A CAMPING operator is refusing to buckle to calls by civic chiefs – and even the health secretary – to reopen in the New Forest this year amid claims it will cost the local economy £16m.
Camping In The Forest (CITF) told the A&T on Wednesday it was “not commenting further” after last week’s announcement it will keep its sites shut despite the coronavirus lockdown easing.
Visitors will not be allowed at Hollands Wood, Setthorns, Holmsley, Ocknell, Long Beech, Ashurst, Denny Wood, Roundhill and Matley Wood.
The company has been widely criticised by local businesses, and was asked to reconsider by Forestry England amid fears of losing trade and campers staying illegally.
This week the issue reached the House of Commons when, in response to a question by New Forest East MP Julian Lewis, health secretary Matt Hancock called the closure for the rest of 2020 “disappointing”.
Mr Hancock said: “On a campsite people must be particularly careful of shared facilities, and ensure that they are cleaned properly, but there is a way to open campsites safely and securely, and doing that in the New Forest and elsewhere will help people to enjoy summer safely.”
Further pressure has been promised by Forestry England (FE), which confirmed this week it is in fact a minority partner in running the campsites that have been shut down.
However, it has blamed the majority controlling partner, the Camping and Caravanning Club, for making the unpopular decision.
FE clarified: “The decision not to open in 2020 was taken by the CITF business at a board meeting in late June and they quickly closed to bookings and published a statement to this effect.
“FE is disappointed in this decision and is in dialogue with CITF requesting for the decision to be reconsidered, but the ultimate decision rests with CITF.”
The spokeswoman outlined that the Forestry Commission – the overall group that encompasses Forestry England and Forest and Land Scotland – was represented on the board.
She added: “Forestry England is also in active discussion with the New Forest National Park Authority and other Forest organisations about steps that can be taken to help manage unauthorised camping.”
At New Forest District Council’s latest full meeting on Monday, leader Cllr Barry Rickman urged CITF to change its stance and revealed he had written to local MPs Sir Desmond Swayne and Julian Lewis.
NFDC had estimated that lost tourist expenditure locally could total £16m, based on just 50% occupancy of 3,105 pitches between 4th July and 28th September, he said.
Cllr Rickman added: “I am disappointed with the company and I am concerned as to the impact that this action may have on the New Forest economy.”
Not only would the economic impact be “significant” but there would also be huge implications for the environment, transport and anti-social behaviour, he warned.
Cllr Rickman revealed NFDC received no notification before CITF made the public announcement last week.
Cllr Rickman said he had also written to the secretaries of state for environment, food and rural affairs, digital, culture, media and sport and business, energy and industrial strategy.
He said: “This is a critical moment for everyone who cares about the visitor-generated economy in the New Forest and the very fabric of the Forest’s cultural heritage.
“I will add that efforts are being made to identify whether in the medium term any other local operators could extend their operations to offer more campsite pitches.”