Thinking of setting up a campsite in France? Here’s what you’ll need to consider when it comes to planning permission.
In France, control over the planning process is, in principle, devolved to a local level, with even the smallest of communes having the right to decide what will or won’t be permitted within its borders (with certain limitations such as those located within a national park). In the absence of a local regulatory framework, a national framework exists. An outline of these follows, and we need to be aware of these in relation to their effect on the possibility of gaining planning permission for leisure businesses such as campsites, glamping, yurts, pods, mobile homes. Suffice to say that planning is required where any land is to be used for such activities, and contrary to popular belief, the process is not straightforward, and a successful outcome is certainly not guaranteed. Firstly, let’s look at the difference between local and national planning frameworks.
There are a number of different ‘models’ in use for local regulations, with each version existing to control planning matters within the commune. The more usual ones are the PLU (Plan Local d’Urbanisme), POS (Plan d’Occupation des Sols) and the CC (Carte Communale). The first of these is the most detailed version and will place every plot of land in a commune into one or more planning zones, ranging from agricultural to industrial, and from parkland to residential. Each zone will have its own set of rules defining what can or can’t be achieved, taking account of an overall plan set by the commune for development of the area. The other two tend to be simpler (older) versions of the PLU, but have the same overall aims. In many cases, local plans specifically exclude the use of land for camping or leisure use, so it is imperative that regulations are checked to ensure the project is feasible, especially if you are buying a property with land or lakes in order to set up a business of this type.
These apply anywhere not covered by a local regulatory framework. Known as RNU in France (Règlement National d’Urbanisme), they are used to control what can or can’t be built in any given area or commune. Planning decisions resulting from applications where RNU applies will be based on issues such as existing land use in the immediate vicinity, size of development, noise, public health and safety, architectural style, etc, but most important is the proximity of the land to the built-up area of the town or village. The further it is from the centre, the less likely it is that the land will be ‘constructible’, and therefore the harder it will be to obtain permissions for any form of development.
Campsites (including glamping, yurts, etc)
If you’re thinking of buying a property with land in order to set up a campsite, there are some simple planning-related matters to consider, rules to follow and questions to ask yourself before you proceed with the purchase:
• Would I buy the property if permission for a campsite is not possible? If it would be a ‘deal-breaker’ to not have planning permission, then it is imperative to include a condition in the purchase contract that you will only proceed if permission is granted prior to completion. This can be either outline permission, or full permission, depending on your requirements, but it also depends on what the vendor is prepared to accept! Most vendors are happy with a condition for outline permission, but not all will take the same view for full permission. We’ll look at the differences later in this article.
• How many pitches do you want/need to make the project viable financially?
Many buyers would be happy to have a small site, for which planning regulations are generally more favourable than for a larger site, but if you’re looking to set up a site with more than six pitches then many things. change, and the regulations become more complex.
• What drainage facilities exist – mains, or will the project need a septictank system of some kind? Planning applications require proof that an adequate waste-treatment system will be installed, and the cost of the appropriate system needs to form part of your financial considerations.
Camping in France: The stats
• 8,256 campsites
• 910,428 pitches
• 33% of campsites in Europe are located in France
• €2.2 billion annual turnover
• €438 million annual investment
Source: FNHPA (Fédération Nationale de l’Hôtellerie de Plein Air)
• What facilities will you offer – e.g.shower and toilet block (whether using an existing building or creating a newblock)? Will you supply electricity points to the pitches? If so, it is important to be sure an adequate supply exists, not only for the campsite but for any owner accommodation or other requirements. Where an inadequate supply exists, planners may refuse the application, or demand the applicant pays for any extension to the property.
• ‘Camping à la ferme’ – this is a generic term where land is to be used for no more than six pitches, and a maximum number of 20 visitors at any one time. Anything more requires a different application, and the process is subject to more regulation. An important thing to note is that recent changes to regulations make the planning application in many cases subject to an impact study (or an attestation from the relevant authority that one is not required).
• Access– it is imperative that adequate vehicular access is available, together with sufficient turning space to enter and leave the site.
Did you know?
According to the Fédération Nationale de l’Hôtellerie de Plein Air (FNHPA), France attracts nearly three million foreign tourists who camp every year. A total of 109.7m nights were spent camping and caravanning in France in 2014, and more than two thirds of those who camp in France are French. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
• ERP (établissements recevant du public) regulations – where a building (e.g. toilet/shower block, games room, TV room, etc) is available to visitors, it must adhere to fire and disabled access regulations. A separate dossier is required as part of the planning application for the campsite, and these add time and cost to the process.
• Buying an existing site – where this is the case, it is important to check all permissions are in place, including ERP approvals. Where you intend to increase the number of pitches, you may need to undertake an impact study as part of the planning application – this may not have been necessary previously when the site was originally opened.
• Swimming pools – above-ground ‘temporary’ type pools do not as a rule require a permit, but in-ground pools, by comparison, certainly do. There are also strict rules about filtration and emptying processes which need to be detailed as part of the application process. All pools must adhere to safety regulations.
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