Making The Case for Aires in the UK.
A few basic considerations.
A regular thread on motorhome forums is “Why can't we have aires in the UK as there are in mainland Europe?”. This normally refers to the Aires de Service in France and the Stellplätze in Germany. The short answer is that the UK is different from France and Germany in regard to motorhomes as in so many other regards. This paper attempts to explore a longer answer.
The title of this paper deliberately includes the words “Making the Case” as simply complaining to local authorities about the lack of aires will not work. It is no good saying something along the lines of “I want an aire, you must do all the work to provide it” because that is easy to dismiss and will be dismissed. Similarly, simply saying to a local authority "You don't understand that motorhome needs are different from those of caravans" will get nowhere fast. What is needed is an approach along the lines of “Here is evidence I have gathered that it would be to your advantage to provide an aire, can we please discuss it?”.
The figures in the table at Appendix 1 below demonstrate that the first significant difference is that motorhome usage is less popular in the UK than in Germany and France. However, that in itself is no reason why aires should not be established in the UK.
Also of utmost significance is the fact that an aire in the UK would fall within the definition of a Caravan Site under the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. That means that the land owner would have to obtain a site licence or be able to claim one of the exemptions provided by the Act. There may also be a need for the land owner to obtain planning consent to use the land as a caravan site.
There are two reasons why motorhome owners would wish to use aires. The first is simply to provide a safe place to stop overnight on the way from A to B (referred to below as a Transit Stop). The second is to provide a place to stay for two or three nights to enable exploration of the local area or just as a single overnight stop conveniently located between places of interest (referred to below as a Tourism Stop).
Use of Aires as Transit Stops.
The second significant difference shown by the figures in Appendix 1 is that the UK is far smaller than Germany and France, meaning less distance to travel between start and end of a given trip. When one takes into account the geographic locations of Germany and (especially) France the numbers of motorhome using the roads rises significantly because they lie between the northern, southern and eastern countries of Europe and, thus, have to cater for motorhomes in transit as well as those visiting the country itself. By contrast, the UK is not a country of transit.
So, whilst France and Germany have a demand from motorhomers simply wishing to stop overnight on the way from A to B, that is not the same in the UK in general. The obvious UK exception is the Park & Ride at New Dover Road in Canterbury which is, of course, ideally placed for those wishing to cross the Channel the next day and those who have just come back to the UK.
It is difficult to think of anywhere else in the UK with a similar demand for a Transit Stop and, on that basis, trying to make a case for more than a handful of aires for transit use would probably be a futile exercise.
Use of Aires as Tourism Stops.
A small number of local authorities have implemented such schemes as have a small number of private organisations. Many of the latter have been introduced as part of the Nightstop Scheme promoted by Practical Motorhome Magazine in collaboration with the Motor Caravanners Club, the scheme being made possible by the fact that the MCC is able to grant a CL certificate to participating land owners so that they can be assured that they are operating legally.
In fact, the CL aspect of the Nightstop Scheme highlights the fact that the UK already does have a large number of aire equivalents by virtue of the CL/CS networks operated by the MCC (approx 60), Caravan Club (approx 2500) and Camping & Caravanning Club (approx 1500). One has to be a member of the latter two organisations in order to use their CLs/CSs but that does not alter the fact of their existence. Indeed, the total of over 4000 compares very well with the number of aires in Europe, given the small size of the UK.
That, then, begs the question “Are aires in the UK really required?”. Several on-line petitions have been started in recent years on the government's e-petition web site. Each has attracted well under 1,000 signatures. This may be an indication that only a tiny minority of UK motorhomers actually want (or, at least, are actually willing to take the merest action to achieve) aires but may also be a reflection of the fact that many of the petitions called for action by local rather than central government, so were miss-directed anyway. However, this paper is about making a case so the assumption has to be that there is a requirement.
Evidence, Evidence and More Evidence.
