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Anger at decision to charge park visitors
VISITORS to an historic country park will be charged for parking to help meet the cost of the attraction’s upkeep.
Councillors yesterday agreed to introduce charges at Hardwick Park, in Sedgefield, County Durham, despite anger from objectors who fear it will put many people off visiting.
Countryside manager Andrew Niven told highways committee members that income from parking was needed after the park’s budget was cut by £160,000.
“If we don’t get parking charges, things won’t happen.
“The buildings aren’t going to be kept in the present state, and the removal of graffiti and mowing of paths won’t be done to the same extent.
“We’ll have to stop history and environmental education and there’ll be at least three redundancies, more likely four,”
Mr Niven said the restored 18th Century, grade II-listed park attracted 447,000 visitors last year, with nearly 20,000 attending organised events and 3,900 children taking part in educational activities.
He said money generated would enable staff to build on its popularity with more events rather than reduce services and maintenance.
But park users raised concerns about the fees.
Cars and minibuses will be charged £2 for up to two hours, rising to £3 for longer, and larger vehicles will have to pay £9.
Annual passes priced £75 will be available, or a £52 introductory offer if bought in the first three months.
Andrew Quarmby, of Sedgefield, said: “I don’t think the council should be charging people for being healthy, going to the park for a walk for their physical health and mental wellbeing.
“The park is growing well – don’t put people off going there with this charge.”
In March, the park began hosting a weekly Parkrun event encouraging people of all abilities to take up running.
The council had already agreed to give marshalls free parking passes and Anne Gladwin, a Parkrun volunteer, asked if the charge could begin after 10.30am on Saturdays when most runners have left.
In response to a suggestion from Coun Paul Stradling, Mr Niven agreed to look at ways to spread the cost of an annual pass and to consider delaying charge times to support Parkrun events.
He said specific arrangements could also be made for users such as schools, an NHS cycling group and social care groups, so they effectively get parking for nothing or at a reduced cost.
Coun Alice Naylor, who moved the vote in favour of the proposal, said the situation would be reviewed to ensure it makes the money the park needs without losing visitors.
Gloria Wills, vice chairman of Sedgefield Residents Forum, said: “The consultation was completely flawed which has angered people.
“People honestly don’t mind contributing to the upkeep of the park but the charges are far too high.
“A good business plan could make that park generate income without this.”