It can be really daunting when you finally make the leap from dreaming to scheming. The moment when all those “wouldn’t it be great” conversations, turn into hard, cold and often bold, ‘let’s go for it”, decisions.
If your dream has been to create your own new campsite there’s a steep learning curve ahead. You’ll have highs, lows and lots of moments in between. There might even be some tears and fears. However, it’s all very doable and in the end you might just make something magical – a great income and a brilliant lifestyle.
As a starting point you need to be completely clear in your mind what it is you’re really after. This is true in both business terms and lifestyle choices. This is the time to be totally honest with yourself. Making money usually comes at the cost of a more laidback lifestyle. Campsites are busier at the weekend so are you at peace with giving up your Saturdays and Sundays in return for a quieter life in the week. Just know where your sweet spot is between these goals.
When you understand this keep remembering the adage ‘Fools Rush In.’ There’s no substitute for knowledge, and you’re really going to need a lot of it. Researching and planning before you take a jump into the unknown can save you a lot of hassle and even more money further down the road.
Have a realistic budget and know exactly what you can afford or what you want to spend. That means you can make an achievable business plan.
If you’re only planning a micro site, it’s quite straightforward. However, if you’re planning a large site with facilities and services, you really need to be across your expected costs. Start up expenditure is one thing but don’t forget running costs. Not having a real grip on what you’ll need to spend means your return on investment could also be far short of your projections. Money worries are no fun, so do your homework.
When you’re picking a location, know the market. Is your site in a popular area with tourists? Is there a lot of competition around? How can you offer something distinctive that makes your place stand out? Just as importantly, understand what the likelihood is of getting your campsite approved. If you’re trying to put a site in an area designated as greenbelt or AONB you’ll face an uphill battle in getting approval.
And this is where it all starts to get a little complex – obtaining planning permission and licences. Different rules apply for different types of campsites. Size and duration matter.
If you’re prepared to have a site with just 10 tents or less, several organisations like the Camping and Caravanning Club are by law able to give members exemption certificates to operate without planning permission.
There are a few conditions such as drinking water supply being available, a chemical disposal and waste water point and Public Liability Insurance. However, if you’re prepared to be small scale this is easily achievable.
At the next level under so-called Permitted Development, there is a 28 day rule which allows landowners to have temporary or pop-up campsites. These don’t require planning permission. The 28 days can be consecutive or non-consecutive. But once you allow camping on your land for more than four weeks you’ll have to seek planning permission.
This rule only applies to land not associated with an existing building, which means your house garden is not covered.
However, if your dream is for a fully-fledged campsite you’re almost certainly going to need planning permission. You’ll need approval to use the land as a campsite and you’ll also need consent for any structures like toilets and shower blocks. This is obtained from the planning department of the relevant local authority. There are lots of articles on the web to talk you through the process. There are also professionals like planning consultants who can lead you through what can be quite a complicated process.
Whichever path you follow it pays to do your research. Local authorities all have websites where you’ll find their main planning policies outlining their attitude towards tourism. You’ll also be able to seek out previous planning permission requests for campsites. This will give you a real insight into what the council likes and what it doesn’t.
They’ll look at your proposal on a number of different levels. Economic, social and environmental issues will also be taken into account. This will include questions like will your site bring more people and therefore more revenue to the area?
Then are the more material matters like its size, location and access. They’ll want to make sure your site isn’t in a flood zone. Also on their list will be the site’s design for visual impact. And high on their agenda these days will be your plans for water management, sewage and drainage. There could also be the need for issues like environmental impact or ecological surveys.
Build a relationship with the planning officer and seek their guidance. They are the experts and your dreams are in their hands. They’ll be able to steer you in the right direction.
Once you have planning permission you’ll also need a campsite licence if your campsite will be used for either 42 days in a row or more than 60 days in any 12 month period. Local authorities will have licence conditions available from their planning offices and on their websites. These will include things like suggested numbers of WCs or showers. There’ll also be consideration for disabled access.
It’s a lot to get your head around but all the resources are out there for you to use. It can also be quite costly. But if you set a reasonable budget and make a detailed business plan at the outset your business dream should become a reality.
Arthur Penlington is the former Senior Editor of the BBC TV News Channel. He spent 18 years with the corporation. He covered three wars from the frontlines and stories from five continents.
He’s passionate about travel and the outdoors. After moving to Australia he sold his house and travelled the world for almost eight years. He’s written a top 3 travel humour book – Around The World In Wonder Socks – based on a year backpacking the world with no plan. Destinations were decided by the toss of a coin.
He’s camped in Australia, Asia, Europe and Africa and spent time with a former headhunter tribe, deep in the Borneo Jungle.