Le Port’s coastal campers are rallying together to support a change in the law to help preserve their unique community of surfers, musicians and families that have enjoyed the area since the 1960s.
Threatened by the idea of being ousted following heightened public scrutiny in recent weeks, van camper Paul Hymas this week launched a petition to allow islanders to camp in their vehicle in designated areas around the island for up to 48 hours in a bid to preserve the area he camps at regularly and describes as a "very special place."
The Planning and Building Law prevents anyone from staying in their vehicle overnight, unless at a registered campsite, but Paul Hymas' petition, which received nearly 700 signatures in one day and is now close to receiving a Ministerial response, aims to change that.
Mr Hymas (37) has been going down to Le Port most weekends for the past three years. Sometimes he also pops down after work during the week. He says he has met many people down there with his girlfriend and that 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.”
Video: Sometimes campers bring their music instruments to Le Port. (Paul Hymas)
Le Port is the only place on the island where people can camp in their vehicles. This is because the Parish of St. Peter agreed to make concessions in 2014 following a public meeting attended by over 200 people and Planning representatives.
Constable Richard Vibert, explained: “I wasn’t Constable at the time, but I was at the meeting. It was decided to maintain the status-quo as people were already staying down at the bay at the time. What was agreed was for people to stay there, as long as they were parked in a single line and wouldn’t stay for more than 48 hours."
However, the Constable says some campers have taken liberties with what had been agreed. “Nobody adheres to it today. We didn’t want to overcrowd the area but now we have so many vehicles crammed in a tiny little area. Not much common sense is applied and they all park too close to each other. It is not safe, if a fire broke out, you couldn’t get the vehicles out of there. I don’t want to ban the use of the area altogether but I wish we could move back to where we were in 2014.”
Pictured: Mr Hymas says that Le Port feels like a little community where people bring their families and pets. (Paul Hymas)
Mr Hymas is concerned that campers might get banned from Le Port. The effect would be “devastating” for the small community of campers who like to stay there, he says. It would also mean losing part of the island’s culture. “People have been going down there since the 1960s. It all started with the surfers who stayed there overnight to catch the waves early in the morning. You can’t go camp anywhere else in the island. It’s a very special place to a lot of people. As it is on the West Coast you can also watch the sunset. It’s a real bit of Jersey culture and it’s a very unique place.”
Jonathan, another Le Port regular camper, says: "To be honest, this is the only place in Jersey where you can really enjoy the island."
Fabio adds: "It would be a shame to stop camping as this is a place where on weekends I can meet up with friends, enjoy a barbecue and a few drinks and not worry about how I will get back into town. You really get to know the regular users and it becomes a community. We enjoy live music, sitting around a controlled camp fire and watching the stars at night. I prefer spending my weekend there instead of going out clubbing and getting wasted."
Pictured: "We enjoy live music, sitting around a controlled camp fire and watching the stars at night," a regular camper says.
For Leanne, the best thing about Jersey is "enjoying its amazing beaches and scenery." "Being able to park up and camp down at one of the most beautiful spots in Jersey is a privilege and it would be awful to have that taken away," she says. "I’m not down at Le Port every weekend, however, whenever I am down there I never see any rubbish left around everyone always respects how lucky they are to be able to camp down there and the atmosphere is always great.
Mr Hymas admits that there are some campers who do not behave in an exemplary way. “There is always going to be a small minority that spoils it for others,” he says, adding that incidents are very rare. “There is a community of people that will pull them up about it,” he adds. “We pretty much self-police the area ourselves.” The camper is also adamant that no rubbish is ever left behind as the group always ensures the car park is clean. “We have a Facebook group and we organise beach cleans together. There are three bins on site and we collect whatever rubbish people might leave.”
Pictured: The best thing about Jersey is "enjoying its amazing beaches and scenery," says Leanne.
Following a recent swell in public opinion, Mr Hymas said it felt the community’s back was against the wall. After consulting with other campers and St. Peter’s Constable he decided to launch a petition to defend his beloved area. The aim would be to introduce a system similar to the French “aires de services” that would allow local people to camp in designated areas for up to 48 hours. Campers will be gathering at Le Port on Saturday to show their support for the petition.
“The law is not fit for purpose,” said Mr Hymas. “Nobody agrees with it. It was introduced to stop farmers from putting their staff in temporary accommodation, not to stop people from camping. I don’t know anyone that has ever been taken to court or fined for camping at Le Port. But the police do come down and tell people it is against the law. It puts some of them off. We just want to be able to camp freely. It’s not just about Le Port. The law would allow it in other areas.”
Leanne adds: "The idea of bringing in how the French do things is a brilliant idea as it will help regulate the area. By bringing in other spots to do the same, it would stop it from being so crowded in just one area. It’s clear to see how many people want to be enjoying the beach, sunset and camping with their friends. I very much doubt anyone would mind paying a little fee for 24/48hrs to be able to do what they love. I really hope that this privilege isn’t taken away and that something is done to be able to help regulate it and make everyone happy."
Pictured: The St. Peter area where van owners often camp. (Google Maps)
Mr Hymas says that Longbeach in Gorey, Les Platons or Bouley Bay Commons in the North as well as Ouaisne Bay could be other potential sites, with a lot more inland. “There should of course be guidance on how many vehicles should be allowed in each area,” he adds.
One thing he is adamant about is that camping should be free. “We don’t want another campsite,” he argues. St. Peter’s Constable is supportive of an “aire”-inspired system, but says there should be a small fee. He explained: “The French system is very popular. It could help alleviate problems here. If we are sensible we could have a number of areas with a limited number of vehicles. We would need electric facilities and toilets, which would have a cost. Maybe campers could pay a small fee.
“More and more people have camper-vans or motorhomes. If they can only use it when they take it out of the island it’s a bit restrictive.”
For Mr Hymas the advantages of changing the “outdated” law outweigh any possible drawbacks or issues. “I know the Constable mentioned toilets. But people could just bring their own toilet - you can get one online for £50,” he says. “It could bring more people to the island and maybe people from outside could pay a fee.”
Pictured: Mr Hymas thinks that removing restrictions on outdoor camping would encourage people and children to get out of the house.
“There are just so many advantages to allowing people to camp like this,” Mr Hymas continues.
“We have 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.”
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