community let them get away with it.

Do they not know or perhaps care about our combined spending power?  About our out of season travelling?  About our high average age with all the associated aspects of ‘good’ behaviour?  Or is it all some anti-“gipsy” obsession with us all tarred with the same brush?  Perhaps they think we all live in squalor in our 40,000 second homes on wheels and will seek to despoil their patch of England with our mess?  I really don’t know because I simply don’t understand it at all. 

Perhaps I’m exaggerating, suffering from some minor paranoia myself?  I don’t think so but…

Let me quote you a few small examples.  We went to Cornwall last autumn, well past school holidays in shoulder season.  Almost wherever we went we were subject to some astonishing parking restrictions.  One very widespread restriction found from Street in Somerset nearly to Land’s End was a “max 1525 Kg” weight limit.  Why?  And why 1525 Kg?  And is that fully laden or actual or kerb weight?  My Saab motorcar is heavier than 1525 Kg laden so presumably this is kerb weight and therefore excludes most vans, mini-buses, pick-ups and possibly quite a few 4x4s - though I wouldn’t mind betting that the 4x4s aren’t asked to leave! 

Worse still in Kirkudbrightshire we found a car-park administered by Stewartry district Council where a  “Management Rules for Parks” board proclaims under rule 3. subsection (10) “The following acts are prohibited...” “Camping or parking a caravan or motorcaravan”.  Well I suppose that’s even-handed in as far as no caravans are allowed to park either - but no parking at all, in a car park, why not for heavens sake?  And what are we supposed to do - park at the Gretna services and walk to Kirkcudbright?  And why should motorcaravanners in particular be deprived of this particular comfort and lovely view of the Solway when other road users aren’t?  There weren’t any restrictions for vans or other commercial vehicles so presumably a JCB would be OK but not my motorcaravan!  Just out of interest this prohibition is included in the section about discharging firearms, gambling, betting and drinking alcohol, so you can see that parking a motorcaravan is regarded as a truly anti-social act in the District of Stewartry.  Needless to say we travelled on elsewhere for our walk and to purchase our provisions, diesel, wine, whisky, venison and smoked salmon!

Even where we are allowed to park there can be extra restrictions or penalties. I’ve grown accustomed to unnecessary “no overnight parking” notices and to paying for two parking spaces - and I can see the sense in this for big vehicles even though it’s sometimes over-zealously applied to an overhang of just a few inches!  It’s another thing altogether at Boscastle where you are obliged to pay as a coach at 8 day.  There could of course be some logic to this if the car spaces were small and the coach spaces were the place to park - but no, we were told to park as a car and pay as a coach!

So am I anti-Cornish and anti-Scottish?  No not at all - let me tell you that I was born in Cornwall and also have some Scottish ancestors so feel some affiliation to both places, I just see them as so different to my nearest Midlands town where I can park close to the centre for two hours for 40p without hassle.  And yes we do have tourism, not as concentrated as in Cornwall of course, not that I think that’s a good excuse!

Add to this the numerous occasions when height barriers are applied indiscriminately and you can see why I might be pushed towards paranoia.  And what about other taller and heavier vehicles like mini-buses and ‘sunshine coaches’ containing school parties, the disadvantaged, the disabled and numerous other groups?  In a more affluent world many now use larger vehicles including motorhomes to cope with their difficulties and disabilities and a not insignificant number of wheelchair users have high van conversions to accommodate them.  And many motorcaravanners are of course a little older than the average so isn’t all this highly discriminatory without any just reason?

I said earlier that the worst culprits seem to be local authorities and this is borne out by the contrasting reception we receive at commercial enterprises.  The Eden project (marvellous) provides for visitors in all types of motor vehicle, even offering larger bays in the ‘banana’ car park for oversize vehicles.  Along the coast from Kircudbright the Galloway Smoke House welcomes visitors with open arms and provides the necessary car parking and pays for the road signage too.  Supermarkets like Safeway and Tesco rarely have height and/or weight restrictions and some that did have removed them after talking to motorcaravanners.  Welcome though these facilities are, they don’t provide the base for a walk along the Solway or around Boscastle bay as the ‘official’ car parks do.  Nor indeed for a wander round the town or restaurants or gift shops.  I wonder if these rule makers are the same councillors bemoaning the relative success of out of town developments at their own town’s expense - well I wonder why, don’t you?!!

OK so they’ll say I’m being unreasonable and that there are good reasons for branding us as undesirables.  So what evidence is there to the contrary?  The first point is that not all towns behave in the same way, I’ve already quoted my local town and could give you examples of many others but I have to acknowledge that most of them are not coastal tourist towns - is this it then, is this what these regulators hate most, the very basis of their prosperity - the tourist?  Or is it just we ’vanners – the ones who don’t directly support the hotel and guest house trade?    

So, what about elsewhere, is this a peculiarly British point of view?  The answer seems to be yes.  In Eire we are welcomed almost unreservedly while in our favoured locations of France, Holland and Germany we are not only made very welcome but our needs are specially catered for.  Thousands of towns and villages go beyond normal parking provision and offer free over-nighting complete with fresh water supplies and waste disposal facilities.  These facilities are usually quite small, for just a handful of vehicles, very central and restricted to a one or two night stay, there is usually an extremely modest coin in the slot fee for water etc. and they are very often located in a convenient and pleasant spot. (see www.sanistations.com).  These ‘aires’ are in addition to all the private and municipal camp sites, a few are privately owned but many are municipal.  So just why do these towns and villages do this for us?  The answer is simple - they do it because it pays, it pays to look after your visitors so they spend money in your town and so that they return to do so time and time again.  Motorcaravanners comfortably and conveniently parked up and serviced will not only re-stock with fuel & provisions, produce, souvenirs and gifts but if they haven’t got to drive anywhere that night they will also go out for a meal and drink and perhaps a bottle of wine or even two.  This is good for everybody, certainly for us, but it’s also good for trade, for reputation, for repeat business and very often for extra trade out of high season too.  But not here in Britain apparently!  And what our visiting European cousins think of our ‘official’ attitude, heaven knows!

I believe it’s now time for a change - we need to stand up and be counted, to complain where necessary, to withhold our spending where appropriate and to campaign vigorously for a change of attitude!  Well, there you are I’ve had my say, now please do email me to let me know what you think. 

Oh, and by the way, I think I’ll send a copy of this to the relevant tourist boards and chambers of commerce too, I’ll let you know if we get any response!



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