Llanberis lagoons 'free-for-all' exposes harsh truths about campervan invasion

Campervan with awning, tables and deckchairs parked on Y Glyn car park, Llanberis, last weekend. Overnight parking is banned at Cyngor Gwynedd car parks and even at official Arosfan sites, awnings, BBQs and windbreaks are prohibited
-Credit: (Image: John Horrigan)

A crash in motorhome sales has been predicted but shows little sign of happening. By 2033, the global market is forecast to have reached $72.8bn, doubling in a decade as a new generation of vanlifers take up the reins of a boom fuelled initially by the staycation stampede.

New registrations of campervans have been higher still, driven in part by a younger demographic of DIY influencers and a subculture wedded to the allure of lifestyle freedoms and flexibility. Despite the rising cost of leisure vehicles, a product of supply and demand coupled with inflationary pressures, sales remain remarkably robust. Even second-hand campers are still on the pricey side.

Most owners are looking for new places to visit with Insta-friendly backdrops and easy nighttime parking. Tensions within the communities they visit are inevitable.

READ MORE: Llanberis lagoons row sparks get tough plea to council

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Two weeks ago Morecambe Town Council in Lancashire called for a promenade parking ban amid complaints campers were using the town as a “personal car park” at night. Residents complained of noise, nuisance and the risk of fire from Calor gas appliances to homes nearby.

Strains between locals and van lifers have become an annual fixture in Llanberis, a town in Gwynedd at the foot of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon). Images of car parks by the town’s “lagoons”, apparently swamped by non-paying leisure vehicles, caused uproar amongst local people crowded out by motorhomes and whose taxes pay for the local services used by visitors.

Some days the Y Glyn car parks are almost empty but at weekends numbers swell and, as the peak summer season approaches, there are fears the problem will become unmanageable. The vans are there in force because it’s a great location and because new payment machines, installed when the car parks were upgraded, are not yet functioning properly. Small wonder people are attracted to stay at a facility labelled a “free campsite”.

Neither were height barriers being operated. Cyngor Gwynedd is bringing in private security to police the site and this should enable better management – though locals complain it’s a costly stop-gap that still leaves the site open to abuse. The North Wales Live Whatsapp community for top stories and breaking news is live now - here’s how to sign up

The row has caused eyes to roll amongst motorhome (MOHO) and campervan owners who take pride having a light-touch on the areas they visit. Cyngor Gwynedd has been praised by the van community for taking a proactive approach to the issue through its new serviced sites, known as Arosfans (similar to Continental-style aires), but they are regarded as only scratching the demand rather than meeting it head on.

Two years after funding was allocated for the concept, only one Arosfan is open, in Criccieth – though the Y Glyn Arosfan in Llanberis is being used unofficially. Opening dates for two others – at Cei’r Gogledd, Pwllheli, and Doc Fictoria car park, Caernarfon, have yet to be announced but are said to be imminent.

Writing online, one person bemoaned the shortage of suitable serviced sites for motorhome owners. “There are only 62 campsites across the UK that allow use of their services,” he said. “And there are 17 motorhome-only stopovers across Wales.”

One MOHO specialist believes it is unrealistic to expect Cyngor Gwynedd – or any other council – to pick up the tab for wider Arosfan provision. Instead, private landowners should seize the opportunity and campsites should adapt to changing markets, said Rhys Lumkin-Davies, CEO of Carmarthenshire-based Campervans.co.uk.

“It’s crucial to strike a balance between preserving the charm of tourist spots and accommodating the evolving needs of modern travellers,” he said. “But councils continue to misjudge the growth of campervan tourism across Wales.

“While it’s understandable that there are concerns about overcrowding and limited parking spaces, the influx of campervans also brings significant economic benefits to local businesses. Cyngor Gwynedd needs to ensure they enhance the visitor experience for all, including those traveling by campervan to encourage longer stays and higher spending in the local economy.

“Yet it would be silly to expect Gwynedd Council to build a 100-bay dedicated aire despite the clear demand. There are other options, however. Could Cyngor Gwynedd work with local businesses to signpost and direct campervans to other stops? Do local pubs, restaurants and tourism attractions have under-utilised car parks that can be used as stopovers, for free or in exchange for a small fee?”

Earlier this year Cyngor Gwynedd opened its first Arosfan site next to a railway line on the Y Maes pay-and-display car park in Criccieth
Motorhomes parked near Craig-y-Don paddling pool ushered in fresh restrictions on overnight stays in Llandudno

What’s happening in Llanberis and elsewhere has also exposed faultlines that exist between the motorhome/campervan community and traditional campsites catering for caravans. Hitching up at such a facility is anathema to owners wanting wild camping and the freedom of the road. Many complain they’re also too expensive, some with three-day minimum stays to lock in customers.

