MLAs pledge support for Northern Ireland caravan owners in ongoing battle against holiday parks who have them ‘over a barrel’

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley assured those gathered in the bitter cold they had the support of his party, while Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs said it was time to stop holiday parks putting loyal customers “over a barrel”.

TUV leader Jim Allister accepted a petition bearing some 4,000 signatures calling for new legislation to give the caravanners more protection.

Noel Darley of the delegation told the Belfast Telegraph he was greatly encouraged by the response from MLAs.

“We’ve got cross-community support and we’ve got all the parties engaged, so I’m feeling positive,” he said.

“People now know how serious this is, and at least we’ve managed to make them sit up and pay attention.”

Mr Darley confirmed a report in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph about caravan owners at one of the biggest sites here being warned not to establish a residents’ association.

He said they had been told by Golflinks Holiday Homes in Portrush that such a move would mean “all channels of communication between owners and staff would cease”.

The Carrickfergus man is chair of a newly-established residents’ association for caravan owners at the site.

It was formed in response to the huge hike in pitch fees. Mr Darley said his bill went up by 36% (£1,003) in just a year.

Mr Allister told them their case was “just” and it was clear a change of legislation was needed.

“The scale of complaints I have received in recent weeks from caravan owners convinces me that there is unfair exploitation by some park owners and that the current legislation, The Caravans Act NI 2011, affords inadequate protection and requires reform,” he said.

Around 100 owners gathered at Parliament Buildings carrying placards.

Marie Dickson, who has a wooden chalet at Mourneview in Newcastle, said she had been on the site since 1986 but “I’ve been told to leave next year and I don’t know why”.

Keith Warnock, who has had a caravan at Golflinks for 13 years, said: “My annual pitch fees, which were £4,000 in 2020, are going up to £5,400 in 2023; there’s no justification for the increase.”

And John McMullan said he can’t get the same pitch “unless I agree to pay £80,000 to upgrade my caravan”.

DUP MLA Diane Dodds was given a dossier of grievances by Joanne Bennett, vice chair of the Golflinks residents’ association.

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said the protest showed it was “the last chance saloon” for holiday parks when it comes to “taking advantage of their loyal customers by hiking rates or telling people they must upgrade their caravans without good reason”.

“It was an important demonstration signalling that it’s time for these practices to cease,” he said. “The question is, what are ministers going to do about it?

“I urge them to take urgent action to protect caravan owners before another summer goes by.”

Golflinks Holiday Homes was approached for a comment.

A spokesperson said in October they “understand and sympathise with caravan owners’ concerns with regards to the increase in pitch fees for 2022”.

They added: “This was not an easy decision but was made in response to an increase in capital running costs facing us, and our investment programme into updating all of our facilities.”

Golflinks Holiday Homes also “made a commitment to freezing an increment on our end in the pitch fees until the 2025 season”.

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