FEARS have been raised that changes made to New Forest car parks in an effort to discourage visitors from going to sensitive areas could result in charges being introduced to cover the cost of the work.
The issue was raised at a meeting of New Forest District Council’s community and leisure overview and scrutiny panel when it discussed a report on the national park authority’s Recreation Management Strategy Towards a Spatial Vision.
The document outlines the NPA’s intention to investigate the feasibility of a Local Development Order to manage the location of future car parks.
The objective of the order, members were told, would be to “direct visitors to the more sustainable and resilient locations and away from the most sensitive areas”.
Forestry England manages around 130 car parks in the national park, which caters for up to 15.2 million visits to the Forest every year.
Although the NPA has said no new car parks would be built, there were discussions at the NFDC meeting about how the car parks could be altered to meet the needs of Forest users.
Some councillors said they believed any car park works would result in fees being introduced to cover the cost.
Cllr Malcolm Wade said: “If charges come in, people will be parking on Forest verges everywhere. People don’t like being told what to do.
“Unless you have an army of parking attendants running around the Forest all the time you are going to end up with a huge problem.”
Cllr Derek Tipp said if work were carried out at car parks, he suspected charges would follow which would be a “disaster”.
“I am a little bit worried we are not planning any new car parks in the Forest,” he said.
“Coming down the tracks, I suspect we will start charging and I think that will raise a big problem for locals.”
A spokesperson for the New Forest Dog Owners Group echoed these concerns, telling the A&T that bringing in of charges would be a “total disaster”.
“In principle, paying for parking is not a problem, but in the Forest it would be a total disaster. People would be parking all over the verges and the verderers would never be able to control that – it would be a total nightmare.”
Nigel Matthews, head of recreation management and learning at the NPA, told the A&T car parks charging was not a “currently being pursued”.
He explained: “A Local Development Order is a planning tool which would set out the criteria for redistributing car park places to protect the specially designated parts of the Forest and improve the facilities for people.
“The steering group does not envisage an increase in the overall number of car parking spaces so any increases at certain locations would be balanced by decreases elsewhere. What we are looking at is whether these are located in the right places.
“The criteria would only be set after consulting local organisations and communities. Car park charges were identified as an option in the strategy agreed in 2010 but are not currently being pursued.”