Now, with big investments going into these treasured public spaces, the County Council hopes even more people will visit, more often, and stay longer. The improvements are also designed to make access fair for all visitors. We spoke to our Countryside team to find out more.
What improvements are being made?
Investment in our biggest country parks is improving and updating facilities and bringing lots of things to do like new play trails and better access.
There are some big new special features, too: at Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley you can now explore the iconic chapel of the former Military Hospital. At Lepe Country Park, you can enjoy the stunning view of the Solent Coast, from our smart new restaurant ‘The Lookout’. Even more exciting features are in store next year, at Staunton and Queen Elizabeth Country Parks.
Who will benefit?
With outdoor activities being so important to people’s health, we want to make sure everyone is able to reach the parks and the key attractions on each site. To make access equal for all, we’re levelling paths, putting in board walks where the ground is boggy, and putting in new accessible toilets for our visitors. The newly-restored chapel has a lift, so that visitors with different kinds of access needs can enjoy the tower. It is vital that everyone can use our beautiful public spaces, and we hope our investments are removing the barriers that sometimes prevent people from venturing out.
How do the parks pay for maintenance of their facilities?
Maintaining our country parks is a costly business. Our rangers and volunteers work tirelessly to clear paths; maintain play equipment and benches as well as other facilities such as toilets, signage and picnic tables. As well as looking after our visitors we also look after nature, managing habitats so that wildlife can thrive.
With dwindling council budgets, we are planning ahead to make sure country parks can still be looked after in the future. This means generating more money on-site to pay for park upkeep, by attracting more visitors to come more often. It also means making sure that those who do visit us, contribute towards the cost.
Is that why visitors pay to park?
Yes. Car park revenue is a substantial part of the income that keeps our country parks viable. In the past, many visitors avoided paying for their parking, which made it difficult for us to meet our costs, and was unfair on those who followed the rules and paid their share. So now, as part of our access improvements, we have implemented a new system that ensures everyone pays fairly to park their car. All the money generated by car parking goes towards the running of the parks.
Tell us about the new parking system. What do visitors need to know?
We are now implementing an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system in our largest parks. The new modern machines make paying for parking easier – you can use cash or card, and you don’t need to guess how long you’ll be staying. Cameras identify your car, and ensure that when you leave, you pay for the right length of time. You can also buy a season ticket if you park regularly which is fantastic value for money.
We now charge all visitors for car parking, including disabled visitors. We want our parks to be accessible to everyone, and we want everyone to help pay for them. This helps us keep our country parks open well into the future, so that more generations can explore and enjoy our beautiful countryside.