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Le Port parking restrictions like ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’

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RESTRICTING campervan usage in St Ouen’s Bay has been likened to using a ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ by a Senator who has called for the decision to be ‘immediately rescinded’.

Weather. St Ouens Bay. Surf , dunes, Le Port, camper vans, watersplash, El Tico Picture: JON GUEGAN. (24123979)

Last month it was announced that Infrastructure Minister Kevin Lewis, at the request of St Peter Constable Richard Vibert, had authorised a change of rules for Le Port car park on the west coast, so that vehicles were limited to staying there for up to 12 hours only in any 24-hour period.

The move was in response to growing frustration among the St Peter honorary police about the conduct of some of the users of the site, which has become popular with motorhome owners in recent years.

Senator Steve Pallett, the former Constable of St Brelade, said that he believed the move was too heavy-handed and said he was planning to lodge proposals for debate in the States calling for a regulated system of campervan usage to be introduced instead.

Senator Steve Pallett

His proposals would include establishing designated areas around the Island and restricting the usage of those sites to licensed vehicles for temporary periods.

In an open letter, which has been published on the JEP’s website, Senator Pallett speaks of his ‘total disbelief’ over the decision, which he criticised for not being made in consultation with campervan users.

‘I have been contacted by many worried Islanders and read hundreds of negative comments on social media over the past few days over the decision taken,’ he said.

‘My first reaction, as a former St Brelade Constable, was total disbelief at such an unnecessary measure to deal with an issue that has far better solutions.

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‘And with the realisation that it is highly likely that the problem will escalate in several ways, none of which will solve the problems that seem to have driven this decision.

‘It will potentially, in my mind, lead to the campervan fraternity spreading unregulated even further afield into other car parks around the coast, where such parking restrictions do not exist.’

St Peter's Chef de Police John Camara and Constable of St Peter, Richard Vibert, at Le Port

Senator Pallett adds that he believes a more ‘holistic’ solution to the problem should have been found and that the move, as it stands, would cause ‘distress’ among the high number of people who use campervans in Jersey.

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‘I have the utmost respect for each of the western parish Constables and the minister, but this is simply not the way I and many others believe decisions of this nature should be taken,’ he says

‘[We] are requesting that this decision is revisited quickly to limit the distress being caused and the bad feeling that is being generated unnecessarily.

‘I would like to think that not only motorhome users find this decision unacceptable but that the public at large, along with States Members, would also find the action taken, without consultation with any key stakeholder groups, over the top and unnecessary.’

He adds that the decision was like using a ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’.

Under current Jersey law it is illegal to sleep in a vehicle outside of the registered campsites in the Island.

Senator Steve Pallett's letter

I have been contacted by many worried Islanders and read hundreds of negative comments on social media over the past few days over the decision taken by the Minister for Infrastructure, Deputy Kevin Lewis, to introduce a 12 in 24 parking restriction in the coastal carpark at Le Port in St Peter near the Watersplash.

My first reaction as a former Constable of St Brelade was total disbelief at such an unnecessary measure to deal with an issue that has far better solutions and with the realisation that it is highly likely that the problem will escalate in several ways, none of which will solve the problems that seem to have driven this decision.

It will potentially in my mind lead to the campervan fraternity spreading, unregulated, even further afield into other carparks around the coast where such parking restrictions do not exist.

It will also leave St Peter honorary police in the unenviable position of having to deal with very disgruntled and annoyed campervan owners, the vast majority of which do not wish to upset anyone or damage the environment in which they live. This decision is a sledgehammer to crack a nut and shies away from the real issues that need to be addressed if we are to address modern day use of motorhomes in the Island. This decision should have been the last resort and not the first resort to solve this issue.

But why have we got to where we are? At a meeting held at St Peter’s Parish Hall some three or four years ago by the then Constable of St Peter, John Refault , it was clear that the campervan community in Jersey are very passionate about their way of life and were keen to be able to enjoy their motorhomes on-Island.

All who attended, including myself, were aware of the current limitations on motorhome usage in Jersey but it was clear at that meeting that the culture around usage has changed over the period since the legislation was introduced and the majority of owners who were at that meeting were of the view that a degree of relaxation of the law was required to allow owners to sleep in their motorhomes overnight and that - providing designated sites around the Island that could be monitored, charged for and, if necessary policed - was the preferred route forward. I had hoped that the Constables’ Committee could have brought forward some proposals in a holistic way during the previous political term that the then-Infrastructure Minister, Deputy Eddie Noel, could have supported. That would have allowed a degree of common sense to prevail by allowing regulated campervan use in limited coastal sites while protecting the natural environment we all love.

Unfortunately, this did not happen but subsequent to that meeting I told my own honorary officers in St Brelade that I would prefer a softly-softly approach taken to overnight use of motorhomes in various coastal sites, including for example Ouaisné, as long as the vehicles had toilet facilities and only stayed for one night and then moved on. To my knowledge this worked reasonably well but I am sure that officers at times had to take a less lenient approach. It seems to me that St Peter had a similar approach at Le Port while on the other hand St Ouen took a zero-tolerance approach on campervan use in their parish. Nevertheless over the past three years there has been a degree of compromise on both sides although I do, like many, understand that St Peter has taken the brunt of the motorhome issue and often have had to deal with the negative side of such use. However, the introduction of parking restrictions will not solve the problem, it is likely to exacerbate it.

