The Board of Conservators have unanimously voted to introduce parking charges in car parks on the Ashdown Forest.
The proposed charges will range from £2 for an hour to £6 for all day, or £80 for an annual pass.
At the start, Chief Executive James Adler summarised the results of the six-week public consultation and addressed issues raised by the public in advance of Monday’s meeting. Thirty-seven questions had been emailed in, many of these covered similar topics and had been grouped into seven categories:
- Have the responses been listened to?
- Have alternative funding streams been investigated?
- How will the payment system be implemented?
- How can displacement parking be deterred?
- Will concessions be available?
- How will the income generated be used?
- How access will be maintained and broadened?
There was time for five additional questions from those in the Hall in the allotted time of 30 minutes. These included questioners expressing annoyance that East Sussex County Council had withdrawn their funding, echoing a common sentiment expressed in the consultation; and a resident asking whether an exception could be made for parents of children at St John’s School, otherwise he was concerned about more congestion from cars parked on roads at drop-off and pick-up times.
Mr Adler spoke about donations and fundraising including resources from the Friends of the Ashdown Forest set-up in the 60s and much newer Ashdown Forest Foundation. He also referred to the signage in car parks (see below) inviting visitors to donate; but he pointed-out that this had generated less than £10,000.
James Adler explained the money from car parking will be used to repair the car parks and maintain paths and tracks. He spoke about the surface of many of the car parks resembling a lunar landscape and the damage done by the very large number of visitors during the pandemic.
He talked about what would need to happen if the funding gap couldn’t be bridged; and suggested, in the worse-case scenario they would have to look at what services and facilities they could deliver and which car parks they could afford to keep open.
Elizabeth Riminton Drury is one of the newest Conservators, having been appointed by East Sussex County Council in 2021:
I’ve learned so much about what this Forest needs and what it means to everyone here. I’ve spent over 20 years walking dogs and children on the Forest riding across it, but until I became a Conservator and really looked in to the detail, I had no idea that the Forest was in any kind of trouble. I think as an ordinary user, I can understand that’s people feeling this is a big change and it’s come out of the blue, you know, from nowhere, because I think that I wouldn’t know myself unless I took a specific interest. I don’t know how many of us spend our time looking up the Board minutes of the Forest discussions, but that has seemed to be the only way to get information until now.
In the last few months, we’ve gone out into the public, and there’s been a lot more talk or discussion. And I hope that this whole debate about car parking payments will really help to raise awareness of everybody all around of the needs of the Forest, and the fact that we do need not just money to keep going to keep standing still, but actually more funds to be able to put in place the improvements that the Forest needs and deserves.Elizabeth Riminton Drury
At the meeting Mr Adler clarified a misconception: The intention is to install parking meters in the five busiest car parks, but people parking in any of their 47 car parks will need to pay. Cash will not be accepted. This he said was to reduce the administrative costs and the risk of theft and vandalism. Although Mr Adler said at the meeting that they might be able to make an exception about taking cash payment at the Ashdown Forest Centre.
You will be able to buy a ticket, we believe, before you even leave home. To be able to buy a day ticket or half day ticket or an annual pass from the comfort of your own home. So you can arrive at the Forest and not even have to think about it.
You’ll also be able to, when you arrive in a car park, any of the car parks, pay by mobile phone, either on an app or by making a phone call. So you don’t have to have a Smartphone, you can do it from an ordinary phone as well.
If you want to pay at one of the machines and then travel to one of the other car parks and your ticket will be valid across the entire Forest.
So we’re trying to be as flexible as we possibly can, in how you can pay.James Adler, Chief Executive
As part of the implementation process, Mr Adler has promised to explore whether there can be reduced rates for low income families, for example people claiming Universal or Pension Credit.
The Forest will now carry out a tendering process to finalise how to install an appropriate system into the car parks. Payments for using the Forest’s car parks are likely to begin in the summer of 2022.
Recent History and the Board
The conservation and management of the Forest is enshrined in the Ashdown Forest Act 1974. The Act of Parliament covers the finance and the duties of the Board of Conservators. The Act introduced free public access for the first time to the whole of the commonland, and it gave the Board powers to manage and conserve the landscape. East Sussex County Council were required to make up annual financial losses and were granted a controlling number of seats on the Board.
In the 1980s, the 10th Earl de la Warr offered to sell Ashdown Forest to East Sussex County Council at a below-market price, otherwise it is said he would sell the land piecemeal on the open market
In 1988, the local authority purchased the freehold (and the Lord of the Manor of Duddleswell) for £1.15m from the executors of the Earl (after his death), of which approximately £175,000 was raised in a public appeal. ESCC set up the Ashdown Forest Trust, with the local authority as its sole trustee.
Normally meetings of the Conservators are held at the Ashdown Forest Centre (or online recently during the pandemic) and are open to the public. However this meeting was held at the Uckfield Civic Centre to facilitate greater attendance. Seating was provided for 250, and the public had been advised to arrive early to guarantee a space. In reality on the day the Weald Hall was sparsely occupied.
The Board is made up of the Chairman of East Sussex County Council (“Lord of the Manor”), eight members appointed by East Sussex County Council, two appointed by Wealden District Council and five elected Commoners. There are 730 commoners who have right attached to their land or property. They are entitled to representatives on the Board, but are also obliged to pay a Forest Rate, which goes towards the expense of managing the Forest.
While the County Council has a statutory obligation to meet any shortfall between expenditure and income, it is also approves the budget in the first place.
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