Following a long period of uncertainty, the future (at least for the timebeing), of the Harrison's Rocks toilet block and campsite now seems secure.
With the expiration of Sport England's lease on the car park area, site management has reverted to the Forestry Commission who will now be implementing a number of improvements to the facilities over winter 2014/15 to bring them up to date.
The toilet block and car park at Birchden Wood was originally built for the British Mountaineering Council with finance from Sport England for the use of climbers visiting near by Harrison’s Rocks and other forest users. Sport England took out a lease on the building with the Forestry Commission and funded the management and maintenance of the facilities for a number of years.
The funding to maintain and manage the toilet block and the lease with Sport England has now ended, as of the 9 November 2014.
Without funding the facilities were at risk of closure. However local people and climbers raised awareness regarding how important the toilet block was in supporting climbers using Harrison’s Rocks and in keeping the forest clean and tidy for all visitors. An online discussion was held to look at options to keep the toilet block open which indicated that it was felt acceptable to charge for the use of the car park and campsite in order to sustain the management and maintenance of the facilities.
What’s happening now?
The Forestry Commission will take on the responsibility of managing and maintaining the facilities for the present. The toilet block and campsite will close from 9 November for a program of work funded by Sport England as part of the end of lease agreement. This will also include improvements to the car park.
The Forestry Commission aim to reopen the toilet block and campsite in March 2015 when it is proposed more regulated charging begins for the camp site and car park. Previously donations were encouraged by the Harrisons Rocks Management Group who were contracted to manage the toilet block by Sport England. It is proposed that the current arrangement be replaced by a pay and display machine managed by the Forestry Commission. Alongside the Pay and Display payment option the Forestry Commission hope to offer a annual pass which will offer a saving for regular users. Whilst the toilet facilities are closed this winter there will be no charge for car parking.
The Forestry Commission have also secured funding to resurface the access road into Birchden Wood. It is estimated the work will require the access road to be closed for a week during the winter period. A time plan for the work and closure of the access road for resurfacing has not been confirmed as yet but the Forestry Commission will be working with an advisory group of local stakeholders to communicate about the up and coming work in advance as dates are confirmed. See the Birchden Wood web page for updates: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/INFD-8ZUF6X
In the long term the Forestry Commission remain keen to work with a local community group or organisation to manage and maintain the car park, camp site and toilet block and will continue to explore the potential to achieve this with local stakeholders.
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