Motorhome Parking in the UK.
Car Parks in General.
The first point to make is that the majority of UK car parks are just that - areas designed for parking of cars, not larger vehicles. That is unsurprising when one thinks about it as the majority of users are commuters or shoppers.
Many of the car parks in the UK were designed and built several decades ago when motorhome usage was much less and when cars themselves were generally rather smaller. As a result many car parks are difficult (even dangerous) to navigate in a large vehicle. In addition, because they were designed for smaller vehicles the construction is sometimes incapable of withstanding sustained usage by vehicles heavier than two tonnes. Indeed, the Traffic Regulation Orders covering some local authority car parks still refer to a maximum permitted unladen weight for a motor car or goods vehicle of 1525 Kg, despite the fact that many other vehicles (e.g. large 4x4s), as well as motorhomes, weigh in excess of that amount.
Unless specific permission is gained from the owner of the car park, motorhomes should not be parked in coach bays. Without permission there is a significant risk of being fined. Quite apart from that, coach bays are provided in recognition that their drivers (unlike motorhome drivers) are compelled by law to take breaks at certain times. Many coach bays are also placed close to facilities in recognition that many passengers may be elderly and have difficulty in walking long distances.
Before you leave your vehicle in any car park it is worth checking the notices in the car park to see what restrictions on parking are displayed - for example, time limits, parking within bays (including any ban on overhangs).
Remember that when you park in a private car park (including those owned by Motorway Service Area operators) you are entering into a contract based on the conditions displayed and failure to comply with the conditions renders you liable to a charge for breach of contract (to which you have agreed by parking). Some car park owners/managers are now installing CCTV cameras, which use Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), in their car parks to identify vehicles that stay for more than a set time and then issue bills for staying too long.
Parking information on web sites.
Most parking areas in the UK are owned and run by local authorities. The amount of information which LAs publish on their web sites varies from nothing at all to a number of comprehensive pages. Whatever is published is normally easy to find, usually in a Roads/Transport section or under "P" in an A to Z section. If information about parking for motorhomes isn't there you will often find contact details for the parking team but, if not, all LA web sites contain general details, usually in a Contact Us section.
The web sites for National Park Authorities and tourist organisations tend to have contact details in the absence of specific parking information.
Finding information on whether it is possible to park a motorhome in a privately owned car park (including those at water company tourist sites) is rather more difficult as owners' web sites tend only to give details of whether a store has a car park.
Overnight Camping in Car Parks &c.
The fact that a given car park allows for motorhomes to be parked during the daytime usually does not extend to overnight use. There are some car parks which allow parking but not camping (often defined as dwelling, sleeping and/or eating) overnight.
Information about Overnight Stopovers can be found on the UK Motorhomes web site Here and Here.
Parking (including Overnight) by major roads.
The majority of service areas on motorways and A roads allow overnight parking (often for a fee) but do not allow the use of naked flames (which includes on-board gas appliances). In addition, the majority of A roads have laybys, some of which benefit from an "island" which separates them from the road. Overnight parking is allowed in some laybys but not all. See my Motorhome Parking web site for more details.
Parking at Motorway Service Areas.
From time to time it has been reported that a motorhome had been clamped/fined because the driver parked it in the wrong place at a MSA. Enquiring of the Highways Agency established that, whilst more recent contracts require specific parking areas for particular types of vehicle, earlier contracts do not have specific provisions. In some cases MSA operators provide dedicated caravan/motorhome spaces even though they are not contractually obliged to. Even where such dedicated provision has not been made, there has been a long-standing policy requirement that MSAs provide free parking for up to two hours for all types of vehicle. Therefore, in the absence of dedicated bays for caravans and motorhomes, arrangements should be in place for the use by such vehicles of any available spaces within one of the other parking areas (for cars, coaches or lorries).
Enquiring of MSA operators found that, in general, motorhomes are allowed to use bays designated for use by caravans. If designated parking spaces are fully occupied or there are no designated bays on car parks then the advice is to use the normal car park, provided that if there were any overhang it did not obstruct entry and egress to the car park or cause any obstruction to the routes around the car parks. It would be acceptable for vehicles that were oversize to use 2 bays to accommodate the length. Where car parks are small and access is not possible due to size or available spaces then the main HGV Park can be used. Drivers would have to be aware that the area is a working environment 24/7 and persons would have to take care when moving about on foot, children should be chaperoned at all times and operators would not accept any liability, use being at own risk. Because of the types of loads using the park, i.e. highly Inflammable liquids or gases, the use of cooking facilities in the lorry park would not be allowed for fear of explosion or fires.
Parking at Supermarkets.
The majority of supermarket car parks do not have restrictions – after all, the owners are trying to encourage people to visit and spend money with them. In such cases it is simply a matter of common sense. Taking up two in-line spaces to accommodate the vehicle length is obviously more considerate to other users than parking across a larger number of side by side spaces. Parking in lesser used areas is also a good idea.
Where restrictions are in place it is generally as a result of abuse by people staying longer than is necessary simply to do their shopping (e.g. commuters staying all day, people avoiding town centre car park charges). Enquiring found that most supermarkets (Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Sainsburys, Tesco) are happy to waive multiple bay restrictions so long as people park sensibly, pay any charges levied and don't exceed time limits. It is a good idea to have a friendly word with the customer services desk (if there is one) to make sure there is no problem. Individual Waitrose branches may allow use of multiple bays where a restriction is in place if asked first.
Officially, Morrisons do not allow use of multiple bays where a restriction is in place. However I once asked at the Customer Service Desk if it would be OK and the lady there told me that the parking attendant hadn't started his shift and that she would watch out for him coming. That conversation would, I think, have changed the terms of the contract as displayed on the boards in the car park. Her agreement could, of course, have had something to do with me saying that if we weren't allowed to park we would have to buy our food and diesel at Tesco a mile away :-).
Some other points to bear in mind.
Employees of local authorities and other organisations sometimes have high workloads and/or may not have been fully trained in the application of parking rules. In any dispute remain calm, make notes of events and take up the dispute with managers in a civilised manner at a later date.
In any car park, check any signs to ensure that your vehicle is allowed to park there.
Where overnight parking is allowed in car parks there may still be a ban on sleeping/camping in the vehicle so check first.
In Pay & Display car parks it is always worth checking whether you need to buy more than one ticket if your MH overhangs into a second space - or (in any car park) whether overhanging the confines of a marked bay might result in a penalty charge.
Before attempting to enter any car park, especially in a larger motorhome, check that there is room to manoeuvre your vehicle safely and without danger to anyone.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that some rural car parks suffer from anti-social use, fly-tipping and vandalism and that, as a result, they are locked overnight. If you think this might apply to a car park you are intending to use it is worth contacting the owner to check in advance.
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Last updated: 6 February 2016