A summer of staycations

Tourism could prove a much-needed source of revenue for farmers and landowners this year, following changes to the planning rules. Tim Relf reports

Temporary alterations to planning laws are creating diversification opportunities for those in England and Wales who are seeking to capitalise on the boom in staycations that we are expecting to see this summer.

The government has relaxed permitted development rights (PDR) in a bid to boost the Covid-hit economy, which means that those who are planning to offer camping and glamping will be able to do so for 56 days this year – an extension to the previously allowed 28 days – without needing to apply for a change of use. The Welsh Government has also recently announced that it will increase PDR from 28 to 56 days.

Testing demand

Kent farmer Michael Bourne is grasping the opportunity to “test the water” with glamping at New Park Farm near Tunbridge Wells. With help from a local couple keen to set up a site, he will offer four units this year on a three-acre field.

“This is a toe in the water, so we’ll keep the investment down to limit the risk,” says Michael. “We won’t do anything permanent this season, so we could ultimately re-use the field for cropping if we need to. We’ll have mobile toilets and showers and a temporary electricity supply. We are in the process of applying for planning permission, and I’m optimistic about that, so we might then expand to eight units.”

Michael is targeting an upmarket tent-camping market. “We’re aiming to attract seasoned, experienced campers who know – and respect – the countryside. They’re on a field that is part of a working farm, so we need them to respect the fact there are crops and horses nearby.

“The field we’re using is isolated from any houses, access to it is reasonably easy and the view is spectacular. There’s plenty of wildlife on our doorstep, plus access to footpaths that will take visitors to the local pub, and we’re also close to popular visitor centres.”

Michael plans to open from 25 June to 6 August.

We’re already a well-diversified farm, and this will be another string to our bow. It spreads our risk and should increase business in our farm shop

“We’re fortunate to be near big population centres as that does create opportunities. But at the same time, the field we’re going to use for glamping is encircled by high hedges. Once you’re in it, it’s so quiet you feel as if you’ve gone 300 miles away.

“I’ve always enjoyed dealing with the public. When people say they love our asparagus or strawberries, for example, that always struck me as more satisfying than growing wheat and sending it off in a lorry.”

Michael is optimistic about demand for staycations this summer as more people holiday at home, and is confident his brand of “luxury comfortable camping” will be sought after. Diversification takes new skills – so it makes sense to team up with others who have skills you don’t. “The people I’m working with understand the fast-changing online environment and are au fait with social media, so can capitalise on that for advertising and securing bookings.”

The right price

Marketing is key, as is getting your price point right, agrees Ruth Tuer at Crake Trees Manor near Penrith in Cumbria. Ruth and husband Mike plan to make the most of the 56-day rule this year, having seen demand for camping pitches spike.

“When you start, you always want to attract people, so the temptation is to under-price, but as an industry we’re undervaluing our product. We’re also conscious we have first-class shower facilities here.” The Tuers, who also offer self-catering stays, glamping pods and shepherd’s huts, are charging from £26/night/ tent pitch this year.

“Some providers are charging way under £20/night/pitch, though,” says Ruth. “We’re set for a very busy year. Some visitors might well treat a week-long camping trip as their main holiday. “Often we had 150 people on site last year – and there was not one case of Covid and not a single person even suggested they were at risk of catching it.

“Launching a camping or glamping enterprise can avoid a big capital investment, but you can’t simply swing the gate open and collect the cash. It can be quite time-consuming and you need to be committed, so you’ve got to really want to do it. If you’re a couple, it’s got to be a partnership, with both of you really buying into the concept.”

It’s important to decide on clear rules – such as whether camp fires and dogs are allowed – and then enforce them if you need to, says Ruth. A clear cancellation policy is also essential.

A new venture

Having had success using the 56-day PDR extension last year, Jonathan Simper at Simper Farms near Woodbridge in Suffolk is now applying for full planning for a small campsite. He’d never offered camping pitches previously, but someone who was working on a campsite in Norfolk mentioned there was a massive demand.

“We’re near the coast, and we have our own beach on the farm that the public can use. There are no roads to it, you can only get there on foot, so it’s a lovely, unusual spot. “We only did it seriously for about six weeks in 2020 because there wasn’t much left of the summer by the time we got going,” explains Jonathan.

“We hired portaloos, put in a water supply to the field and had our first customers just over a week after we first started thinking about it. It was low cost, and it’s sensible to avoid investing too much money this year because the 56-day rule might well change.”

Jonathan’s experience with the campers was very positive. Everybody, he says, was tidy and respectful of the countryside, and it was pleasing to be able to provide a service to people who were desperate to get away during the pandemic.

“You have to be mindful of how residents will react, though. Some may not like the idea, even though it was important to provide an opportunity for people to have a night away and get some fresh air during the pandemic. A campsite such as ours is ultimately temporary, too. Within a couple of days of stopping, my wife’s horses were back in the field.”

For more information

Contact your CLA regional office for more information about the permitted development rights extension