Bright Future for Harrison’s Rocks Car Park

Following a meeting called by the Forestry Commission (FC) this week, with the Birchden Woood Facilities Community Interest Company Working Group (CIC), The BMC (represented by the Harrison’s Rocks Management Group (HRMG)) and the Withyham Parish Council (WPC) the future of Harrison’s Rocks car park, toilet block and campsite now has a promising future.

For the past 40 years, the Forestry Commission has leased the site to what we now know as Sport England (SE). It is Sport England that has paid for all running costs including all costs of repairs of the toilet facilities and car park as well as the maintenance of Harrison’s Rocks. SE have decided not to renew their lease in November 2014 in line with their corporate policies. During the last 12 months, a group known as the ‘Bog Group’ or ‘Working Group’ evolved out of the Sandstone Volunteers Group and these volunteers, headed with guidance and expertise from a local dog walker and management consultant, Richard Fox, have fought to prevent the closure and demolition of the toilet block and to take over the facilities under a Not for Profit Community Interest Company (CIC). The first phase was to bring the key stakeholders together and seek to widen the debate whilst ensuring the local community had their say. This was successful and the objective of the second phase was to get the toilets refurbished and reopened so we could reinstate the campsite which went ahead in March this year.  The CIC was the preferred body to partner with the Forestry Commission, although as a voluntary start-up organisation it became apparent that finding funding for the capital and ongoing operating costs of the facilities would be difficult. With a clear demonstration from climbers and the local and wider community that there is a need for the facility to remain, the Forestry Commission have now decided to take on the responsibility of the car park, toilet block and campsite themselves, with the help of a local ‘steering group’ which will consist of key parties who have followed through an interest from the start to represent climbers as well as the local and wider community.

SE, under the terms of their full-repair lease will hand over a pot of money to the FC to repair and refurbish the car park and toilet facilities, to include introducing a ramp and disabled toilet. They propose to close the toilet block (and thus the campsite) on 9th November at the end of the current lease and carry out the refurbishments over the winter.  The car park will remain open with the exception of a week when they will repair the pot holes in the track that leads into the car park. The FC hope to have the toilets and campsite open again from 1st March 2015 at which point they will introduce a pay and display car parking system with hope to introduce a cashless, pay-by-phone system alongside this. Maintenance of that system will be carried out by contractors who already look after other FC sites. The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) (who own Harrison’s Rocks and for the past 40 years have managed the car park, toilet block and campsite on behalf of SE) have agreed to help with the start up costs of the new arrangements. The campsite fees, toilet cleaning and general maintenance of the site will have a warden just as it always has done.  The FC hope to triple car park revenue with the new system and will keep the price to a minimum, along with introducing a ‘Discovery Pass’ for regular users which they say will be in the region of £30-£40 per year.

An update from the FC is available here:- Stakeholder Communication brief October14

Here are some photographs from a volunteers evening at the car park earlier this year.