Government “must act fast” to support diversifying farmers
2nd March 2023
Following the launch of a consultation on whether to permanently extend permitted development rights (PDR), we spoke to Pitchup founder Dan Yates to find out what this could mean for British farmers who are hoping to diversify this summer.
In the summer of 2020, as the world still reeled from Covid-19, permitted development rights – which allow farmers to operate a temporary campsite for up to 28 days without further planning permission – were extended to 56 days.
Although this generated an estimated £25 million for the rural economy, the government reverted to the original 28 days in December 2021. But as farmers face the loss of subsidies and cost of living crisis, many are urging the government to permanently extend PDR. A consultation on the issue was launched this week.
- With PDR only allowing a maximum of 28 days, what problems does this create for farmers trying to diversify with pop-up campsites etc?
The cost of providing services such as mobile toilet and shower blocks and water supplies is significant, which is difficult to recoup if sites can only operate for 28 days a year. Demand for camping is determined by the weather, so a few wet weeks can wipe out any profit. Furthermore, because it can be prohibitively expensive to remove facilities temporarily; considerable periods are lost to low mid-week demand and erecting/dismantling facilities.
These factors make 28 days unviable for many farmers, since they’re unable to make full use of the summer weather.
2. How might diversifying farm businesses be affected if the rights are not extended?
The situation has been heightened by the impending loss of subsidies and soaring inflation, for example the cost of renting portable facilities, making it harder to turn a profit. Without the additional days, many will be unable to open a campsite this year – a huge blow to their business, to new converts to farm camping, and to their local community.
Some are applying for planning permission, but we’ve heard countless stories of applications being delayed for months, even years. In fact, the proportion of minor commercial planning applications in England that breached the eight-week limit was 50% higher last year than before the pandemic, despite 12% fewer applications*, meaning that applying for planning permission is unlikely now to be feasible this year.
- How would farmers benefit if PDR are extended?
During the pandemic farmers made an average of £13,000 from a 56-day pop-up campsite, but many made significantly more.
Owners Carwyn and Leanne Miles said that their campsite, Eco Caerhys Camping, “made around £43,000 in those 56 days and after paying all of the bills (logs, campfires, toilet hire, drain digger, cleaning products) […] profited a fantastic £36,000.” They added that as farmers, this extension “has made a massive difference”. The revenue provided by the pop-up campsite made them “financially able to keep the farm going that bit longer and support our family better”.
Explaining why the pop-up sites are an excellent way to diversify income, they said: “If we were to invest into the cattle, we would have to restructure the whole business and become a herd of about 75–100 head of cattle. We would have to build more sheds to sleep all of the cattle and this would cost around about £220,000–270,000 and would still not make as much money as the campsite did in those 56 days. It would also put our family into a huge, constant, never-ending debt which would be impossible to ever pay back.”
And there are benefits beyond financial stability; many reported that they enjoyed having people around, sharing their site with campers and educating them about the running of the farm. It’s great for farmers as it is sparking a real interest in what they do, and for consumers who have the opportunity to learn about food production while enjoying the chance to relax in beautiful surroundings.
- What difficulties is the current uncertainty over PDR causing farmers who are trying to diversify this summer?
On 28th February, the UK government launched a consultation to permanently extend Permitted Development Rights (PDR) for tent camping from 28 days to 60 days. Although they seem to have been procrastinating a bit, and have left little time to complete the consultation in time for this year’s holiday season, the fact that it is now finally underway is great news.
We encourage all interested parties to take part in the consultation, and we hope the government will see fit to write this into the statute book. In Wales, the consultation on permanently extending 56-day permitted development rights ended over a year ago (15th February 2022) and sadly we are still yet to hear the result. In April 2022, the Minister for Climate Change said: “A government response will be issued later this year”, which hasn’t happened (https://record.senedd.wales/WrittenQuestion/85047).
We are asked about the issue on a daily basis by farmers and landowners who want to set up a campsite. They are frustrated by the slow progress, particularly as the 28-day limit for marquees at bars, cafes, pubs, and historic visitor attractions has been lifted altogether, allowing them to stay up all year round, a consultation that took just three months to implement in 2021. All they’re asking for is equal treatment.
The government needs to act fast as delays means sites are already missing out on bank holiday bookings for 2023 – bookings in February on Pitchup.com are 55% higher than last year. As the government’s own consultation document states: “Over the past two years England has seen a renewed demand for domestic holidays, and holidaymakers have enjoyed trips to our magnificent coastlines, countryside, towns and cities. As the country faces new economic challenges, the government recognises the importance of supporting the local tourism industry and domestic holidaymakers to ensure that as many people as possible can enjoy summer breaks in England.”
If the government leaves it too late before confirming the extension, the amenities that landowners may need to rent may not be available later in the season e.g. shower units and toilets.
The delay has caused unnecessary stress for farmers who are facing one of the most turbulent times in the industry’s history.
- What would you like to see the government do to address these issues?
We would like to see the outcome of the Welsh consultation which closed on 15th February 2022 and which was promised by the end of last year, and timely implementation of the government’s proposals to support pop-up camping for summer 2023, following the consultation just launched in England.
The move to extend permitted development rights is supported by senior politicians in the Tory Party including the secretary of state for DLUHC, Michael Gove. When questioned on the topic by Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby, in May last year Mr Gove replied: “I now know what my Easter plans will be, and he’s absolutely right that making sure that we can, through the exercise of permitted development rights, provide people with the opportunity to holiday in places as beautiful as North Yorkshire is an entirely welcome development.”