Proposals relating to rural countryside car parking charges

What is the current situation?

Hampshire County Council has over 100 rural countryside car parking sites across Hampshire that help provide access to nature reserves, country parks and the wider countryside. These range in size from lay-bys for two vehicles to large car parks with over 70 spaces.

We currently charge for car parking at our country park sites, and at Reading Road in Fleet, but we do not charge at other rural locations. The income generated from car parking is used to invest in countryside services including the site that the car park serves.

What is being proposed?

We are proposing to introduce car parking charges at the rural countryside car parks that we manage, where we expect doing so would be commercially viable, i.e. the income raised would cover the costs of implementing the car parking charges (such as setting up equipment and monitoring compliance) and would go some way to covering the costs of providing and maintaining countryside car parks. We anticipate this would raise around £65,000 each year.

We would initially look at the following Council-owned locations, which each have 20 or more spaces and therefore could generate the most income.

  1. A354 Martin Down
  2. Abbots Well Road, Frogham
  3. Crab Wood, Sarum Road, Winchester
  4. Danebury Iron Age Hillfort (lower)
  5. Danebury Iron Age Hillfort (upper)
  6. Fort Nelson Overflow
  7. Hook Barn, Hook Park Road, Warsash
  8. Hyde School, Hyde
  9. Wall Lane, Silchester
  10. Westwood, Netley Abbey

The approximate location of these sites can be seen on this map:

A map of Hampshire showing the 10 rural countryside parking locations

In addition, there may be some County Council rural countryside car parks with fewer than 20 spaces, or which are jointly owned between us and other organisations, where the use of car parking charges would be commercially viable. Where this is the case we would also consider introducing car parking charges.

If charges are implemented at any of our countryside sites, fees would be structured to support short-term use, such as for dog walkers, and deter longer stays such as parking for commuting purposes. We would look to benchmark charges against district/borough councils within Hampshire, for example New Forest District Council operate the following pricing structure at a number of their coastal car parks:

Period when
charges apply
1 April to 30 September
(including bank holidays)
6am to 10pm
1 October to 31 March
(including bank holidays)
8am to 6pm
Up to 1 hour: Free £1
Up to 2 hours: £3 £3
Up to 4 hours:  £4 £4
Up to 6 hours:  £5.50 £5.50
Up to 20 hours:  £7 £7

In addition, to encourage short-term use we may implement an initial free parking period of up to an hour across the whole year.

Why is this being proposed?

Until a sustainable long-term national funding solution can be found to address the intense financial pressures facing not only the County Council, but also wider local government, we have no choice but to consider changing or reducing services in some areas and propose options for savings.

Charging for car parking at rural countryside sites would help to recover some of the costs of providing these sites, therefore contributing towards addressing the County Council’s overall anticipated £132 million savings programme from April 2025.

Hampshire County Council is permitted to charge for parking at its countryside sites, and revenue from car parking would allow us to offset the costs of maintaining these car parks. For example, a 40-space rural car park costs approximately £1,100 per year to directly maintain.

In the Budget Consultation undertaken in summer 2023, 48% of respondents who used country parks and other outdoor spaces agreed with the proposal to introduce new charges to services that are currently free, compared with 41% who disagreed. While this does not indicate a strong level of agreement with the principle of charging for rural countryside car parking, it does suggest some agreement that we should investigate this potential means of income generation to offset service costs.

How would the proposal be implemented?

Feedback from this consultation would help us understand whether it is appropriate to introduce car parking charges at rural countryside car parks with 20 or more spaces, whether there are any other locations where we should consider introducing car parking charges, and what factors we should consider in making these decisions.

A list of rural countryside car parks where we recommend introducing car parking charges would be presented to the Executive Member for Countryside and Regulatory Services, for their consideration.

If approved, we would expect to start implementing charges at some rural countryside car parks by April 2025. This is likely to be a phased introduction to allow the supporting infrastructure to be put in place.

What are the potential impacts?

If people were to make less use of countryside areas due to car parking charges, this could have an impact on physical and mental health.

Many of our sites are used regularly by dog walkers. Introducing charges at these sites could lead to dog walkers visiting less suitable areas (such as areas without dog waste bins) which may impact on the cleanliness of these areas and enjoyment for other users. However, our charges would be structured to support this type of short-term use.

The proposed changes may reduce the number of journeys being made to each countryside site by car. This could have a positive impact on local air quality and traffic/journey times, but also limit accessibility for those who could only reach the location by car.

Car parking charges may encourage drivers to use other local car parks that charge less or not at all, which could result in more use of these sites and additional income or costs for their owners.

Visitors to car parks which might introduce charges may try to park in unsuitable or unsafe areas such as on verges or on the roadside to avoid paying a charge.

What alternatives have been considered?

There are other approaches that we could take that are not proposed at this time. In developing this proposal, we have also considered the following:

Maintain free parking at sites where visitors do not currently have to pay

This option is not being proposed because of the scale of the budget pressures faced by the County Council, and the legal requirement to operate within budget. If we decided to maintain the current situation it would put additional pressure on other statutory or critical services to deliver increased savings. Statutory services are those we are legally required to provide. This may impact levels of service in these areas and our ability to operate within our budget.

Other options for income generation

We have considered other options for income generation at rural countryside car parks such as a donation system. However, initial analysis suggests that this would not raise sufficient income to be commercially viable.