VISITORS are to be charged up to £5 a time to park at countryside sites across Surrey, including Chobham, Ockham and Wisley commons.
Despite widespread opposition, Surrey County Council is introducing the fees to raise around £200,000 a year for conservation work on the 10,000 acres of heathland, downs and woods that it owns.
They will be imposed in 15 car parks across five of the busiest sites between February and July next year, under the county’s Pay and Conserve scheme.
Drivers will be charged £1.30 for the first hour, £2.60 for up to two hours, £3.90 up to three hours and £5 for a complete day. A yearly season ticket will cost £60.
The charges were approved by the council’s cabinet on Tuesday last week, at the request of the portfolio holder for transport, Cllr Mike Goodman, who represents Bagshot, Windlesham and Chobham on the council.
He told the cabinet that government cuts and the need to support statutory services such as social care and education had forced the county to drastically reduce its yearly grant to the countryside managers, Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT).
It had gone down from £953,000 in 2014 to £575,000, with the aim of cutting it to zero in 2020.
SWT needed £2.1m a year and had to make up the difference through grants, generating income from property and trading activities. The proceeds of parking charges would go to the trust and be ringfenced for conservation work.
Mr Goodman said Surrey was behind other local authorities and organisations such as the National Trust in charging people to use its car parks.
“I think it’s only fair that that those who benefit most from this countryside pay more towards looking after it,” he added.
The fees will be charged at the six car parks on Chobham Common, three at Wisley and Ockham commons, two at Whitmoor Common in Worplesdon, one at Rodborough Common in Witley near Godalming and three at Norbury Park near Leatherhead.