Spacing On Camping Pitches. Just What Are The Rules?


There has been huge speculation, and, indeed, much argument in various groups and forums, in recent weeks as to just what are the current legal, and health and safety guidelines when pitching our campers, tents or caravans on public sites.

Once again, we thought it was worth looking into, to see exactly what the current position actually is.

Many people believe there is no actual law in place, and the distances often quoted (6 metres being the most popular) are simply a guide, devised by the Caravan Club, in much the same way as their ‘85% of vehicle kerb weight’ guidance when towing, whilst others believe that this distance is set in stone, within UK Law. The truth is, actually, somewhat predictably, somewhere in between.

The actual legislation governing pitch spacing on UK camp sites is the snappily titled; The Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960. Not the most modern piece of legislation in the world, but it has had numerous revisions, since its inception over 50 years ago. The Act is, itself, an update on the original Public Health Act 1936 insofar as it relates to caravan sites, and mixed sites of caravans and tents. Tent only sites continue to be governed by the original 1936 Act, although the provisions are exactly the same, and delegate responsibilities at a local level.

For anyone wishing to read the legislation, in its entirety there is a link to it at the bottom of this article, however, the key point of the legislation, insofar as it relates to minimum distances is as follows:

The Act states that; “The local authority shall consult the fire authority as to the extent to which any model standards relating to fire precautions which have been specified under subsection (6) of this section are appropriate to the land”.

Ok, so not the clearest of definitions, so what does it actually mean? Basically, it is the local authority who issue and control planning consents and licenses. It is, therefore, their responsibility to liaise with local fire departments, in order to establish a clear policy which can then be applied to all camp site planning consents and licences issued by that local authority.

What this, effectively, means is that, contrary to some opinions, there is no central legislation that specifically identifies the approved ‘safe’ distances between camping units. These parameters are decided on a local level. However, that does not mean there aren’t guidelines out there to guide those local authorities. Just like the 85% towing rule, these are not fixed in law, but many local councils have adopted them as the basis for their own planning criteria. These guidelines are as follows:

  • The distance between two aluminium caravans (or units of a similar fire retardant material) should be no less then 5 metres.
  • Where the units are of plywood panelling, this is increased to 6 metres.
  • If units are of mixed construction, then, again, the distance is recommended as 6 metres.
  • These distances are total spacing between units. It is acceptable for these spaces to be partly filled by awnings, vehicles etc, however, there should be no less than 3 metres of totally clear space between units, to allow for the access of emergency vehicles, where appropriate.

Again, these are just guidelines, and the actual distances for any given camp site will depend on the stipulations of the local authority. So, to clarify;

  • There is one central Act that governs the spacing of units on any camp site, however, it does not specify exact distances.
  • All distances are determined on a local basis by the local authority.
  • Those distances are then incorporated into any planning consents and site licences, and then become legally binding on the camp site concerned
  • These limits can then be (and, often, are) enforced where health and safety issues arise, and the local fire authority have the power to shut down any site that fails to comply.
  • Although you would need to check with your local council as to what their own limits are, if a site is blatantly flaunting these, resulting in obvious health and safety / fire hazard issues, you can complain to site managers / owners, and ask them to resolve the issue. If they fail to do so, you can alert the local authority to the problem, and, in the majority of cases, they will act to force the site to comply.

Probably worth pointing out that, whilst actual distances may vary, the act covers all touring and static caravans, campers, trailer tents and tents, and, should you feel the site administration are trying to cram an unsafe number of units into any given space, you can complain, and you are able seek redress.

For those with a little too much time on their hands, you can check out the full legislation below:

Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960

With thanks to Wychavon District Council Planning & Licencing Department and DEFRA, for their assistance in the production of this article.


About Alan Young

MD and owner of the Woodhurst Group, including Praxis Accountancy Limited and Blue Sky Recreation Limited. Also Commercial Director of The Sky visor Group
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