Management of Eastbourne’s Shinewater Park could be transferred from East Sussex County Council to an outside organisation.
The authority has published its draft Countryside Access Strategy, which examines how the county’s rights of way and 10 countryside sites are used and managed, and could launch a consultation on the document next week.
Eight sites, including Shinewater Park, could be managed by outside organisations who have a ‘background in conservation and working with visitors and the public’.
Under proposals they would remain open and accessible to the public, and according to the county council this could lead to them being managed better, and would increase community involvement in their management.
Cllr Carl Maynard, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for transport and environment, said, “Our county is blessed with stunning natural beauty which is enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.
“It’s important that we ensure our public rights of way and countryside sites are managed as effectively as possible, to ensure they can continue to be enjoyed by future generations.
“We will be looking closely at the proposals before starting the consultation, and any final decision will only be made once people have had a chance to have their say.”
The strategy will be discussed by the county council’s cabinet at Lewes’ County Hall on Tuesday, April 26, and it will be asked to approve it for a 12-week period of public consultation.
An officers’ report explains, “The management of CS (Countryside Sites) is recommended to change.
“It is proposed that, by changing how the sites are managed, there may be an improvement to both the visitor experience and conservation work.
“By seeking to pass the sites to other organisations experienced in community involvement, conservation and visitor engagement, it is anticipated that there will be improvements in what the sites have to offer.”
The Shinewater Park site is 43 hectares in total including the watercourses and is only partly owned by the county council and jointly managed with Eastbourne Borough Council.
The park officially opened in 2002 and was formerly marshland pasture criss-crossed by rivers and drainage ditches. During landscaping work Bronze Age (800 to 600BC) remains were discovered.
These included parts of a wooden trackway and legged platform. Finds included a very rare sickle with its wooden handle still intact.
The county council would look to identify the right organisations and arrangements to manage each site in 2016, and if appropriate the changes could be put in place by the summer of 2018.
Other sites which could be managed by organisations include Camber Sand Dunes, Chailey Common Local Nature Reserve, Ditchling Common Country Park, Ouse Estuary Nature Reserve, Riverside Park, Seven Sisters Country Park, and Weir Wood Local Nature Reserve.
Each site would be considered separately or as part of a package.
Under the current proposals, two of the sites, the Cuckoo Trail and Forest Way Country Park, would continue to be managed directly by the county council.
The strategy also looks at how East Sussex’s 2,000 miles of public rights of way will be managed in the future, but it is proposed that this would stay in-house by the county council.
It was felt that direct management of East Sussex’s footpaths, byways and bridleways worked well and offered the county council good value for money.
In managing the PRoW and countryside sites the county council has a number of responsibilities including maintaining bridges and gates, legal record keeping, as well as clearance and resurfacing work, coppicing, and grazing.
The authority said it works with various community partners to help deliver this, costing more than £1.8m in 2015/16.
The document makes it clear that the strategy has been developed ‘at a time of unprecedented change and severe financial pressure. Like many other local authorities across the country, we are dealing with cuts in government funding’.
ESCC is also looking at the level of parking charges at Seven Sisters Country Park, which have not been changed since 2009, and an increase in line with inflation could generate around £23,000 extra a year, which will be reinvested in the management of the park.
For cars staying up to two hours the charge would increase from £2.50 to £3, for over two hours from £3.50 to £4, while for coaches and minibuses staying up to two hours charges would increase from £5 to £6, and for more than two hours £10 to £12.
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