The toilet block and campsite at the Harrison’s Rocks car park is currently closed because the building is unsafe.
During the winter, water leaked directly onto the fuse boxes in the toilet block causing serious damage and making the building unsafe for use. The campsite relies on these facilities and so it is also closed – please do not use the campsite as serious sanitation problems are likely as a result. Alternative nearby campsites are available with the nearest being Manor Court campsite, near Tunbridge Wells.
Before going into detail on the current situation and future of the car park, campsite and toilet block, it’s useful to give some background to the slightly complicated ownership and lease situation which relates to this car park area. Whilst the BMC owns the crag itself and land immediately around it, it does not own the car park, campsite or toilet block. This area is owned by the Forestry Commission (FC) and is currently leased to Sport England until November 2014. Sport England (SE) has a management contract with the BMC to look after the car park area and day to day management is looked after by Soft Rock Ltd. The BMC currently receives funding from SE for this, and in turn pays Soft Rock. However after November 2014, no further funding is available, and the BMC does not have the means or capacity to run a car park, campsite and toilet block itself, so the lease will revert to the FC. This was the case before the water damage occurred to the toilet block.
The BMC has met with the FC and SE several times over the last year or so, in order to discuss what will happen to the car park area once the current lease finishes. SE have confirmed that they are unable to continue to fund running the site as it does not meet the objectives of their organisation. The FC do not have a nearby team that could easily look after the site, and given recent budget cut backs are unable to contract the work out or regularly commit staff time to look after the site from a distance. The FC have investigated the possibility of pay to park schemes but this would not generate enough revenue to cover costs. They have therefore advised us that once the lease expires, they plan to demolish the toilet block, remove the campsite, close the lower part of the car park (due to erosion problems on the ramp leading from the upper to lower car park) and re-landscape the upper car park to maximise the number of car that can be parked there. This should maintain the current number of car spaces available in both areas of the existing car park through better design.
SE obtained quotes for repairing the toilet block, however the cost of this was too high to be justified for a building that will be demolished in 18 months’ time. This obviously has the unfortunate knock on effect that the campsite is unusable for the remaining 18 months of the lease. However the BMC thinks that a far better use of the money SE have set aside for repairs, would be to use it in re-landscaping the upper car park to provide as many spaces as possible, rather than invested in a resource that only has an 18 month lifespan. SE and the FC have agreed to this approach and currently specialists are working on plans for the redesigned car park.
Clearly, the loss of the campsite and toilet block is a real shame for the climbing community and other users of the Rocks, however, taking a pragmatic approach to the information we have been presented with, this seems like the best option. Ultimately, the main concern is that access to the crag itself is still possible and without the car park this would be considerably harder. So the car park is the bottom line, and whilst the campsite and toilet block are fantastic, useful features, they themselves don’t provide access to the crag. In an ideal world all three would remain but given the budget constraints of the two other organisations involved and the fact that the BMC doesn’t have the capacity to manage and maintain a car park, toilet block and campsite, making sure that the car park is as good as it can be is the prime concern.
Please don’t be tempted to use the campsite – without the toilet block available and with large numbers of people within a small area, the area around the car park could quickly develop into a serious problem for sanitation.
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