AN Antrim man is calling for a parking stop in the town or wider borough for motorhome and campervan enthusiasts.
Ally Onion from Muckamore said that such a site could help generate tens of thousands of pounds for the local economy each year.
An ‘Aire de Stationnement’ or ‘parking area’, normally shortened to ‘Aire’ for convenience, will be a common sight for anyone travelling across Europe.
Tourists using motorhomes on the continent are expressly not permitted to engage in any activity which has been deemed to be camping, other than in approved camp sites or caravan and camping parks.
‘Aires’ remain simple parking areas and enable local law enforcement to ensure such areas do not degenerate into unofficial encampments with undesirable consequences for the local environment.
In Northern Ireland and the Republic, motorhomes, falling within the definition of a ‘temporary dwelling’ are thus restricted in where they may park and are seen as being unfriendly to motorhome tourists.
Groups like The Motorhome Council and Motorcaravanning Ireland are campaigning for the provision of overnight motorhome parking, created and managed in line with the French ‘Aires’ model and which will offer safe and appropriate parking places throughout Ireland
Colin McCarthy, who sits in both groups, said: “The creation of a sufficient number of such overnight motorhome parking places will enable motorhome tourists to tour at their leisure and enjoy the beauty of our country, be it our rugged Atlantic coastline, excellent ‘Blue Flag’ beaches, inland lakes and mountains or historic cities and towns .
“We do not support camping, wild or otherwise, apart from on private land with the owners permission or approved caravan and camping parks.”
Mr Onion, who also sits on the Motorhome Council agrees and says that such a site in Antrim would provide a huge boost to tourism, particularly now that more people are holidaying at home because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“We have been campaigning for ten years now for Aires all over Ireland, north and south,” he said.
“Two to three years back I approached (Alliance councillor) Neil Kelly about getting an Aire in Antrim town and pointed out an area suitable. Some work has progressed in this and I understand it is now at a proposal stage.
“I would like to explain the concept and hope that businesses in Antrim town can see the benefits of an Aire and help us push this forward to bring tourism and business to Antrim town.
“An Aire is the common name used to describe overnight parking and service points for self contained motorcaravans or motorhomes, these are found all over mainland Europe and in many other countries around the world.
“What distinguishes an Aire from a campsite is the fact that an Aire is parking and sleeping but no external equipment, maximum 72 hour stay and no camping behaviour allowed.
“No area greater than the footprint of the vehicle can be used.
“The UK has yet to recognise the huge financial benefit of the self contained touring motorcaravan.
“Now estimated to be worth over £1bn per year to the local economy from the UK and Irish motorcaravans alone.
“In the Republic of Ireland there are 14,500, there are 4,500 campsite pitches, most taken up by Static caravans, there are around 1500 left for 14,500 motorhomes and that’s not taking into account caravans.
“Like many motorcaravan owners, we owned a touring caravan, after Christmas we would plan our trips for the year and book our sites.
“We would set up camp for long weekends or two week holidays, this was our base to tour the area in our car. Now we have a self contained motorcaravan designed to allow us to park up and have all the facilities onboard.
“We no longer plan and book months ahead, we simply decide at a moment’s notice to go away.
“Last month we visited the North Coast.
“We planned our first night and set off with no idea where we were going next or when we would return.
“In Northern Ireland, Portrush already has an Aire, as does Brougshane, Portglenone, Carrickgfergus and Coleraine, all through campaigning and education by Motorhome owners.
“My website motorhomecraic.com has 9,000 registered members and 43 million visitors, I have won a tourism award in 2018 from TourismNI for Motorhome Craic and my app Motorhome Parking Ireland motorhomeparkingireland.com
“We also run the Motorhome Council.
“In Europe we feel welcome everywhere we go. In our own country we feel unwanted with height barriers, no motorhome signs and campsites who refuse to provide for our needs.
“Because we have our own facilities, we only need access to fresh water and waste disposal - a simple cold water tap and access to a sewer.”
Mr Onion said that besides being seasonal, many conventional campsites do not meet the needs of the modern self contained touring motorcaravan for several reasons.
This includes that they are located rurally, meaning that an additional car is required to tour and that they are often too far from towns and villages, where motorcaravan owners like to eat out and buy food.
He also noted that popular sites need pre-booking months in advance - and many have a requirement for minimum stays.
Mr Onion continued: “For a self-contained motorcaravan that just needs a safe place to park, being asked to pay a premium for toilets, showers, reception and clubs that are not required is unacceptable - if you just wanted to purchase a jacket you would not expect to pay for a suit.
“Comparing an Aire to a campsite is like comparing a B&B with a five star hotel, they have different customers with different needs. If the B&B is full, they will not book into the hotel, they will just move to another town.
“We are promoting authorised, safe overnight parking and environmentally friendly waste disposal points throughout the UK and Ireland, to support our growing motorcaravan tourism market.
“Our aim is to get our official bodies, campsites and businesses to recognise the opportunity provided by Brexit and Covid, to capitalise on this untapped revenue stream and not to drive motorcaravan tourists back to mainland Europe once travel resumes.
“Because we need Aires close to towns and tourist attractions, in locations not suitable for a full campsite, there is an opportunity to work with us and operate a network of Aires in the UK.”
Mr Onion said that a number of sites had been looked at in the past.
“With everything opening up and events like the golf tournament at Massereene last week, the time has never been better to capitalise.” he said.
“Carlingford Marina recently worked out that each motorhome visitor represented over 200 euro on average to their local economy.
“In Cork, Cobh’s Aire started with ten spaces, it is now 30 spaces, when it was ten they introduced a €10 charge per night, in one year they raised €20,000 for the local economy
“The car park at Dublin Road, for example, is hardly used and is an excellent base camp for places like the Lough Shore Park and Massereene Golf Club, the Castle Gardens and many other attractions in the borough, it is close to shops and restaurants and having a constant presence would help displace some of the anti-social behaviour which is occurring there.
“It’s a win win situation for everyone.”