‘We’re not anti-visitors’, say Staithes residents embroiled in camper van row

Residents who say a Yorkshire coastal beauty spot is being damaged by inconsiderate tourists have denied they are ‘anti-camper vans’ and ‘anti-visitors’.

Staithes

Cowbar residents say the area around a narrow road into the village – a popular stopping off point for visitors to nearby Staithes and for walkers using the Cleveland Way which runs along the nearby cliff tops – is regularly turned into a free campsite by hundreds of vehicle owners.

They have shared evidence with the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) of human excrement and litter, along with grassland and verges, which support wildflowers, insects, small mammals and ground nesting birds, being destroyed.

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Redcar and Cleveland Council is proposing no waiting at any time restrictions to the north and south of Cowbar Lane, off the A174, in a bid to tackle some of the recurring issues and also intends to restrict access to a small free car park.

Some camper van and motorhome owners have claimed they are being unfairly tarred with the same brush and say the plans are unfair.

There have also been reports of visitors being harassed and intimidated with another such incident having recently been alleged.

But residents say they “absolutely deny” responsibility for this, along with any campaign against visitors.

A residents’ spokeswoman said: “We are not anti-visitors, or anti-camper vans or anti-surfers for that matter.

“Respectful, considerate visitors are welcome and we are trying to protect what they have come to enjoy.

“The problems resulting from too many vehicles and overnight camping are not being made up – we have hundreds of photographs and almost every neighbour has a story to tell.

“At peak season, dozens of camper vans of all sizes park overnight and some stay for days.

“The local police also have a record of many incidents of lockdown regulations being broken by campers over the past year.”

The LDRS has been told of some individuals openly using fields and allotments as toilets with piles of human excrement and tissue left along the Cleveland Way, along with used sanitary products and litter discarded in the open.

Other complaints from residents include children running wild on private land, including trampling a carefully cultivated bee meadow. There were also complaints of fires and barbecues being lit on grassland, fence posts pulled up and used for firewood, and dogs harassing a neighbour's chickens.

The spokeswoman said Cowbar Lane could not take the current level of tourist traffic and it had clear council signs stating that it was unsuitable for vehicles with designated access only for cottages in the village and the lifeboat station at Staithes.

She said: “Families, dog walkers, the elderly and disabled who enjoy walking on Cowbar Lane are all being put at risk by the volume of traffic using the single track lane and the reduced visibility caused by lines of vehicles parked bumper to bumper along the verge.

“Lines of parked vans are visible from miles away to those walking the Cleveland Way and the views and tranquillity are being ruined for visitors.”

Redcar and Cleveland Council has advertised two proposed traffic regulation orders in the area and if agreed they could be in place by early next month.

Addressing the council’s involvement, the spokeswoman said: “They are not setting out to punish everyone for the behaviour of a few.

“Space for visitors who want to park in the layby off the A174 and walk on Cowbar or along the Cleveland Way is not being removed.

“There is also parking for Staithes to the south of the beck, which forms the county boundary.

“Staithes already has very strict parking regulations, so many holiday cottage owners are recommending Cowbar as free parking for their guests.

“These owners pay their rates to Scarborough Council.

“Meanwhile Redcar and Cleveland Council are having to pick up the bill for road damage and clearing up rubbish from visitors on Cowbar Lane, despite getting no financial benefit from visitors.”

She said that enlarging the car park and charging for stays would not address the issue of damage to the area, adding: “Residents don’t need the car park and have their own private parking, although that is regularly abused by some visiting drivers.

“One council option was to close the car park completely.

“Out of consideration for disabled visitors and holiday cottage guests on this side of the beck, some residents then suggested keeping it open with a permit scheme to control use.”

The spokeswoman said the process that residents had gone through with the council had been “very thorough”.

She said: “Residents have been in meetings and correspondence with the council for over a year and there have been two detailed, formal consultations with the result that the problems have been acknowledged and the council has proposed these measures to protect Cowbar.

“New provision for camper van owners is being planned a bus ride up the coast [at the Majuba Road car park in Redcar] on a beautiful beach.”

The spokeswoman pointed out that Redcar and Cleveland Council had previously agreed a climate emergency action plan, underpinning many decisions about transport in the borough.

She said: “The sheer number of petrol driven vehicles and their impact on the environment is being recognised and addressed by councils.

“The use of camper vans and motorhomes for ‘staycations’ is all over the country and needs some calm, intelligent debate.

“There are plenty of respectful motorhome drivers who are working constructively with residents and councils for managed provision.”

Meanwhile, one visitor has described how he was sworn at by a man and challenged to a fight after stopping for two nights on the outskirts of Cowbar with his partner in their self-contained motorhome.

George Robinson, from Beaconsfield Street, Darlington, said immediately prior to the incident last August he had spotted a woman sneaking around vehicles taking down registration numbers.

He said: “I asked what she was doing and was informed that registrations were being gathered to pass on to the local council and police for parking violations, illegal camping, leaving refuse and human waste.”

Mr Robinson said the woman was joined by a man and his two dogs who "offered to fight me, swearing all the time."

“The lady attempted to calm him down, but he was having none of it and continued to berate myself, my partner and another motorhome owner.”

Mr Robinson added: “My partner says she is unwilling to return to Cowbar over personal safety fears.

“Staithes is a great place only spoiled by the poor parking on the North Yorkshire side and the hostility of some of the local residents to visitors on the Redcar and Cleveland side.”

Another motorhome owner Martin Bridge, who contacted the LDRS after learning of the planned restrictions in Cowbar, said: “I love to travel up to the North-East where there are some beautiful places and scenery to visit.

“Whilst I appreciate that not every motorhome owner is as responsible as the vast majority, it concerns me that all are tarred with the same brush.

“As a motorhome owner who pays road tax, as any other road user, it is not fair that restrictions are placed on our vehicles.

“For many people motorhomes and camper vans are their only mode of transport and it makes visiting local communities more difficult if parking provision for our vehicles is restricted.”

Mr Bridge added: “There are currently 225,000 motorhomes in the UK and with the ‘staycation’ idea being foremost in people’s thoughts at the moment, there are too few facilities available.

“In Europe, facilities for short term stop-overs are seen as a necessity in many places as they bring in much needed income for businesses.

“Currently there is a new movement called CAMpRA, which is trying to increase awareness and encourage the introduction of places for motorhomes to park up overnight – these are called ‘aires’ in France.

“Most motorhome owners have good disposable income and spend it where they are welcome, boosting local economies.”

Councillor Carl Quartermain, who leads the Labour group on Redcar and Cleveland Council, said he had been told 80 objections had been received at the last count to the proposed traffic regulation orders, although that figure is likely to be higher once the period during which comments can be received by the council comes to an end.

He said: “There has been a lot of noise around this and I’ve been asking should this not go through scrutiny [committee]?

“What they [the council] are saying is that it is a delegated decision, so it’s a bit of a closed shop.

“There are that many objections that somebody should be saying ‘Let’s stop a minute’ and discuss this.

“A compromise needs to be reached, something that pleases the residents but doesn’t harm our visitor economy.”