McNeish welcomes council’s campervan ‘aires’ plan for areas like Lochaber

In the next few weeks, The Highland Council will publish a simple guide for individuals and communities who want to set up safe stopping off places for campervans – known on the continent as ‘aires’. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, NO_T30_West End camper vans
The Highland Council is to publish a simple guide for individuals and communities who want to set up safe stopping off places for campervans – known on the continent as ‘aires’. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, NO_T30_West End camper vans

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Highland Council’s plan for a simple guide for individuals and communities who want to set up safe stopping-off places for campervans – known on the continent as ‘aires’- has been welcomed by renowned Highland outdoors expert and broadcaster, Cameron McNeish.

The proposals for the guide are contained in the local authority’s new £1.5million Visitor Management Plan (VMP) and it is hoped will go some way towards helping alleviate pressures from campervan tourism once lockdown eases.

Mr McNeish, who lives in Newtonmore, and is himself a keen campervan owner, said it was very good news and praised the local authority for being pro-active over the issue.

NO F05 Cameron McNeish 01
Cameron McNeish, pictured, has praised Highland Council for the proposal.

‘Rather than give in to the negativity of some councillors and Facebook pages who have been calling for bans and bylaws, the council has taken the decision to welcome visitors and where necessary make changes or additions to the tourism infrastructure to make campervans and motorhomes welcome,’ Mr McNeish told the Lochaber Times.

‘The council has recognised the huge potential in income this form of tourism offers, particularly to small communities.

‘Tourism has changed significantly in recent years and where people were once content to spend a week or two in a single campsite many visitors, particularly those who are active in the outdoors, want to be able to spend a night here and a night there, preferably in low cost no-frills overnight parking places.

‘These people are not looking for costly top-end campsites with swimming pools, bars and kiddies play areas – and there is a market for that kind of campsite – but prefer something simpler.

‘In most cases these campervans will have their own toilet and shower facilities but would require, in some cases, electric hook up points, water, and waste disposal facilities.

‘There is enormous potential here for Highland communities to benefit from this burgeoning market by creating such small, low cost overnight parking places, preferably within walking distance of towns and villages so users can avail themselves of the local facilities like pubs and restaurants. ‘

Mr McNeish said it constantly amazed him that the UK has been left behind in creating this form of tourism infrastructure when compared to Continental Europe.

He added: There are now over 300,000 registered campervan or motorhomes in the UK and since people won’t be able to drive overseas this summer, there is a definite need for a rapid response from Highland communities to help create and maintain this kind of infrastructure that benefits everyone.’

Councillor Allan Henderson (Caol and Mallig), who chairs the council’s B8008 working group, said the council’s ‘flexible, but sensible interventions’ to help mobile homes/motorhomes were extremely important and would also see small bin lorries reacting to excess waste at all the hot spots during the season.

And referring to measures to recruit more seasonal countryside access rangers, Mr Henderson added:’ ‘I also see the rangers playing a vital part as educators in the freedom and responsibilities of our access laws as I don’t believe the holidaymakers set out to trash the countryside, or beaches, as they adapt to new ways of taking a holiday during the pandemic.

Councillor Allan Henderson. NO-F40-Allan-Henderson
Councillor Allan Henderson.

‘The camping infrastructure is not yet fully available to cope with the huge increase, so the aspiration to create l’aires is to be welcomed, but with provisos that they are simple overnight stops with waste facilities and should not be fully fledged camping areas.

‘They are probably more suited to the vast distances people have to travel on the NC 500, or holding areas outwith the main destinations such as B8008, Glen Nevis and Glen Etive, to prevent congestion and blockage of small rural roads where locals still have to travel.

‘The great thing about this VMP is that it does not set out to ban and give the wrong impression of our famed Highland welcome, but to work towards solutions to satisfy the needs of all during the pandemic and the restrictions it places on foreign travel.’