The controversial new parking charges in Dunorlan Park came into force on October 16 and a fortnight later park users have been reacting to the changes.
Friends of Dunorlan Chairman Peter Russell said of the noticeably emptier car parks: “I live just around the corner from the park and we’ve certainly seen a drop off in numbers. There has certainly been a change.”
But he added that it will be difficult to judge the full impact of the changes until the popular summer months.
“In the summer people drive to Dunorlan Park, they bring a picnic, spend most of the day there and that’s now going to cost them an extra fiver. It’s that type of user that will suffer.”
The Friends of Dunorlan, who voted to reject the plans for parking charges, also have concerns over the potential impact on the Dunorlan Park Boats, weekly Park Runs and the café. Peter Russell told the Times:
“The café normally gets a very busy period immediately after the Park Run on Saturdays but we wonder whether people will stay for a coffee if they have to pay but we haven’t got evidence of that yet.”
Dunorlan café owner Ian West has a pragmatic view of the new charges: “It’s early days at the moment. The regular faces are still turning up. Although I wasn’t in favour of it, ultimately wherever you go you have to pay to park.”
The decision by Council leaders not to grant a free first hour of parking has been widely criticised by dogwalkers. Mandy Egerton of Wybourne Rise in Tunbridge Wells walks her rescue dog daily in Dunorlan and isn’t convinced the new charges will raise the intended amount.
“My dog’s too nervous to go on the road so we drive and it’s £1 a day. The car park is practically empty every day. It’s my car and one other.”
And while Mandy appreciates the charges have been introduced to tackle the Council’s £943,000 deficit for 2023/24, she suggests a better source of revenue would be a dog warden.
“They have to raise money but I don’t think this is the answer. Why not fine people for not picking up after their dogs and dogs not on their lead where they’re supposed to be? There are some serial offenders daily.”
Looking for an alternative to Ashdown Forest, after parking charges were introduced there in November 2022, Lauren Scarborow visited Dunorlan with her family from Crowborough. She was surprised by the charges, having parked for free two weeks ago, and claimed the cost could dissuade her from returning.
If the unpopularity of the new charges continues to keep drivers away, Friends of Dunorlan Chairman Peter Russell is not convinced that the annual funds raised by the Council will reach the expected £95,000.
“We’ll certainly be interested to see what the footfall is over the winter and next year. Their revenue might not be as much as they anticipated if not so many people go there.”
The Times approached Tunbridge Wells Borough Council for comment on this issue and they responded saying: “Income for the two weeks since charges were introduced is £2,479. It is too early to say any more about the scheme, we need to allow people time to get used to it.’