2021, The Year Of The Pop-Up Campsite
Temporary campsites set up in the wake of the COVID pandemic have given Britain’s rural economy a major shot in the arm during 2021.
While the impact of the pandemic on businesses shows little signs of abating, the boost to rural economies driven by pop-up campsites is in jeopardy for 2022 without urgent government intervention. An extension of Permitted Development Rights previously granted to allow landowners to set up temporary campsites for up to 56 days in the year expired on 31st December for England and 3rd January for Wales.
According to figures from Pitchup.com – The outdoor accommodation provider, the campsites, set up on farms, showgrounds, rural pubs and even country estates, have generated more than £25m for the British countryside over the past 12 months.
Areas such as Staffordshire, Lincolnshire, and Herefordshire, which usually lose out to more popular destinations like the West Country and Lake District, all shared in the windfall.
According to Pitchup.com, £9.8m was generated through pitch fees alone, with an extra £2.9m being spent with campsite owners on firewood and farm-fresh produce.
But the lion’s share of the money – £12.3m – was spent in local, rural businesses including pubs, shops, and restaurants, throwing them a much-needed lifeline in the midst of the pandemic.
According to Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com, the boom in pop-up campsites started in summer 2020 after the government temporarily extended the right to open them from 28 days to 56 days without applying for planning permission.
The change, which involved an aspect of planning legislation called Permitted Development Rights (PDR), was enacted to help the power a post-COVID rural recovery but is due to revert to 28 days at the end of December.
Mr Yates said: “The 56-day extension to PDR had a tremendous, positive impact on the rural economy just when it was needed.
“It has enabled pubs, shops, restaurants, and rural tourist attractions to negotiate the pandemic when a lot of them may not have survived, and helped a large number of farms that are facing large reductions in support payments.
“It has also seen the British countryside step up to the mark to cater for the huge demand for staycations as people couldn’t holiday abroad.
“Generating an extra £25m for the rural economy is a fantastic achievement and from that perspective, extended PDR has been a huge success. However, while the world is still suffering from the ongoing COVID pandemic, and livelihoods are still at risk, it is a shame the government has no plans to extend the initiative this year.”
Ongoing extension under debate
The decision by the UK government to end the extended PDR on 31st December 2021 is at odds with the Welsh government which is currently consulting on a permanent extension to 56 days beyond the current regulations which end on 3rd January.
According to the Welsh administration, ‘temporary permitted development rights have been particularly beneficial in enabling the provision of additional capacity for campsites and broadening the range of tourist provision available to cater for the increase in staycations’.
Despite ending extended PDR for the majority of pop-up campsites based on farms, the UK government takes a different approach to temporary additions that, for example, allow pubs to increase their capacity by ‘permitting moveable structures within the curtilage of a pub, cafe, restaurant, or historic visitor attractions’. In recognition of the essential business support that this has offered these types of establishments, the government is consulting on making this right permanent for 56 days each year.
Mr Yates added that one of the most positive results of extending PDR had been bringing the tourism pound to areas of the UK that most needed a boost.
“Places like the West Country coast, Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and Norfolk Broads are always going to be popular,” Mr Yates said.
“However, while central England and the Midlands often attract day visitors, mainly to urban centres like Stratford-upon-Avon or Stamford, they haven’t traditionally attracted campers in large numbers.
“Thanks to the 56-day ruling, lots of temporary campsites were set up in these areas and campers flooded in, generating a whole new income stream for local businesses in some of the UK’s less visited rural locations.
“So, as well as being a shot in the arm for the rural economy as a whole, it has also helped ensure some poorer rural communities have shared in the gains. While foreign travel will of course recover, we believe that the pandemic has prompted a permanent shift towards outdoor accommodation in the UK.”
Mr Yates added that demand for next year was showing no sign of abating.
“Bookings for 2022 are already 145 per cent up on the same time in 2019 and one campsite has already taken 365 bookings for next year,” he said.
“If the 56 day extension were to remain in place on an ongoing basis, the impact on the rural economy would be very significant.”
“One of the best decisions we’ve made” says Lincolnshire pop-up site owner
One campsite owner who benefitted from the 56-day extension to PDR is Demelza Hoban from West Torrington near Wragby in Lincolnshire.
Demelza was furloughed during lockdown, but with the rise in staycations, she was able to leave her job and focus all her time on Grange Paddock Camping – the six-acre campsite she set up on the family farm.
Demelza said: “Running a campsite is the easiest and quickest form of farm diversification and offers a great way of helping rural communities recover from the COVID pandemic.
“Setting it up is one of the best decisions we’ve made. I can’t believe it has enabled me to give up my office job to concentrate on my real passion, the farm.”
She added that it wasn’t just her and her family that had benefited, but the wider economy too.
“My friends own the Adam and Eve pub in Wragby, just down the road from our farm,” Demelza said.
“They saw a notable uplift in customers in the last two years with the majority saying that they came from our campsite. They were thrilled with the extra business and keep asking whether I’ll be doing it again.”
Sarah Wheeler, who runs Hever Campsite near Eden Bridge in Kent, described the extension to PDR as ‘provident for the campsite, campers and surrounding businesses.’
She said: “After two years of disturbed uncertainty due to COVID, a lot of people want to stay in the UK next year too. Our campers have expressed to us that they feel confident and safer staying closer to home and boosting the UK economy after such turmoil.
“Local businesses, pubs, cafes and tourist attractions, which had to close during the lockdowns, are trying to hold on by tooth and nail, relying heavily on the tourism our campsite generates. They would massively benefit if we were permitted to open for extended periods again next year.
“I implore the government to help small businesses recoup our previous losses and offer our campers what they are asking for: more dates in their own country to have affordable holidays whilst supporting their own country’s economy.”