Campervan chaos solution is staring us in the face

25 May 2024
Campervans in the Highlands

Article in the Ross-shire Journal, Friday 24th May 2024.

Campervan chaos solution is staring us in the face

May used to be considered a shoulder month for those of us in Highland hospitality, it's as busy as August these days, for good reason... glorious sunshine. The roads are rammed, especially single track roads – no doubt the West Coast of Skye, through Applecross, or along the North Coast 500 are nose to tail.

I drove home last night behind two campervans at 40mph, one of them towing a small car. Our convoy passed Glenfinnan Church, with seven campervans ignoring the No Parking signs, and their inhabitants enjoying the sunshine. Almost every lay-by between there and Glenuig had campervans parked up, some with several.

Don't get me wrong, I love campervanning myself. A big birthday saw my family trundling around New Zealand in one. However, in Scotland, this influx has caught us out. Unlike America, New Zealand or Continental Europe, campervanners can park here in any lay-by. There are apps and websites advising on good ‘wild camp' spots, even on private land. 

It's no surprise that campervanning has become so popular – tourist accommodation is full. With the introduction of short term letting licences, many B&Bs have chosen to close, and parking in lay-bys is free.

I know that Calmac, with their lack of ferries, are struggling to find room for local cars and lorries to and from the Hebrides. The introduction of ‘road equivalent tariffs’ a decade ago seemed a well intentioned move then, but has resulted in an enormous Government subsidy being applied to campervans, sometimes travelling to an island full of fuel and shopping to last their week on a beach side island viewpoint. A massive increase in tourist demand for this subsidised service deprives a local with a ferry slot.

I recently posted a photograph of the main carpark (not available for overnight parking) in Fort William of a sea of campervans, which resulted in a storm of comments and emails. This is a subject that clearly agitates many. What do they do with toilet waste – and with no roadside bins, where do they put their rubbish? people asked.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has withdrawn council funding for rangers - hardly a good time.

When (not if) the visitor tax arrives, only campervans in campsites will need to pay. The Highland Council intends to ask all campervans for a voluntary £40 for their week. I'm certain this will not work. A permit should be compulsory levied at campervan rental places, available online and subject to significant fines if not complied with. Surely with licence plate recognition technology today, this should be practical. In any case, tourists will get the message.

It will have to be a requirement at some stage that campervans and motorhomes are required to stay overnight in registered areas or campsites with toilets, waste facilities, electricity connections etc. This would be a sensible move and for the benefit of the Highlands.

Angus MacDonald
Highlands Liberal Democrat Councillor and Westminster Candidate

Article in the Ross-shire Journal, Friday 24th May 2024.

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