Staycations: More low-cost motorhome stops to open up in Highlands amid surge in demand

A network of low-cost stopping places for motorhomes will be set up in the Highlands to cope with the rising demand for staycations.

Sango Bay beach at Durness in the northwest Highlands

Highland Council is believed to be the first local authority in the country to relax planning laws to allow landowners to open up for short term stays.

The system is based on the well established Aire system on the Continent with spaces provided for free or for a small charge.

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In Highland, the system will be known as Àirigh – which roughly translates from Gaelic as a shieling or shelter.

The move will tackle the rise in motorhome holidays in the wake of the pandemic with registrations of such vehicles soaring 71 per cent in July last year when compared the same period in 2019.

But the staycation rush to the Highlands has led to problems of blocked roads, strain on rural communities and the phenomenon of dirty camping when visitors leave rubbish and toilet mess behind.

Cllr Gordon Adam, chair of the council’s Tourism Committee, said: “The demand for traveling via motorhome has been intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic and as a result has created significant pressures for safe overnight parking in our rural communities.

“The Scottish Government’s ongoing commitment to a temporary relaxation of planning controls allows The Highland Council to consider temporary use of appropriate locations for overnight stops in motorhomes without formal planning permission.

“To mitigate some of the problems experienced in the summer of 2020, temporary ‘Àirigh’ will offer a safe, off-road location for motorhomes to park for the night and help alleviate parking problems experienced in rural areas.

"Aires are used all over Europe and Àirigh could offer an opportunity to assist the economic recovery in Highland. We encourage any community groups or landowners that may have suitable land to submit a short enquiry form to the Council’s planning team.”

Owners of crofts and agricultural holdings which are at least two acres in size will be allowed to host a maximum of three motorhomes or caravans at any one time without the need for planning permission.

Five such vehicles will be allowed on land certified by one of the caravanning authorities.

The relaxed rules will be in place until December 31 or the date when the need for physical distancing is removed.

Cllr Alan Henderson, chair of the council’s Communities and Place Committee, said: “Dedicated motorhome parking areas are provided in many European countries and these bring welcome tourists into well-known and undiscovered areas alike.

"Aires make suitable night stops all year round. The Highland ‘Àirigh’ symbolise the freedom of motorhoming and reflects the way people are choosing to holiday.

"This approach is necessary in Highland to allow us to adapt to the increased popularity of this type of travel and to mitigate the problems experienced in many communities from overnight parking in unsuitable places and congestion caused in ‘beauty spots.”

The Council has also been working with communities and a number of commercial campsites to improve waste disposal sites.

Locations of such sites will be promoted through the Campervan and Motorhome Professional Association (CAMPA)

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