September 26th, 2016

Residents could soon have to pay to use the countryside

Updated: 11:02 am, May 07, 2015

A RUBERY councillor has warned Worcestershire County Council’s plans to offload a country park to another organisation could be the first step to visitors being charged to use the countryside.

The comments come from Coun Peter McDonald after the authority’s proposal to transfer Kingsford Forest Park, near Kidderminster, to the National Trust (NT).

And it said, if the move was successful, it would not rule out doing it with its other parks in the county – and that could include the Waseley Hills.

A scrutiny investigation, called for by Labour councillors, has halted plans while the Kingsford proposal is looked into.

The park is valued at more than £100,000 and would be given to the NT for free.

Coun Peter McDonald said there would be nothing to stop the NT introducing entry charges by taking it to court claiming economic pressures, after it took over the site.

And, he said, that triggered concerns other parks – like the Waseley Hills – could be put in the same situation.

“Many residents on low incomes will be trespassers on land they once owned.

“The jewels in the county’s family silver are now being given away – we need assurances free access can be preserved for all our people not just those with the ability to pay,” he said.

He added this was the first step in the council’s obsession to rid itself of country parks and in doing so removing the right to free access which was a step too far.

Coun Lucy Hodgson, responsible for localism and communities, said cabinet was proposing to transfer Kingsford Forest Park to the NT to ensure its long term future for the public’s benefit, whilst making savings for the taxpayer.

But, the final decision was now subject to the scrutiny investigation.

She added the proposed agreement meant access would be free but it would be unreasonable to prevent the NT from charging parking at some time in the future.

Coun Hodgson said they were not in negotiations with the NT about any other of the council’s countryside sites but would consider making similar arrangements elsewhere.

An NT spokeswoman confirmed the council had approved giving Kingsford as a gift and was expecting a final decision to be made by early 2015.

She said if the trust took over Kingsford, its priority would be to continue to look after it for residents’ enjoyment and, in answer to Coun McDonald’s comments, said it had no plans to introduce entry fees.

She added the NT did not charge entry to the adjacent Kinver Edge, other than for the Rock Houses and that the park would not be funded by taxpayers but an independent charity.

She said it was too early to say whether they would introduce parking fees in the future at the Kingsford Park, but, if there were any charges put in place, the money would go towards the conservation and maintenance of the site.