Tenants demand change in law after being unable to meet holiday parks’ ultimatum
Caravan owners at one of Northern Ireland’s biggest holiday parks are claiming that they’ve been warned not to join a residents association.
They say they’ve been told by Golflinks Holiday Park, Portrush, that such a move would mean all channels of communication between owners and staff will cease.
Their claim comes as hundreds of caravan owners prepare to descend on Stormont for the handing over of a petition calling for greater protection.
It’s the latest instalment in an ongoing dispute which has been raging for several months.
It began when the Belfast Telegraph revealed a massive 30% hike in pitch fees at Golflinks – also known as Kelly’s — on the north Antrim coast. Since then, other caravan owners have complained about the highly controversial ‘upgrade or leave’ policies being adopted at holiday parks across Northern Ireland.
It means that caravans of a certain age must be replaced by others — which are sold exclusively by the parks — or owners have to give up a pitch many have held for several years.
It is understood that more than 20 caravans have been taken off site for pitch refurbishment at Golflinks, with owners being told to buy a new ‘van’ (costing over £50,000) if they want their old spot back.
North Antrim MLA Jim Allister, who will hand over the petition to the Assembly on Monday, said urgent reform of legislation surrounding caravans in Northern Ireland is needed because of the unfair practices of home holiday park owners.
The TUV leader said his office has been inundated by scores of furious caravanners who believe they are being forced off sites they’ve occupied for decades.
“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,” the Assemblyman said.
He said other concerns raised included no security of tenure, refusal to recognise owners’ associations, and coercive pressure to purchase new ‘vans’ from the site owners, resulting in longstanding users being given notice to leave.
Also cited were attempts to monopolise ancillary provisions — for example, refusing caravan owners the right to use outside contractors for repairs and improvements to their property.
With an Assembly election coming up in May of next year, the chances of any change in the law are slim.
But the caravan owners are determined to make themselves heard. Carrickfergus man Noel Darley is chair of a newly-established residents association for caravan owners at Golflinks Holiday Park. It was formed in response to the huge hike in pitch fees. Mr Darley said that his bill went up by 36% – or £1,003 in just a year.
“When I received a bill for £3,750 I thought it was a misprint,” he said.
“Last year I paid £2,747 in pitch fees so it was a shock when they told me there was no mistake. A lot of caravan owners have disputed the hike, but now Golflinks is refusing even to discuss it.”
Mr Darley, who bought a new caravan at the Portrush site in May 2019 for £73,000 when he retired, said he was advised that there was no place for a residents association at Golfllinks.
“They know we have the numbers for a residents association and I was told it will be absolutely opposed,” he said.
“Not only will it be rejected, but they will also refuse to sit down and have dialogue with the group. I was told, ‘Anyone who wishes you to represent them will relinquish all of their rights for any communication with my office’”.
Another caravan owner at Golflinks — Joanne Bennett —said she hopes to present Assembly members with a dossier she has put together, highlighting a variety of issues.
“As it currently stands, holiday parks can act with impunity,” she said. “Caravan owners can’t dispute anything without going through the courts and that needs to change.”
She added: “A big part of the Caravans Act NI 2011 is having an association to protect tenants and that’s why we’ve set up one. This is only the start.”
Meanwhile, Cathy Graham, a tenant at Mourneview Caravan Park in Newcastle for almost 18 years, set up a petition two years ago, securing thousands of signatures, which Mr Allister will deliver to Stormont on Monday.
She said her lease is due to expire next year, having been reduced by the site owners.
“When we first got the caravan, it was only a verbal agreement,” she said.
“The site has been bought over twice since we purchased our caravan and the lease has been reduced. When I started looking into the legislation, I realised how little protection we have.”
The Belfast Telegraph approached Golflinks for comment.
A Golflinks Holiday Homes 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 2025 season”.