Fears fees may increase at Southwold Caravan and Camping Park
MOVES to improve facilities and boost profits at Southwold Caravan and Camping Park were given a cautious welcome this week amid fears they could lead to higher fees for the people that use it.
Dr Steven Langston, chairman of the Southwold Caravan Owners Association, is concerned that users will foot the bill for proposed changes aimed at generating a further �181,900 over the next five years.
Mr Langston said he was pleased measures were being taken to improve the park, but became alarmed when Waveney District Council failed to consult the association over its plans to review the site's operating period, revamp its website and install new electrical points.
At present, the district council has not ruled out an increase in fees, but said the improvements would bring the park 'in line with other modern sites across the country'.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Southwold has given his backing to the plans, which will see nine electricity points installed by the end of the summer.
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Speaking about the proposal to extend the park's season from seven months to nine in two years' time, Dr Langston told The Journal: 'We don't object to having an increase in the season because it would be beneficial to some members. What we don't welcome is an increase in fees.
'There is some anger because we represent the majority of caravan owners on the site and we were not consulted about the plans – as a representative of this organisation I find that disappointing and disturbing.'
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The council decided to review the camping and caravan park after a survey revealed it was losing money because some customers were pitching up for free outside staff working hours.
Customers also raised concerns about the cleanliness of the site and asked for electrical hook-up points to be installed for people who needed an electrical supply during their stay.
As a result, a report was submitted to Waveney's cabinet recommending improvements to the park's infrastructure and suggesting a planning application be made to extend its opening time to generate more revenue.
The report suggested extending the opening period of seven months a year, to eight months in 2012 (April 1 to November 30), and nine months in 2013 onwards (March 1 to November 30 for 2013).
Meanwhile, it was proposed �3,700 should be spent installing nine electricity points for camping and touring field pitches by the end of this summer and a further �3,700 on upgrading the park's website.
As previously reported, the cabinet approved both recommendations at a meeting on March 13.
Steve Ardley, the district council's portfolio holder for the green environment and operational partnerships, said: 'The changes that we are set to introduce are following comments and feedback we have had from users or potential users of the site and are intended to bring us into line with other modern sites across the country.
'While the proposed investments by the council should generate some additional income for us, it is mainly about offering a better service to current and future users of the site.
'We do have regular meetings with the Southwold Caravan Owners Association and all those who have a view on these proposals can of course have their say when the planning application is submitted as part of the formal consultation process. All responses will be considered before a decision is made.'
The Southwold Caravan and Camping Park is administered by the district council, which uses money generated from the site to fund services throughout Waveney. But a charitable trust has been formed by Southwold Town Council to take back the freehold of the park, as well as Southwold Harbour and some land, once work to the harbour wall is finished. The Southwold Harbour Lands Trust, comprising eight trustees, including a representative from the town council, will use the profits generated from the site to fund the upkeep of the caravan and camping park, the harbour and nearby land.
The mayor of Southwold, John Windell, said: 'We think the extended opening times and infrastructure improvements would be great for the trust – we wholeheartedly support it.'
He added: 'The Southwold Harbour Lands Trust is something which started 10 years ago when money needed to be spent on the harbour area, but Waveney District Council didn't have the money to do it.
'They suggested leasing it out, but the idea caused an uproar the town. We didn't want the harbour lands to be let out to anyone and that is why it was agreed that a charitable trust would be formed to take it back.'
The caravan and camping park's new website will be funded by the money made from the improvements. It will allow customers to book pitches online, while staff would manage the site from tablet computers.
A further planning application may also be made to carry out a �15,000 project to put a further 20 electrical points on the park.
At present, the site opens seven months a year from Good Friday or April 1 until October 31.
The Southwold Caravan Owners Association claims to represent two thirds of the users on the site.
The trustees of the Southwold Land Trust include town councillor Sue Allen, Andrew Blois, Alan Davies, Simon Flunder, Brian Haward, Robert Lee, Mark Sargeantson and David Webb.
A planning application to extend the opening time is expected to be made soon by Waveney District Council.