Emergency measures to help Highland communities cope with a growing influx of motorhomes have been welcomed by campaigners.
Highland Council is to ease licensing regulations to enable landowners with suitable sites to provide continental style motorhome stopovers, known as ‘Aires’.
It is believed to be the first UK local authority to make such a move. It is a response to a huge increase in motorhome ownership and rentals resulting in greater demand for self-contained holidays.
The new initiative should create an opportunity to offer small, simple and low-cost short stopovers for motorhome visitors.
The council’s tourism chairman Gordon Adam said: “The demand for travelling via motorhome has been intensified during the pandemic and, as a result, has created significant pressures for safe overnight parking in our rural communities.
“The Scottish Government’s ongoing commitment to a temporary relaxation of planning controls allows us to consider temporary use of appropriate locations for overnight stops in motorhomes without formal planning permission.”
Aires are used across much of Europe. The scheme is being branded in the Highlands under the name of Airigh, which means Shieling in Gaelic.
The council is optimistic the scheme will help boost the region’s economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic.
It hopes to encourage community groups as well as landowners with suitable land to submit an enquiry form to the council’s planning team.
Chairman of the council’s communities committee Alan Henderson said: “Such parking areas are provided in many European countries and bring welcome tourists into well-known and undiscovered areas, alike.
“The Highland ‘Airigh’ symbolise the freedom of motorhoming and reflects the way people are choosing to holiday.
“This approach is necessary to allow us to adapt to the increased popularity of this type of travel and mitigate the problems experienced in many communities from overnight parking in unsuitable places and congestion caused in beauty spots.”
Margaret Meek, a founder of the NC500 The Land Weeps social network campaign which was established to tackle irresponsible tourism, welcomed the council initiative.
She said: “We believe the preferred option for motorhomes is to either stay at a campground or on land that has been designated for overnight parking.
“The demand for sites currently outstrips supply. Small scale sites such as those proposed by the council are particularly welcome.”
Highlands outdoorsman and author Cameron McNeish, who has long campaigned for such facilities, is delighted.
He said: “There are over 360,000 registered campervans and motorhomes in the UK, and very few can go abroad this summer as they usually do.
“The Highlands is undoubtedly the favoured destination for this summer but we lack the campervanning infrastructure that is commonplace in continental Europe.
“This is very good news from the council – one of the most progressive councils in this respect.
“It adds to the already improving picture in Scotland thanks to various community projects, the Campaign for Real Aires and the excellent ‘stay the night’ trial scheme by Forestry and Land Scotland.”
As part of its visitor management plan, Highland Council has created a landowner guide to create temporary motorhome stopovers.
The temporary relaxation of planning control will be kept under review and remain in place until December 31 – or until the requirements for Covid physical distancing are removed.