People sometimes say to me, ‘Jac, you’re a miserable old sod, moaning about this and that, but your blog is a bit light on solutions’. (Bastards!) So following on from some of the issues dealt with in previous posts here’s some original, joined-up thinking that could solve two major, and worsening, problems we suffer in Wales. This could be done quite easily if the political will was there, leading to the right legislation being enacted by
the deadbeats down Cardiff docks our enlightened tribunes.
So here are the two ‘birds’ I advocate killing.
As I pointed out in the previous post, the problems with static caravans, or (non-mobile) mobile homes, is that we have them in such numbers in Wales that they scar the landscape, especially our coastlines; yet they generate little wealth for the areas in which they are found. So you have to ask why we have them at all. Not least because they present us with one of the many paradoxes or contradictions of tourism: ‘Come to Beautiful Wales’ . . . and see mile after bloody mile of mobile homes destroying that beauty.
Here on the Meirionnydd coast, what we see is an arrangement that grew up to serve, on the one hand, the greed of local landowners; and on the other hand, the demand for cheap and regular holidays for the skilled working classes and the petit bourgeoisie of the English Midlands. Though many of the larger caravan sites have now passed out of local ownership, to the point where tracking down who ultimately owns them can be difficult.
So caravan sites are ugly, they put little into the local area in terms of money and jobs, they merely attract large numbers of low-spending tourists; who generate traffic, leave litter, use local services, etc. The only people who could find this situation acceptable would be the owners of caravan sites.
Now I don’t want you to confuse me with Hugh Pugh and think I’ve got it in for Rhyl, but the truth is that this town is a bottomless pit for Welsh public funding, due to private landlords and other agencies buying up derelict or unwanted buildings, converting them into multi-occupancy buildings, then shipping in from east of the border petty criminals, drug addicts, assorted indigents and other ‘problems’. But Rhyl is simply the worst and biggest example of a spreading problem.
A problem usually explained by the traditional seaside holiday having been superseded by cheap overseas holidays, and this making many small hotels and former bed and breakfast establishments redundant. These were unsuitable for any other purpose so, short of selective demolition, which would have left us with gap-toothed seafronts and streets, planning permission was allowed (or not even required) to turn them into flats.
The influx encouraged then generates the inevitable superstructure of third sector organisations to administer to its ‘needs’. And housing associations to provide better accommodation than the slum-boxes the new arrivals originally move to. Both third sector and housing associations are largely funded by the Welsh public purse.
So what do we do about these problems? Well, first, we need a new tourism strategy; one that includes a national planning presumption against caravan sites and chalet complexes. This must mean no new sites, no expansion of existing sites, and no replacement mobile homes for those coming to the end of their useful lives.
To replace the caravans and chalets incentives would be offered to convert empty and redundant buildings into holiday apartments, either locally owned or sold to buyers from outside Wales. It might even be possible for councils or local co-operatives to be involved in order to maximise the local income. Reducing the numbers of self-catering options would also lead to a growth in small hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation.
Arguing that fewer tourists would come to Wales as a result is not thinking it through. Tourism is about making money. At present we have large number of tourists spending very little per head, and each one making a contribution to environmental and other damage; fewer tourists spending more per head is a win-win situation for Wales.
To summarise, following the strategy I suggest would provide the following benefits:
Phasing out caravan parks would help restore our coastline and countryside to something approaching their former beauty.
Serviced accommodation would provide more employment than caravan parks and chalet sites. Both in direct employment and through work for those employed maintaining them (unlike owner-maintained caravans).
Serviced accommodation would also source food and much else locally, in contrast to the present situation that sees many of those now staying in caravans bringing a great deal of their food and other necessities with them.
This strategy would be more likely to encourage year-round tourism. (Given the choice between spending a winter break in a wind-rocked caravan or a cosy holiday apartment which would you choose?)
Our currently decaying and exploited resort towns could be cleaned up and revitalised with legislation making it more profitable to convert redundant buildings into holiday flats than social security lets.
The new flats could either be rented out by the building owners or else sold as holiday apartments (with enforceable stipulations against full-time occupancy).
With the influx of undesirables greatly reduced the Welsh public purse would be saved a lot of money.
Obviously there would be some losers; in the main, the caravan site owners. But these could be compensated. Other than those making and selling caravans – few of whom are in Wales – I can think of nolosers other than the racketeering private landlords; the drug-dealers, money-lenders and others plaguing our decaying resorts; the councils and other agencies in England that are currently dumping so much of their dross on us; the third sector luvvies leeching off the public purse; and the politicians who capitalise on the existing situation to harp on about ‘Poor Wales’.
The winners? Us Welsh. Roughly 99.9 per cent of us.
Maybe I’m too optimistic, perhaps I’ve overlooked a few things, but I see this as a workable way of linking and solving two apparently disparate problems. But because it might be of benefit to Wales I suspect it will be rejected by our masters in London. And if it meets with hostility in London then our overseers in Cardiff will never touch it.