Plan to divert motorhomes in Gwynedd away from beauty spots and into towns and villages defended
Gareth Wyn Williams, local democracy reporter
Decision-makers have moved to allay fears that basic ‘aires’ sites for overnight motorhome parking would impact on Gwynedd’s existing caravan parks.
Tuesday saw the council’s cabinet back establishing up to six pilot sites, offering the most basic of facilities on parts of existing council-run car parks.
At a cost of £100,000, the move has been sparked by concerns that the skyrocketing popularity of “wild camping” and campervan and motorhome holidays were causing litter issues in the countryside – particularly during the heightened summers of 2020 and 2021.
Based on a consultation involving motorhome users and locals, as well as existing tourism business owners, the authority’s own research found there was a need for such continental-style facilities in the county.
But in light of concerns that opening such ‘aires’ would divert trade away from existing campsites, decision makers were adamant that the needs of motorhome and campervan owners differed to more traditional holidaymakers.
“Aires” are small-scale camp sites offering only the most basic of facilities such as waste disposal and water, tending to be cheaper than traditional caravan sites.
An online consultation found that such requirements were well short of the facilities offered at most caravan parks.
Cllr Gareth Thomas, who holds the economic development brief, said that the aim was to divert motorhome owners away from road verges and secluded beauty spots, and into town and village centres “where they can spend their money locally”.
“The capacity of the caravan sites isn’t enough for the significant numbers of these vehicles that have been coming here, so I’m confident we aren’t taking away from private businesses,” he added.
“But clearly what’s being proposed is a pilot, so if such an impact is noticeable then there’s clearly scope to reconsider.”
Cllr Dafydd Meurig added it was vital that motorhome owners were welcomed to Gwynedd “on our own terms,” and would give the authority “more scope to divert them away from where they shouldn’t be.”
But with the Snowdonia National Park area subject to its own and usually stricter planning regulations, councillors were told that the initial pilot areas would be limited to areas outside of the park’s boundaries at this stage.
Cllr Ioan Thomas said he had been contacted by several constituents concerned about motorhomes “parking wherever they liked and contributing nothing to the local economy”.
He added: “It’s clear that their needs are basic compared to what a caravan site offers, but it’s clear that we need a solution as well as stricter enforcement in the long term.”
Councillors were also told that the possibility was there for community councils or local groups to come forward and open their own ‘aires’ sites – which is the setup most usually found in Europe.
Planning officer, Gareth Jones, concluded: “This is a sector that’s growing and is expected to continue to do so.
“What’s clear is that the needs of motorhome users are quite different to traditional caravan owners in that they favour sites in villages or towns and tend to travel throughout the year but only spending a day or two in a single location.
“What we also saw was that the existing caravan sites don’t exactly meet the needs of the sector and questions if there’s enough all-round capacity.
“92% of motorhome users that answered the questionnaire said they would use aires if any were available in the area, and the public feedback also showed that many people supported efforts to try and meet their needs.”
The report was unanimously backed by the cabinet, with the first pilot sites set to operate on parts of Gwynedd Council car parks by the spring of 2023.
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