Published:

Robert Goodwill is MP for Scarborough and Whitby, and a former Home Office and Education Minister.

Rural communities, small businesses and local economies have, for the last two summers, benefited by tens of millions of pounds by providing extra much-needed camping and glamping accommodation to the public. This is because permitted development rights for the use of land for pop-up campsites have been temporarily doubled from 28 days to 56 days. This concession has facilitated safe and affordable outdoor holidays with a low carbon footprint, resulting in minimal complaints over the 18-month period.

However, this temporary extension of permitted development rights concluded at the end of last year, as the Government stated that it does not plan to extend the 56-day allowance in the future.

On the 7th March, I raised the success of pop-up campsites in my constituency in rural Yorkshire with Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove. He answered by stating that he recognised how permitted development rights can be used to provide people with the opportunity to holiday in places as beautiful as North Yorkshire. But, as of yet, the Government hasn’t made a commitment to extending the current 28-day limit on allowing landowners to place tents and structures (such as portable toilets and shower blocks) which are needed for campsites to operate.

Now is the time for the Government to seize the benefits of the 56-day allowance, recognise inherent issues with the current 28-day allowance, and implement this modest reform that will contribute to the rural-proofing of the Government’s levelling up agenda. Whilst relaxed permitted development rights have been made permanent for bars, cafes, restaurants, outdoor weddings and historic visitor attractions, the 56-day allowance for camping has reverted to the original 28 days. As a result, site owners and rural communities stand to lose out. This is particular galling for a sector which has borne the brunt of the estimated £146bn in UK tourism losses between 2020 and 2021.

This is because the 28-day permitted development allowance isn’t long enough for rural business to recoup the cost of investment needed to set up a temporary site. This means that most of the sites that successfully operated in 2020 and 2021 with the 56-day rule won’t be able to open again.

For example, when the 28-day period begins for a temporary site, it cannot be easily paused in the instance of poor weather, midweek days with lesser demand, and the days on which temporary structures are erected and taken down. The 28-day period is therefore expended quickly due to a range of unavoidable circumstances, reducing the chances for sites to make their money back, and increasing the risk for site owners of the financial outlay on hiring moveable structures like loos and showers. Applying for planning permission for small temporary sites is simply too expensive and time consuming

This is a point that has been recognised in Scotland and Wales. Wales has consulted and proposed a permanent extension to the 56-day allowance, and Scotland has de-facto extended the 56-day rule through an instruction from the Chief Planner not to enforce the 28-day allowance. This leaves England out of step.

This divergence places a number of border site owners like Jonathan McEvoy, owner of Farndon Tent Camping Meadow near the Welsh border, at a competitive disadvantage compared to Welsh site owners. Mr McEvoy explains that with his campsite just a one minute walk to the Welsh border, it was unfair that other sites just minutes away could legally open for twice as long as he could each year: “It is discouraging countryside holidays in England, which seems a strange thing to do given how the pandemic has impacted on the economy”, he told me.

Temporary sites generated an average of £12,500 annually for the landowner, and an average off-site spend per night of £30 during a camping and caravan holiday with a negligible number of complaints across over 130,000 Pitchup.com bookings.

Whilst the relaxation of permitted development rights in rural surroundings should rightly be examined in terms of the impact on rural communities, the reality is that allowing self-regulated, well-run temporary sites can help to take the pressure of ‘honey pot’ locations and help better distribute tourist spend across rural areas.

For example, the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) has said that the extension was “hugely helpful” in reducing pressure on the county’s roads and established car parks, whilst other groups like Forestry England are also supportive on the grounds that the move will prevent unregulated camping rather than encouraging it.

We see a resilient staycation market after two years of the pandemic. As the campsite booking platform Pitchup.com’s data shows, advance bookings for this season have increased by 97% compared to February 2020, reflecting persistent demand for affordable holidays this summer which cannot be met by existing sites.

The Government still has the chance to make this modest but incredibly impactful reform before the summer. Action from DLUHC would preserve the crucial extra cash derived from temporary campsites by farmers – now suffering a squeeze on incomes- as well as off-site beneficiaries such as local pubs and shops.

We have been promised a report this spring which will look at how to level-up rural areas. Allowing more temporary campsites to operate would be one policy that the government could bring forward which would benefit rural areas across England.