We often see claims that aires would bring economic benefit to towns because motorhomers would spend money there but evidence to back the claims is almost invariably lacking. What is absolutely certain is that aires will not be achieved unless the land owner sees an economic benefit (or payback) to offset the level of investment needed to create an aire. If the costs were insignificant and the benefits so easily achievable then private companies would, surely, be falling over themselves to reap the profits.
The facts that many people stock up on food &c before leaving home, and those that only want an overnight stop have no time to shop anyway, are often conveniently ignored by people calling for aire facilities. So, in order to make a convincing case it will be necessary to gather solid, verifiable, evidence to show that money would be spent in the local area.
In addition, the cost to the motorhome owner has to be considered. There is little doubt that a free site in a popular area would be well used but would that site be used if there were a charge levied (£5 or £10 per night, say)? Those aspects need to be researched so that the land owner can be provided with some basis on which to calculate return on investment.
It may be that local tourism organisations will have some information but it may also be necessary to gather evidence from individual motorhome owners, an exercise which would inevitably involve considerable effort.
Also almost invariably, calls for aires discount the costs of setting up and managing facilities, often enough because the people making them simply have no concept of what is involved and make an inaccurate assumption that the costs are not significant. It is all too easy, for instance, to see a car park which is not used overnight and assume that it is suitable for an aire. In fact, many local authority car parks in the UK were constructed several decades ago and/or designed to be used by much smaller vehicles. That means that they are only constructed to the standards required for use by vehicles of no more than two tonnes. Adding regular usage by vehicles weighing more than three tonnes might cause expensive damage to the sub-structure unless it were to be strengthened in advance of such use.
It is also all too easy to assume that provision of fresh water and facilities for black and grey waste disposal can be achieved at a low cost. Water mains and foul sewers (as opposed to rainwater drains) may be located a significant distance from the site.
Other considerations surround accessibility of the site. A particular piece of land may, in itself, be eminently suitable for use as an aire. However, if the land is situated in a market town built in Victorian times, and the only access is a relatively narrow street clogged with parked cars for much of the day, then adding large motorhome traffic on a regular basis might well be totally impractical.
Once a potential site is identified it will always be necessary to gather evidence of the facilities in place and the cost of bringing them up to the standard required by an aire, plus evidence to show that use of the land would not be detrimental to the well being of the town concerned and its residents.
Negotiation, Negotiation and More Negotiation.
Almost invariably, those who start forum threads calling for aires (and many of those who support them) have made no effort to contact any local authority (or private land owner) to try to start constructive negotiations aimed at providing such facilities.
It will always be necessary to involve the appropriate local authority, even if the land is privately owned, to achieve the granting of a caravan site licence (and, possibly, planning consent for change of use). The land owner (local authority or otherwise) will have to be convinced of the positive benefits of resourcing the creation of an aire.
There will always be a requirement, therefore, for the person(s) promoting an aire to spend significant amounts of time (and, maybe, money) in negotiations. It is highly likely that those negotiations will need to be face to face, not merely by telephone, letter or e-mail.
Identify a potential site and its owner.
Gather evidence of the costs and work involved in converting the site for use as an aire and of the benefits which would accrue to the land owner and the local area around the site.
Be willing to put in weeks, if not months, of effort in negotiating with the land owner, local authority and any other interested parties (including local residents).
Above all, approach everyone (public or private sector) constructively and politely. It might be tempting to try to embarrass a local authority which does not want to discuss providing aires but it may well be that the authority concerned has genuine reasons for its stance. Trying to embarrass is more likely to entrench opposition than to overcome it.
Appendix 1 - Motorhome Usage Statistics.
The table below contains figures which illustrate significant differences. The first three columns of figures come from:
1) A report by Tourism Insights in January 2008.
2) The National Caravan Council.
3) Aggregates of the figures in columns 1 and 2 (and discounting scrapped vehicles) giving approximate figures.
||Motorhomes in use at the end of 2007
||Motorhome registrations 2008-2012
||Motorhomes in use at the end of 2012
||Projected populations at July 2013
||Motorhomes per capita
||Country area (Sq Km)
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Last updated: 29 July 2013