Charging for New Forest car parks back on the table as Forestry England looks at meeting rising demand
CHARGES at New Forest car parks are set to be considered afresh by Forestry England as it looks to pay for their increasing use.
FE has said its network of more than 100 gravel parking areas is no longer fit for purpose, and the pandemic and rising numbers of visitors have triggered plans to update how they are run.
FE is advertising for the role of a project manager to oversee a new car parking strategy which would involve “building financial sustainability”.
It would be part of work to progress the New Forest recreation management strat-egy, put together by local organisations including FE and the national park authority, and including ideas for managing car parks.
While no specific proposals have yet been revealed, FE said it would be refocusing on options which include the introduction of charges and changes to car parks, including some closures.
But NPA member David Harrison said forcing people to pay to park would be a “bad move” and would add to the cost-of-living crisis.
“It would discourage people from more urban areas who regard the Forest as an important place for recreation from visiting,” he said.
“There has been a long tradition of car parks being free and I think charging would be about as popular as a lead balloon.”
He suggested an alternative move may be to give motorists the chance to make voluntary donations.
“Some people would be happy to do that, and where you have facilities like toilets and litter bins it’s more reasonable to expect people to pay,” he said.
“Another option would be to give locals a free parking pass or at least a discounted rate.”
NPA member John Sanger noted the main impetus for changes to car parks was the threat to the Forest’s fragile environment and wildlife.
“The most important factor in looking at this is getting away from the most sensitive locations, and this needs to be linked with giving people the best experience they can have of the Forest,” he said.
“I don’t think charges will be the starting point – it’s a headline grabber but I think it’s a long way off and would need the support of all the organisations.
“And if you are going to charge, you have to give people something, really – like facilities or sign-posted walks.”
A spokesperson for Forestry England said the car parks were created more than 50 years ago and are badly in need of modernisation.
“The recreation management strategy, which was publicly consulted on, set out a wide range of objectives for the Forest including changes to car park locations, how to cover rising costs from increasing use, and how the network can support wider efforts to look after the landscape.
Continued on page 2“The recent pandemic and the subsequent significant rise in the numbers of people using the Forest have emphasised the need to progress this work and update the network to make it more resilient and able to manage demand.
“Funding will be part of these discussions, but we don’t have any further specific proposals to share at this time.”
The strategy does set out that any potential charging would be accompanied by “appropriate concessions for regular users or local people”.
There would also be a guarantee that any funds generated would also only be spent on the Forest.