We are all acutely aware that using a motorhome is currently prohibited under Article 99 (1)(b) in the Planning and Building ( Jersey) Law 2002 in that ‘a person shall not use a caravan on the Island except with and in accordance with permission to do so granted by the Chief Officer’. A motorhome owner must apply for a permit under ‘Apply to own or use a caravan or motorhome (P6)’ to the chief officer and a permit will be issued with various conditions including ‘1. That the vehicle is not used for any habitable purposes whilst in the island or, in the case of a motor caravan ‘that the vehicle is not used for any habitable purposes while in the island and displays Jersey registration plates.’

As the former St Peter Constable, John Refault, said in September 2015: ‘The camping law is draconian’ and that ‘to take action would require a Royal Court appearance for simply sleeping in your van overnight’. As he indicated, the sentence does not fit the crime and clearly shows why to my knowledge there has never been a prosecution brought relating to sleeping in a caravan or motorhome. It is also worrying to me that other parishes may well be relying on this legislation to prevent motorhome owners sleeping in their parishes should the problem escalate out from Le Port further afield as a result of the recent decision. As I say to date there has never been a successful prosecution and one would have to doubt whether it was, in fact, in the public interest to bring such a prosecution under the current law for such a violation.

I was certainly comforted, as I am sure were the many owners of motorhomes locally, when the current Constable of St Peter was quoted in the JEP on 25 August 2018 as saying that ‘the Island has to accept that campervan usage is an increasingly popular activity and better regulation and more designated sites is the best solution to the issue'. He also stated that ‘better regulation and more designated areas would take the pressure off his parish and allow problems to be dealt with more effectively’ and ‘ there are too many people using Le Port at the moment and it would be better if we had a number of regulated, designated areas across the Island.’

I am sure I, along with a great number of Islanders, would have read this and totally agreed with this view and believed that the newly elected Constable of St Peter would work with his colleagues on the Constables’ Committee and the new Infrastructure Minister in finding a workable solution to the problems faced by his parish over this issue, while safeguarding the opportunities for law abiding and responsible motorhome users to carry on using sites on the coast such as Le Port to enjoy their lifestyle. Unfortunately, though it seems that rather than dedicating some time and effort into exploring better regulation and more designated area, Constable Richard Vibert, with the support of the Constables from both St Brelade and St Ouen, has prompted an unnecessary measure and requested the Infrastructure Minister to place a 12 hours in 24 hours parking limit at Le Port. This will, as you would expect, impact the ability of any motorhome user to enjoy a way of life that they have come to enjoy over recent years, without any discussion or consultation. I have the utmost respect for each of the western parish Constables and the minister, but this is simply not the way I and many others believe decisions of this nature should be taken and we are requesting that this decision is revisited quickly to limit the distress being caused to and the bad feeling that is being generated unnecessarily.

I would like to think that not only motorhome users find this decision unacceptable but that the public at large along with States Members would also find the action taken, without consultation with any key stakeholder groups, over the top and unnecessary. There is a reasonable way forward but it needs to be implemented in a collaborative way through discussion, negotiation and consultation, so that hopefully a system can be put in place that can protect their rights of responsible motorhome owners, safeguard the sensitive coastal environment that any designated area may be situated within, ensure that any future designated area is only used by bona fide campervans or motorhomes and, that habitable use of a motorhome or campervan can be permitted, but limited, within any seven day period.

It is important that any antisocial problems caused by a fringe element at Le Port and elsewhere through indiscriminate camping and use of ill-equipped vehicles to sleep overnight is prevented, so that responsible owners are able to carry on enjoying what is a healthy and positive way of life. To be clear, I do not want to see every coastal carpark filled with motorhomes but there is adequate space to allow for designated areas around the Island but it’s important that multiple parishes play their part both in suggesting potential sites and helping to regulate sites, although I do not believe that any regulation needs to be burdensome. To simply bury one’s head in the sand and not work collaboratively to find a solution should be seen by all as unacceptable.

I will therefore be requesting that the following be considered as a matter of urgency as a way of working towards a resolution to a situation that could become worse if the parking restrictions are implemented at Le Port as has been suggested :-

1. To request the Infrastructure Minister to immediately rescind his decision to introduce a 12 hour in 24 hour parking restriction at Le Port carpark in St Peter.

2. To request the Infrastructure Minister to consult with the Constables’ Committee and other key stakeholder groups to identify and agree a list of designated areas for motorhome use around the Island.

3. To request the Infrastructure Minister to bring forward policy guidelines including potential fee structures for the use of any designated areas agreed in 2.

4. To request the Environment Minister to include within any permit issued to the owner of a motorhome/campervan that any habitable use is limited on island to 24 hrs within any seven day period on a designated area as agreed in 2. and must follow policy guidelines and fees as agreed in 3.

I believe that a fit-for-purpose regulated system to allow motorhomes to be used for limited periods on designated areas with Jersey is achievable and should have been explored before the parking restrictions were implemented. I am intending to use 1 to 4 above as the basis for a States proposition as there is clearly enough public interest at present to warrant a debate on this issue. I would hope that a solution could be found to avoid such a proposition but that may well not be achievable.

I have deliberately steered away from economic and tourism benefits that a properly regulated scheme may offer but such benefits would undoubtedly exist if managed in a responsible way for the benefit of all. It is important though that all interested groups have an opportunity to share their views and I am in no doubt that a public meeting on this issue may well be called before too long.

Ian Heath

By Ian Heath
author

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