A national caravan park operator with sites in the north has been blasted as it emerged it is reopening next week.
Parkdean Resorts has bookings already available for its Sutherland and Inverness-shire resorts from Saturday May 16, leaving local holiday businesses and politicians incensed.
Parkdean Resorts operates the Grannie’s Heilan’ Hame site at Embo, near Dornoch, and Nairn Lochloy holiday park.
The P&J was able to fill in a booking form online in both resorts on two occasions over the past two days.
Yesterday, a new note appeared at the top of the booking page from Parkdean urging customers to take out cancellation cover for £25.
A spokesman from Parkdean said: “May 16 has been set based on latest guidance, however if there is any extension to the lockdown then we will of course amend our plans.”
Highland MP Jamie Stone said he could find nothing to back up the May 16 date.
He has written to the First Minister and Prime Minister imploring them to stop a national caravan resort operator relaunching its season in the Highlands next week.
He said a constituent had alerted him to the situation after finding out about Parkdean, and also that a company she advertises her holiday cottage with will take bookings ‘starting in June but keeping it under review’.
Mr Stone said: “There has been no indication whatsoever from either the UK or Scottish Government that holidaymakers should start packing their bags in anticipation of a jolly up to the Highlands anytime soon.”
Local councillors also described their opposition to Parkdean’s action.
In Nairn, Liz MacDonald said: “It is far too early to open caravan sites in May, it risks putting the Highland population at risk and could lead to infected folk spreading the virus further.”
Nairn councillor Tom Heggie called Parkdean irresponsible and said he was writing to tourism secretary Fergus Ewing to ask for his intervention.
Sutherland councillor Richard Gale said he was horrified, and asked Parkdean and others to reconsider their decision, while fellow councillor Jim McGillivray described Parkdean as ‘extremely presumptuous and totally against the wishes of the population’.
He said: “I’ve just heard Highland Council senior officers and the matter is being pursued between Trading Standards and the police and discussions are in hand with Parkdean.”
Parkdean’s spokesman said the company made a commitment to its staff at the start of the crisis that none of them would lose their jobs as a result of coronavirus.
“But we are concerned about the number of local businesses from suppliers to pubs, restaurants and tourist attractions, who are dependent on tourism for their survival. The holiday park and campsite sector attracts £772m visitor expenditure in Scotland, so while we understand that some local residents may have concerns about the eventual reopening of our parks, it will be important that local businesses support each other to get back on their feet once restrictions are lifted.”
He also praised Parkdean’s 140 Highland staff for their assistance to their communities during the crisis.
“For example, the Nairn Lochloy team decided to donate £700 worth of food to St Ninian’s Church, to distribute to families in need at this difficult time.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We need everyone to stay at home to help save lives and protect our NHS.
“The rules are clear that holiday accommodation should be closed except in certain circumstances and these will not change unless and until it is safe to do so.
“We all need to stick rigorously to the current rules, including businesses.
“Failure to do so puts people at risk.”