Concerns have been raised over plans to change the way in which people can access Cirencester Park, with tourists set to be charged for visiting.
The Bathurst Estate has submitted a planning application which would see automatic gate closers, electric keeps and keypads added to the pedestrian gates at Cecily Hill, The Old Kennels – Windsor Walk, and Barton Lane.
Residents would need an entry pass to unlock the gates, whereas tourists will be directed through the main gates at Cecily Hill and through the new visitor centre at The Old Kennels.
Tourists, and those living too far away to be eligble for an entry pass, will have to pay what have been described as ‘modest entry fees’. Entry will remain free for residents of Cirencester.
A covering letter submitted with the application predicts increased costs in supervision of public access and park maintenance due to rising tourism.
It states: “This application seeks to maintain free access to the Park for the residents of Cirencester, while offsetting these increased costs against non-local visitors.
The automation of the pedestrian gates will remove the need for staff to physically lock and unlock them each day.
A number of objections have been registered.
One person said. “This would be such a shame. Although we don’t live in Cirencester we are only twenty minutes away and our family enjoy walking in the park.”
Another said: “This would be a massive loss to all visitors to Cirencester. Personally, I work I Cirencester but live in Gloucester. Cirencester park is part of my daily lunchtime walk and under the proposed changes I (and most of my colleagues) would not be able to use the park. Needless to say, this would also have a demonstrable effect on tourism in the town.”
A third added: “This land has been free to access to all for generations. To make any amendment to this is removing the right for people to freely access the park. This will reduce tourism as they will be treated differently from locals.”
While the planning application was yet to receive any comments in support at the time of writing, some commenters on Facebook have been more receptive to the idea.
One said: “I would happily pay an annual fee to support the park, its a good idea and promotes respect for the land. Its a wonderful estate and we are lucky to have it in Cirencester.”
Defending the plans in a lengthy Facebook post, Lady Bathurst said it had been ‘an incredibly difficult decision to make’.
“Since 1695, when the Bathurst family first came to Cirencester, the estate has always been available to the community free of charge. This will continue,” she said.
“However, and especially over the past year, the park has seen a massive rise in footfall and the wear and tear to the ground and the parkland has been extensive.
“Our wish is to maintain the park for your continued access and enjoyment and to improve the facilities in many places – including the development of a visitor centre
“But we do need to fund the maintenance and improvements to the park, ones that we know will enhance your experience. We are just the same as Westonbirt, or any other parkland that is available to the public – and we have those same considerable costs to keep it going.”
Lady Bathurst also announced plans for a Friends of Cirencester Park initiative, which would involve a ‘yearly modest membership’.
“This may suit those who live in Gloucestershire, visit regularly, but fall outside the curtilage of the new access map.
“It will also afford those who wish to join certain extra privileges, the main being extended access to the park during the summer months,” she said.
The proposed changes could be implemented as early as next year.