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A Tale of Two Clubs
Now, suppose you were a major club for caravan users and owners, and suppose you realised that many of your members would like to bring their caravans to London for the Olympics and expected you to organise sites. How would you go about this?

Well, if you were, say, club 1, you would start talking to councils already getting closely involved with and promoting the Games, and you go into partnership with one of these Councils to provide two sites, both of which are reasonably sized (i.e. a couple of hundred pitches on each site) with a rail journey time of 10 minutes or so to Stratford. Both sites also have showers and sewerage on site and are close to shops and other facilities.

On the other hand, if you are club 2, you take up a offer, from the parents of a famous ex-Olympian, of the use of their farm, and you look at the your derogations from various clauses of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960, and you figure you don't need planning permission - and that you can ignore the bits about temporary sites that say 'five caravans or less' and '28 days at most' because this is the Olympics, after all - and you write a letter to the District Council (I would, by the way, love to see this letter, because said DC says that they were 'waiting for details' from the club) informing them that you are going to use the site as a park for caravans for three months over the Olympics and Paralympics period. As it happens, none of the Councils involved consider themselves as being in London, and are by no means over-enthusiastic about the Olympics, but the District Council acknowledges the letter, which you promptly assume is a go-ahead and that everything is hunky-dory.

I am not sure whether at this point you mention the 1300 pitches, the lack of any sewerage or showers on site, the big screens, the food hall, the fast food stands, and the new entrance they you are going to have to put in but you certainly are not going to inform the parish council or anyone living nearby. Oh, no, perish forbid!

Finally, you certainly do not take a look at the local road links or mention that all the caravans are going to have to come through a brand new entrance cut into a two-lane, heavily-trafficked village road (because the farm itself is on an unmetalled ancient 'green lane' which exits from the sharp bend with a 20mph speed limit on an accident hot spot) where the locals parking means that anything larger than a Chelsea Tractor - and there are a lot of those - has to wait for a gap to get down the road.

You do note (or, more likely, are told) that you are going to have to run lots of minibuses to convey a possibly several thousand people to the local tube station - in fact, you quickly realise you can't use the local tube station because that station only has trains every 20 minutes! You nominate another station, from where, if you are lucky, you can get to Stratford in about 25 minutes. On a train that is usually packed out with London commuters on a normal day and from which TFL does not intend to run extra trains. Nor do you check your 'easy access' from the M25 and M11, towing a caravan or you might want to change the adjective.

What you do do, at this point, is advertise the site and start taking bookings.

And the people who own properties nearby finally find out and, lo!, they are NOT AMUSED. They tell the Parish Council, who are now receiving hundreds of objections, and lo! they are NOT AMUSED either. Immediately, an opposition group forms. It leaflets every house in the parish (which, I admit, is how I first learned about it.) It creates a website. It gets articles in the local press. It demonstrates outside the pub where club2 is explaining itself to the Parish and District Councils. It gets legal advice. It advises the Councillors about said legal advice. It sticks up hundreds of posters. Someone tears down the posters during the night, trespassing to do it. The local press is gleefully informed and runs a story.

Club2 panics. It mutters woefully that it has never had opposition to its sites before, and withdraws, its tail between its legs. People who have already booked are promised their money back in full.

One stupidity about all this is that, if club2 had talked to the councils involved about using sites similar to those that club1 is taking bookings for, there are a number of possibilities available. Admittedly, they would not add up to 1300 pitches, and would not have had the opportunities for fast food franchises (or to make the amount of money that the owners of the site and club2 no doubt expected to make) but they would have had much better transport links and much, much better access to shopping and sewerage. They would also, like club1, have had to limit these temporary sites to the actual Olympic period, and not covered almost a month when there were no events taking place.

The second stupidity is that this all took place in Chigwell, and not just in Chigwell but on the doorstep of Chigwell Village, where the houses generally average a couple of million, which is full of historic buildings, and which is in the green belt. Anyone with an ounce of sense would have realised you had to get the locals on side immediately, or things were going to get rough.