A Manchester owner said online: “Campsites are charging close to 100 quid for 2 nights and then wonder why no one is staying there. I go to a basic field for 12 quid a night – the campsite across the road with no electric is 90 quid for 2 people then 5 quid per dog, 5 quid booking fee and then 1 quid for a shower.

“And then some sites add extra costs for having an awning or tarp even though it’s on the pitch you’ve already paid for. And then they wonder why they are empty.”

Disposing of toilet waste can be costly for some campsites, which complain that van owner dash in and ditch their waste without paying. Besides, most owners paying £50,000-plus for a motorhome want safe, secure sites for their shiny new vehicles and appreciate the facilities provided by campsites.

“I hardly ever pay no more than £80 for 2 nights,” a Gwynedd man wrote on social media. “That includes all services, electricity, water, grey water disposal, toilet cassette point, toilet, shower, washroom, food prep area and laundry. They’re secure at night with locked barriers and site wardens to control everything. How many of these are supplied in aires set up by the council?”

Mr Lumkin-Davies agreed it was a controversial issue but he insisted campsites needed to up their game. “Why are these campervans and motorhomes choosing to stay in a dreary car park rather than pay to stay in local campsites,” he said.

“Local campsites have been outraged (by the Llanberis situation) and while it’s easy to point fingers and get angry, sometimes you have to consider if local campsites are part of the problem and solution. Are the days of charging a premium for campervans to merely park in a grass field, starting to dwindle? Maybe some of these campsites need to improve what they have to offer tourists, so they’ll choose to stay in a campsite rather than a boring car park void of atmosphere.”

Responsible MOHO owners cringed at the recent scenes pictured at Llanberis lagoons. Not only does it tarnish the sector, it makes life harder for those looking to expand the UK’s aires network. CAMpRA, which campaigns for serviced parking, has made huge strides but says there’s still a gulf between provision and demand. The Llanberis fiasco hasn’t helped.

Writing online, after seeing what happened there, one MOHO owner said: “It’s just selfishness, I see it all the time abroad. People want their awnings, tables, chairs, bbqs, windbreaks out. Taking the p**s and it attracts attention from the locals and the police. This is what gives free parking a bad name, how stupid do you have to be not to realise the consequences?”

The economic benefits of motorhomes are clear. Even owners of fully self-contained units get fed up of cooking and want to pop to the local pub or restaurant. Councils are being forced to take note .

CAMpRA cites figures showing that, while standard car parking generates £1,825 annually, the figure is “£7,000-plus” for motorhomes. In Fleetwood, Lancashire, where overnight parking (unserviced) costs just £5, compared to the £16.50 for an Arosfan (serviced), revenue at one car park rose from £2,810 in 2019-20, to £25,915 in 2022-23. More to the point, estimated local spending climbed from £26,414 to £243,601.

Cyngor Gwynedd’s Arosfans have service points providing water (£3) and disposal for grey and chemical waste. BBQs are banned, along with awnings, wind-breakers and washing lines
Earlier this year Cyngor Gwynedd opened its first Arosfan site next to a railway line on the Y Maes pay-and-display car park in Criccieth -Credit:Cyngor Gwynedd

Mindful of the trend, Cornwall Council launched a new MOHO parking permit trial in March. Initially it will apply to just one car park bit, if successful may be rolled out further. It followed a decision by Pembrokeshire Council to trial overnight parking and sleeping at four of its car parks.

Conwy Council has campervan and motorhome bays at two car parks – Morfa Bach in Conwy, and Maelgwyn Road in Llandudno. Neither has electric hook-ups or waste disposal facilities – overnight camping is prohibited at all Conwy car parks.

Many of Denbighshire Council’s car parks have height restrictions. However the local authority has taken a proactive approach to site recruitment for motorhomes: it currently has seven pubs, seven campsites and one farm shop signed up for overnight stays.

With Wales and its councils committing to net-zero approaches, the notion of having gas-guzzling leisure vehicles crisscrossing the country is a challenge yet to be addressed. So too is the planned introduction of a tourist tax from 2027.

This will also apply to motorhomes, campervans and caravans but revenue collection will rely on registered sites. Critics, such as the Wales Tourism Alliance, have voiced fears this will encourage campervans to "operate out of sight" and park up in lay-bys and on beach fronts. One even overnighted in a North Wales cemetery.

“It will get even worse when the tourist tax comes in,” sighed a woman on seeing the Llanberis furore. Sign up for the North Wales Live newsletter sent twice daily to your inbox

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