Cllr Barney Fitzpatrick said: “Three years ago it was obvious that most of our local Councillors were unaware of the great potential that the proper provision and management of motorhomes could bring to our economy. Instead there was, and I think still is, a knee jerk reaction to the inevitable chaos that results when there has been no attempt to manage the situation for the benefit of the community and motorcaravaners.
“For some years now the popularity of the traditional caravan has been overtaken by the motorhome. This trend was obvious in continental Europe , before appearing here. We should therefore look in that direction to learn how to manage them properly.
In Europe motorhomes are recognised and treated as major players in the tourist industry. Yes, there are identified areas where motorhomes are not allowed to park, but equally there are always designated areas where they can. For example, the ‘Aire de Service’ in France are parking locations where visiting motorhomes can have access to the basic services they require such as electricity, fresh water, waste water and toilet disposal facilities, not to mention information about the local area including restaurants, shops and places of interest.
“Many are provided by and located beside commercial caravan and camping sites. These facilities are unmanned and provided at a nominal charge, payable into a slot on the pillar that supplies them. These ‘Aires’ usually provide the opportunity for the motorhome and its passengers to remain for a specified number of nights. Our European neighbours have recognised that if managed properly, motorhomes bring substantial economic benefits into their tourist areas.
“There is now an increasing number of motorhomes from Europe arriving in the UK and Ireland , carrying with them expectations of an infrastructure similar to that which they are accustomed to at home. Then when they arrive they find an almost total lack of provision and little or no information for them.
“It should be remembered that most of those visiting Northern Ireland do so as part of a tour of the whole country, so even if they stay for weeks it is seldom based in one location. They will stop where their information indicates that there are quality facilities. Alas, these are not to be found on the Causeway Coast let alone around this island. I hate to think what our much sought after European visitors will report back on their return home – it may unfortunately not be a message that is likely to encourage others to visit Northern Ireland.
“I raised these issues, and the need to initiate a plan of action to address them, some three years ago with Council officers, but despite being reassured that action would be taken, nothing much seems to have changed on the ground. We are still meeting to rehash the problems.
“It is time for urgent action and joined up government to address this issue. It will require the Department of the Environment, The Northern Ireland Tourist Board and our local councils to co-operate to ensure that this issue is addressed and managed properly before it is too late.
“We need to attract more tourists to boost our economy and we can only attract more if we have the right services available.”