Guess which club I'm joining if I ever buy a caravan. Well, it won't be club2, that's for sure.

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We went on a site visit to the NEC Hilton once when their big show was on. The motorway was backed up two exits.

Thanks for an afternoon chuckle ...

My comment, when we were researching what the hell was going on, was that if the Parish Council wanted to put a stop to the whole thing they just had to time the roadworks they have planned for Vicarage Lane (the place with the accident hot spot, and through which the caravans - and presumably the minibuses - were supposed to exit), to take place during the Olympics and the whole thing would be scuppered. Alternatively, a weight restriction - which can be fully justified - with a derogation for the residents' horseboxes and moving vans, would do the trick.

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The suspicion in Chigwell is that this was an attempt to set up a precedent for a permanent campsite but, though I'm not a lawyer, I did use to interpret legislation for a living, and I reckon that club2 would have lost a court challenge, and they knew it.

Oh deary deary me! There really is no limit to some people's stupidity is there?

As far as I can see they just assumed that no-one would find out until it was too late...

Ah, yes, nothing like having a few hundred thousand people driving to a farm site in a small rural village. ;)

I note that the current Glastonbury licence which runs to 2016 had no public opposition. Well, really, why would anyone bother because it's never really made any difference. The road signs are already up so I have plenty of warning. I note that the A361 major route from Glastonbury to Shepton, which is a decent road for lorries, but goes through Pilton, will actually be closed to through traffic for at least one day of the festival. So all lorries will thus be going via Wells and through Croscombe's narrow - at one point single lane - roads. So that's 2 routes clogged.

I normally work very hard not to have to get to Wells during the festival, but given my parents' current state of health it's likely to be unavoidable this year. Since both Shepton and Glastonbury roads will be congested, it can take some creativity. The bike may come into its own this year. :)

I drive through Chigwell Village at least once a week. Yesterday, for instance, I had to take evasive action from an oncoming white van, while the time before that there were long queues because of a delivery to the King's Head (no longer a pub) which meant only one vehicle could get through on the whole of the road. I drive the other road involved, Vicarage Lane, even more often and you always have to be damn careful at the mini roundabout at the top and even more careful at bottom, with its split narrow junction onto the A-road. Not to mention the 20mph bends with the blind entrances on them, the waterworks that occasionally leaks onto the road, and the massive potholes.

As for the easy route from the M11, this is only so if you are coming from London (restricted exit), and from the M25 involves a 2nd gear hill to the five exit Wake Arms roundabout, and an even steeper hill down into Loughton. Or, of course, you can use the A12. Good luck at Gallows Corner.

And this 'temporary site' was meant to last for three months.

Well, quite. Club 2 makes a speciality of the small no-facilities sites, often with similar access issues, but for one or two caravans a week it's not much more of an issue than a 7.5 ton delivery lorry. Doesn't surprise me then that they totally missed the impact of the local reaction, too used to seeing things from the caravanners' pov. Glad the local council were on the ball. :)

There's a lot of money floating around in the area covered by Epping Forest District Council and Chigwell Parish Council, and a lot of smart people, who like the area the way it is, thank you. The caravan parks around here are all smart and expensive and hidden well away behind trees.

I won't say that the reputation of being the haunt of well-heeled East End hoods is totally true (though both Dick Turpin and Winston Churchill were regulars at the King's Head) but I have heard a woman threaten a couple of yobs with being 'seen to' by someone's 'boys' if they didn't stop harassing a local girl... and this house was originally occupied by a high-ranking bent copper who was subject to a midnight raid and being carted away by the Met...

I'm a member of a couple of clubs. Out of interest, which is which? (PM me, if you'd rather not say publicly.)

I'm not particularly bothered, because the whole story is out on the internets, but as I stuck to 'Club 1' and 'Club 2' I've pm'd you. I gather, from comments on fora I've fallen across while researching this that Club 2's rep consists of "they need to get their bloody fingers out - and answer their e-mails for a change." See also Charlie's comment, above.

Just got your PM. No, it doesn't surprise me. We joined both as it gives the widest range of sites, but that was the only reason.

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