Britain's 1.8m caravanners may sometimes raise the blood pressure of following drivers, but they are reckoned to contribute at least £250m a year to the rural economy. Providing sites for these happy wanderers can also refresh the bank balances of cash-strapped farmers and landowners.
But would-be site operators need to be aware that caravanning is changing, and they will have to deal with a lot of legislation and quite a bit of expense. Providing a water standpipe and a couple of portable toilets may still be good enough to persuade a few campers and the odd budget caravanner to pull in, but the vast majority of caravan owners want rather more.
What do they want then?
Basic facilities in a muddy field won't satisfy holidaymakers who have spent a small fortune purchasing and equipping a modern luxury caravan. They want good access roads, well-planned sites, clean lavatories and showers. They don't want pitches where there is a risk of their caravan sinking in axle-deep, but they do want hook-ups to water, electricity and ideally TV.
In fact more and more caravanners now look for landscaped sites that have a shop, laundry and even a licensed bar. They also expect efficient site maintenance, a well-run booking service and, increasingly, the ability to book over the internet.
It helps enormously if a site is approved by organisations like the Caravan Club, which has 200 club sites and 2500 certificated locations. The latter don't need planning consent but have to be certified by the CC or similar organisation and are limited to five caravans at a time.
Opening a touring caravan site involves considerable financial investment before the first pitch fee is collected. It is certainly not an option for a failing agricultural business.
What is there in the way of rules and regs?
First-off, you'll need to get planning approval and a Caravan Sites Act licence to open a site with spaces for more than five caravans. This will involve submitting detailed plans, and local authorities can impose specific conditions of use even when planning consent is obtained.
OPENING A TOURING CARAVAN SITE
- Think about what will attract visitors to the area.
- Consider the reaction of neighbours.
- Ask yourself if you can cope with demanding visitors.
- In most cases a licence will be required.
- Local authority planners will offer general guidance.
- A specialist consultant can help with the drafting of a planning application, at a price.
- Local authorities will consider the whole impact on the area, including traffic, noise and dust pollution.
- Safe access is very essential.
- Electrical hookups must be installed by a suitably qualified contractor.
- Private water supplies must be tested annually.
- Sewerage and waste water disposal must meet Environment Agency regulations.
- Users are demanding more sophisticated facilities - metalled
Broadly, the plans should show that there would be fewer than 75 caravans/ha (30/acre). Where camping is also required, the maximum number of units on the site at any one time should be reduced by the number of tents.
Each unit should be not less than 6m (20ft) from its neighbour if occupied by separate families, and not less than 3m (10ft) from any other unit under any circumstances.
Vehicles and ancillary equipment can be located within the 6m space as long as there is always a 3m gap to restrict the spread of fire.
Each pitch should be no more than 90m (300ft) from a drinking water tap, and each tap must have a soak-away or gully. The number of toilets that have to be supplied depends on the number of pitches and there must be a properly designed disposal point for caravanners' own chemical closets.
Four wash basins must be supplied for every 30 units, two each for men and women, and these should be next to the toilets. Showers are not obligatory on sites with fewer than 70 pitches. Bear in mind the needs of the disabled when you think about water points, toilets, washing points and showers.
Your site must meet the regulations regarding refuse collection, electricity installation safety and the storage of LPG bottles. There are also rules about fire precautions, the provision of alarm systems and how many fire extinguishers you will need. And there must be notices warning of overhead electric lines and any potential risk of flooding.
Signs have to be displayed indicating action to be taken in the event of an emergency together with details of the location of the nearest public telephone and contact numbers.
Any other regs I should know about?
Yes. You'll need a sign indicating the site's name displayed at the entrance. Also, the licensing authority can limit the number of pitches to maintain the look of the site or people's privacy, or it can insist on only seasonal occupation.
If you're in a national park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, your application will face very tough vetting. If you've offered camping in the past based on your permitted development rights or if you have an established use certificate, that doesn't automatically entitle you to a caravan site licence.
There is a raft of licensing exemptions for small sites. Up to three caravans can occupy a site for a maximum of 28 days a year without a licence. Sites with fewer than five pitches can be certificated by approved organisations like the Caravan Club and Camping and Caravan Club and can also hold larger rallies or meetings lasting for up to five days. But some councils have successfully applied to take away these rights.
Unlicensed sites are also exempt if they are used seasonally by agricultural, forestry or building workers temporarily employed on adjoining land.