The corona pandemic has shown: Norway needs national camping laws
The camping industry is by far Norway's largest tourist industry in the number of overnight stays each year.
When the government announced the closure of almost all of Norway on 12 March, it became unclear what would apply to the campsites. It got worse when the reopening came after Easter, and the government left it to each municipality to decide how they would handle the campsites. It has created a blissful mess and significant differences from one municipality to another.
To direct questions from NRK, Minister of Health Bent Høye answered that he did not see the need to set up separate guidelines for the campsites, because: "These are the same rules that apply elsewhere in society." - He then emphasized that it was the individual municipality who was in charge of the campsites. Thus, in practice, it was the municipal infection control chiefs who were to decide individually what was to happen to the campsites. To say that it resulted in unambiguous and common guidelines on a national basis would be a direct distortion of the actual conditions.
Clutter and chaos
Messages that hailed into the Norwegian Motorhome and Caravan Club in the days after the opening of the cabins, show a blissful mess and chaos. In some places, the municipal chiefs gave the go-ahead to open, taking into account the cleanliness and the distance rules. Elsewhere, the municipal chiefs said no, or the demands that in practice made opening impossible, even though the health authorities gave the green light for opening. To take a few examples: In one of the country's largest camping municipalities, opening was allowed from Friday at 16 pm until Sunday evening. However, only for those who are seasonal guests, and where the caravan has its own toilet. Elsewhere, they were allowed to open, but only if the new sanitary building of 150 square meters, tiled walls and floors, and good distances, was kept closed. Instead, they were only allowed to use the old "cut" of service buildings of approx. 20 square meters with 3 toilets and 1 shower for the space approx. 240 caravans. Hardly particularly good for the risk of spreading infection.
Requirement for uniform regulations ignored
The examples above were far from the only ones - or the worst. Demands for comprehensive, nationwide regulations followed quickly. In an interview with NRK, the advisor for the Larvik campsite association, Stein Grimsrud, called for national guidelines for campsites. The municipal chief in Halden municipality prepared a guide so that the campsites in the municipality could open. On 30 April, NHO Reiseliv published an industry standard for handling infection control measures at Norwegian campsites. Unfortunately, they spoke in favor of deaf ministers, because Minister of Health Bent Høye did not change his view of how the campsites should behave. On the contrary, it was still the individual municipality that was to control the campsites.
Norwegian camping law
It is not only with regard to infection control preparedness and pandemic control that national, comprehensive legislation is needed for the campsites. Almost 8 years ago, Norsk Bobil og Caravan Club advocated a separate camping law, which was to regulate both establishment, operation, quality requirements and regulatory requirements for campsites, after some municipalities had begun to apply the Planning and Building Act in the area. A proposal for such simple things as distance regulations has been in a drawer in the Ministry of Local Government for almost 5 years, after NBCC together with DSB (the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning) came to agreed standards. Recently, we have seen considerable creativity from some municipalities in taxing campers on campsites, both in the form of fees and even property taxes. The Korona pandemic is thus currently just the tip of the iceberg of disorder in how the camping industry is treated from one municipality to another around the country.
NBCC's head of department, Anita Hokholt Engh, will now invite a broad collaboration with industry organizations, first and foremost to work out and adopt national infection control guidelines for campsites. But also to, if possible, create an understanding among the country's highest authorities that the differential treatment that benefits campsites throughout the country as a whole must be brought to an end. For example, through a central piece of legislation that ensures equal conditions for all campsites, whether they are located in Kirkenes or Lindesnes. A proposal NBCC put forward already in 2015. - "It is a challenge where we must ensure that the authorities can no longer overlook the part of the tourism industry, which accounts for by far the most guest overnight stays in Norway" - says Anita Engh.
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