Le Port's coastal campers are calling for a public meeting to discuss the future of "free-camping" after the Environment Minister agreed to review the island's short-stay camping provision.
The Minister's agreement came following a petition to allow islanders to camp in vehicles in designated areas around the island for up to 48 hours.
Deputy John Young will be meeting other Ministers and Constables to review the current legislation and what would be the best way to regulate "free-camping."
The Planning and Building Law currently prevents anyone from staying in their vehicle overnight, unless at a registered campsite. Le Port in St. Ouen is the only place in the island where it is possible, since the Parish of St. Peter agreed to make concessions in 2014 following a public meeting attended by over 200 people and Planning representatives.
To preserve what many describe as a "very special place," Paul Hymas, a van camper who has been going down to Le Port most weekends for the past three years, launched a petition last month. Threatened by the idea of being ousted following heightened public scrutiny, Mr Hymas sought support for a change in law that would allow islanders to camp in their vehicle in designated areas around the island for up to 48 hours.
Mr Hymas has met many people down at Le Port with his girlfriend and says there is always a great atmosphere. “It’s like a little community. People bring their families, their dogs. The other night people were playing music instruments. It’s just great to go there! I sometimes come down after work during the week and it’s like a great escape.”
He also said that the advantages of changing the “outdated” law outweighed any possible drawbacks or issues. He thinks it could bring more people to the island and also benefit children brought up in built-up areas. "Parents could get them out the house, it would improve their life, they would be playing outside, developing social skills. They would be part of a community," he told Express.
Pictured: Mr Hymas says that Le Port feels like a little community where people bring their families and pets. (Paul Hymas)
The petition has so far received 1,459 signatures, passing the 1,000 threshold that prompts a reply from States members. Deputy John Young, the Minister for the Environment replied to the petition yesterday explaining that a review of short-stay camping regulation is required to see "how best to manage it."
He added: "Being able to enjoy the special qualities of Jersey’s coast and countryside is part of what makes the island a great place to live and visit. Access to the island’s special places, however, needs management to ensure that the qualities that make them special are not damaged or lost, and so that everyone can continue to enjoy them."
He explained that creating free camping areas, where people can camp overnight in vehicles designed or adapted for human habitation, in the island will affect different legislation. This includes the protection of Jersey’s coast and countryside, Planning Law, as well as Tourism and Highways legislation. He also stated that the owner of the land would need to give his permission for it to be used as a camping area.
Deputy Young added that the existing regulation has been successful in "protecting the island’s coast and countryside from the adverse visual impact of holiday caravan parks and sites, whilst allowing visitors to camp, in a tent, caravan or motorhome on designated sites." He also acknowledged an increasing demand for short-stay camping outside designated sites, such as Le Port.
Pictured: Surfers, musicians and families have created a little community down at Le Port.
The Environment Minister however expressed concerns over the impact short-term camping could have on the local environment and its enjoyment by the wider community. "Jersey’s Coastal National Park, for example, seeks to promote access and enjoyment, but it also seeks to ensure conservation and enhancement of its natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage. The unauthorised use of land at Le Port is having an adverse impact upon this sensitive environment and needs to be managed," he wrote.
Deputy Young concluded his response saying that the relevant Ministers and Constables will be meeting to discuss how the demand for short-term camping in St. Ouen’s Bay can be best managed. He said that this will be done in time for next summer, when most campers spend evenings and weekends down at Le Port.
They will also be looking at a review of the current regulatory framework for short-stay camping and the best way to regulate it. The potential cost for the servicing of the designated camping sites will also be taken into consideration.
He also assured Express that stakeholders and the community will be involved in the development of any proposals.
Mr Hymas said he was "pretty happy" with the Minister's response. He however added: "I hope the Minister understands that we want less rules and regulations that prevents people from camping. People want more of what has been allowed at Le port to happen elsewhere around the island especially along St. Ouen's Bay. Le Port is a very special place to so many people and I believe it should be promoted.
"Most people who use Le Port look after it and have great respect for local environment, I would even go as far as saying it’s the cleanest stretch of coastline in Jersey."
Mr Hymas hopes that the authorities, politicians and campers can come together to recognize what has been done at Le Port and work together so that more people can go camping on the island "without breaking the law."
"I think a few people will be unhappy with any kind of change but if it makes things better for everyone and the environment then that's got to be a good thing in the long run," he added. "There's a lot of support so I'm hoping any changes made will be for the the better. The last thing anyone wants is for any bad decisions to be made and we have to go through this all over again. I suggest the only way forward would be to have a public meeting so everyone can have a say."
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