21 Feb Setting Up a Glamping Business?

Glamping has been in our vocabulary since about 2005; in reality the concept of elaborate movable tents goes back to the Ottomans, and perhaps as even as far back to the Crusades.

In the 21st Century glamping covers a range of tents or structures from yurts, to tipis, to shepherds huts; some offer proper beds while others offer sleeping mats. Many are equipped with log burners and have individual washing facilities. Rental rates vary from about £20 to £130 per night according to the level of facilities on offer.

Glamping holidays are sometimes sold as time where ‘Pimms O’ Clock and Wine O’ Clock’ are all the happy camper has to worry about, but what are the planning issues the operator needs to consider?

I can hear you say “but why do I need planning permission for tents or moveable huts? Surely permitted development allows me 28 days camping for an unlimited number of tents in any case?” The answer is that is a tent is erected and left in situ for several months it is usually regarded by the planning authority as a structure, and the glamping site will be a change of use of land.

In my experience, most glamping sites need a building(s) to provide washing facilities, possibly with a communal kitchen, a place for rubbish collection, as well as tracks to allow access, not on for day-to-day living but also for maintenance and general site management; these ancillary facilities also require planning permission.

Planning policies are supportive of tourist development in rural areas. London and the South East account for the major share of national tourism income that also provides valuable employment. In the south east as well as the ‘away from it all’ glamping sites, there are a number of high profile operators including Leeds Castle and The Aspinall Foundation at Port Lympne who offer a different type of glamping holiday.

After the business plan and deciding on your intended market, the first decision for the aspiring operator must be the location and whether it offers the visitor an uplifting and away from it all experience within sensible reach of things to do. Unfortunately, these types of location are often accessed by a series of small rural lanes with no passing bays, so this needs to be looked at objectively. Impact on adjoining landowners and house owners also need to be considered.

Traffic movements can be reduced by provision of a simple shop ideally selling some locally produced food, but the downside is that more labour is required.

In the south east, there are several Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty where the conservation of the landscape is a primary objective. The South Downs National Park, although sadly lacking tourist accommodation within the park, has conservation at the heart of its policies, so you need to consider the visual impact of the glamping development from public view points such as roads and public rights of way. Parked cars glint in sunlight so this needs to be considered, and campers perhaps encouraged to park away from their tent on a discrete part of the site.

If your site is on chalk downland, or close to ponds and mature trees, the infrastructure development might impact on protected species, so a biodiversity scoping report is likely to be needed. You also need to check whether there is ancient woodland nearby because this is protected too.

Although the visitor accepts glamping is a form of camping, water and electricity are likely to be essential to run a successful site. Compost loos might be fine to start with, but if the site proves popular with potential for year round occupation then a treatment plant is likely to be a more workable solution. This is more expense and will require planning permission. Further pressure on resources will follow if the site offers add ons such as wood fired hot tubs; I gather these are very popular.

The planning application itself will need to be well presented to deal with the salient points of the development and provide supplementary reports from specialist advisers such as ecologists or highway engineers where required. Planning policy needs to be addressed. Scale drawings of the tents and buildings and a good site and location plan will be essential.

It is likely a site licence will be required; these are granted by the local authority to the site operator to cover boundaries, firefighting, water supply and sanitation. The site licence follows the grant of planning permission.

Once the infrastructure is sorted out the question remains of who is to manage the day to day needs of the visitors and changeovers. Speaking to clients already in the tourist business, a campsite is not for the faint hearted, and requires considerable patience and commitment; TripAdvisor and other comparison sites leave no hiding place, but for those who enjoy meeting people with the right location for ‘Pimms O’ Clock’ it must be a form of diversification well worth considering.

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