Don’t dismiss the idea of caravans entirely – there’s an opportunity there too

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I’D never heard of the Channel Islands when, as a six year old, my parents sat me down in our home in Manchester and announced that we were moving to Jersey.

Fast forward a few months and I can still vividly recall the flight over this new mysterious land I was to call home for the next five (okay 26 and counting) years and marvelling at the ‘snow’ (polythene) covering the potato fields below.

As we settled in there were all sorts of weird and wonderful things I soon came to learn about this little rock. There were the funny place names, the requirement to learn French at school, the weird number plates and the wads of pound notes that could make even a child feel rich.

But most of all I remember being completely confused about why we now had to find a new home for our caravan, which could no longer just sit outside our house as it had done back in Manchester.

What an utterly weird rule that caravans have to be stored in special places and covered up, I thought. Were they something to be ashamed of? To a child brought up on holidays to the continent in the caravan and weekend ‘outings’ to the Swift stockist in the village, caravans were awesome and represented not only a lot of fun but almost limitless opportunities to explore the world.

Those views haven’t changed in the 26 years since, regardless of the fact that I haven’t actually stepped foot in a traditional caravan for more than a decade. And they apply as much to motorhomes as they do caravans.

Yet here we are again debating the pros and cons of allowing people to park up their motorhomes in St Ouen’s Bay.

According to recent reports, St Ouen and St Brelade have enforced the law which bans people from sleeping in vehicles in public places but St Peter has adopted a ‘softly-softly’ approach to people parking up on States-owned land at Le Port, the parish’s coastal strip of St Ouen’s Bay.

However, following complaints about the number of vehicles using Le Port at weekends, drunken behaviour at the site, and adjacent protected sand dunes being used by some people as a toilet, St Peter has decided to get tougher.

However, Constable Richard Vibert says he does not want to entirely ban people from the area as he believes it is just an inconsiderate minority who are abusing the site.

This issue seems to come up, according to the JEP archive, every two years or so.

And each and every time the same discussions play out – the parish quotes the law, says people need to be tidier and discusses the possibility of public toilets, while the motorhome enthusiasts defend their right to enjoy a simple pastime that allows families (many of them without gardens back home and most of them obeying the rules) to chill by the beach.

But it is high time Jersey just got over this non-issue. And, while we are at it, relax the rules on motorhomes and caravans in general.

The laws were, according to former Planning Minister Steve Luce, brought in more than 40 years ago to prevent fields being turned into camping parks full of caravans and mobile homes similar to what you see at seaside resorts around the UK.

And that is all well and good – we have a beautiful, yet space-limited, environment we need to protect, after all.

But the point that is missed in Deputy Luce’s statement is that those fields in the UK are ‘full’. And presumably where there are caravans there are people, and people with wads of Jersey £1 notes in their pockets.

At a time when Visit Jersey is trying to rescue the Island’s tourism industry, chucking money at fun campaigns about half-naked men in kilts doing yoga at Corbière and advertorial spreads in national newspapers in a bid to reach that golden one million visitor mark, why aren’t we considering changing the rules on motorhomes and caravans, albeit in a controlled manner?

One of the biggest barriers to a holiday in Jersey is, I’m told by relatives and friends living in the UK, the cost of accommodation.

And with the news that the Island’s hotels were so full at the weekend that 50 airline and ferry passengers stranded in Jersey had to sleep on camp beds at the Elizabeth Terminal with only a croissant for breakfast, at times there’s a shortage of those expensive hotel beds too.

Hotels are increasingly finding it hard to do business all year round, and add to that the growing challenges in the hospitality industry with finding staff, and it is clear that other – complementary – options need to be explored. Or are we trying to protect the hotel industry in some kind of self-sabotage?

Earlier this month the owners of a property above St Aubin applied to Planning for a permanent mobile home camp on part of their property.

At present, motorhomes in Jersey are restricted to two registered campsites and a small site in St Peter. And the applicants, Steven and Margaret Traynor, say that although the demand is there from both the local and visiting motorhome market, for five months of the year there is nowhere for people to stay as all the other locations close apart from one, which is for adults only and provides just five spaces.

There is a real opportunity here, and one that could benefit all sorts of people, from those providing camp sites and seeking to police St Ouen’s Bay to the Islanders and visitors who want to wake up to the sound of the waves crashing against the sea wall without having to afford a multi-million-pound house – or expensive hotel room – on the seafront.

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