NC500: Why there is growing anger on the North Coast 500 as 'livelihoods put at risk'

A new £40 motorhome pass for the Highlands designed to each pressure from the growing number of vehicles has faced a backlash from holiday parks.

A new £40 motorhome pass designed to curb the impact of rising vehicle numbers on communities and the environment in the Highlands risks ‘putting livelihoods at risk’, it has been claimed.

The seven-day permit will allow motorhome users to park up overnight in a network of council-owned carparks - many on the North Coast 500 - and allow travellers to use leisure centres for washing and showering.

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It has been introduced to help manage the growing numbers of motorhomes in the Highlands and raise money for the council, which will then reinvest revenues in tourism infrastructure and environmental projects.

The pass is voluntary and designed to appeal to the “conscious” traveller concerned about sustainable tourism and who are keen to “give something back” to the Highlands.

It has been met with a furious response from established motorhome and holiday parks, with business owners claiming they are already suffering from a loss of business - and crippling running costs - as large numbers of motorhome users shun official sites to park up where they wish at no extra cost.

The low-cost permit will make them unable to compete for business, it has been claimed, with an open letter signed by almost 30 site owners across then north.

Now, the Scottish office of the British Holiday & Home Parks Association has written to the local authority outlining its concerns that the pass will “pose a threat to the livelihoods” of site owners and their employees. A statement said: “The British Holiday and Home Parks Association (Scotland) has written to the Highlands Council on behalf of its members expressing concern about the proposed motorhome parking facilities.

“These facilities are not subject to the same health and safety regulations or business rates and taxes that apply to licensed holiday parks, and pose a threat to the livelihoods of many smaller, family-owned parks and the local people they employ. The BH&HPA looks forward to working closely with the Council on this issue.”

The pass has been introduced as the new tourist tax for Scotland - which is due to come in next Spring at the earliest- excludes those motorhome users not stopping overnight in official sites.

Both Highland Council and Western Isles Council urged the Scottish Parliament to reconsider the approach.

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Highland Council, in its guidance on the motorhome pass, said it believed the voluntary scheme would lilkely achieve a high level of support” given it will contributed to sustaining and improving infrastructure and “support local businesses”.

The guidance said: “Visitors are encouraged to visit nearby private businesses for wastewater disposal and to purchase from our many local retailers.

“Engagement and research has established that Campervan and Motorhome users will typically use sites like our overnight car park network for two to three nights before staying at more established campsites.”

Lynn and Darren Redfern, of Dornoch Caravan and Camping Park, which sits on the North Coast 500, wrote the open letter to Highland Council expressing their concerns. It has now been signed by at least 28 businesses.

Mrs Redfern, who said businesses were ‘livid’ over the pass, said, just 50 out of 80 pitches were occupied as the school holidays got underway - with Highland Council now its main competitor.

The letter said: “Over the last few years, the NC500 has changed the way people holiday in the Highlands of Scotland.

“With all these low cost or free facilities now on offer, motorhome users have been enabled to bypass caravan parks which now seem an expensive option.

“This new scheme, which allowes the user to access most of the facilities they need for the very low price of £40 for a week, now makes your carparks a destination in their own right rather than a handy one night stopover.

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“Visitors will now plan their entire trip around your car park options and by-pass campsites altogether.

“Caravan parks cannot compete - and we should not have to.”

Mrs Redfern said she had to charge more than £25 per pitch per night to cover costs given the need to meet strict health and safety rules and “crippling bills” for VAT, business rates, refuse collection and electricity.

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