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Fury at forest parking fees bid

PUBLISHED: 17:25 13 May 2009 | UPDATED: 21:33 07 July 2010

A government organisation has been accused of lining its pockets at forest users' expense after introducing a new hourly parking fee at a visitor centre in Thetford Forest.

A government organisation has been accused of lining its pockets at forest users' expense after introducing a new hourly parking fee at a visitor centre in Thetford Forest.

The revised toll at High Lodge means that families, walkers, and cyclists, would have to pay £9.60 to stay all day in the 10,000ha of woodland.

Campaigners have labelled the Forestry Commission charges as “inexcusable” and have raised fears that the body is looking at re-introducing pay and display machines at other car parks in Thetford Forest Park.

Officials from the government organisation said that the new flat rate £1.60 per hour charge was “fairer and simpler” and helped pay the £2m annual running cost of the forest centre.

The introduction of the system at High Lodge on April 1 replaced its previous forest toll of £2 for an hour, £6 for four hours, and £7 all day.

But Paul Morgan, from Northwold, who organised protests against a controversial mobile phone parking payment trial at six other forest sites, which was scrapped by the Forestry Commission last year, said it was wrong to increase the all day parking rate by almost 40pc in the middle of a recession.

He added that the altered charges would result in visitors' clock watching and spending less time at the woodland location.

“The Forestry Commission is seriously losing its way on this issue by putting revenue generation above everything else, especially their remit to promote use of the forest as an amenity. With the current economic climate, the increases at High Lodge are inexcusable, excessive and indefensible,” he said.

Mr Morgan said he was concerned that the organisation was preparing to introduce another charging scheme at Lynford Water, Lynford Zig Zag, Lynford Stag, Santon Downham, St Helen's picnic site, and Two Mile Bottom.

Roger Woods, spokesman for the Forestry Commission, said the majority of customers spent about four hours at High Lodge during an average visit, which represented only a 6pc increase in parking costs. He added that the changes had not had an adverse effect on visitor numbers.

“We have revised the way we charge customers for access to the site, which covers one vehicle, irrespective of the number of people in the car. It costs £2m a year to run High Lodge and every penny made is fed back to High Lodge.

“Last bank holiday Monday we had 850 to 900 cars in the car park and High Lodge is a great recreational destination on people's doorstep,” he said.

Mr Woods added that the Forestry Commission was constantly reviewing the situation at other Thetford Forest sites, which are currently free to park at.

“If a parking fee is acceptable way of doing it and acceptable for the user, it is something we may well pursue in the future,” he said.


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