Controversial ‘booking system’ to stay in place at park near Horsham

A controversial ‘booking system’ for a paddling beach at a park near Horsham is to stay in place for another year.

Horsham District Council introduced the scheme earlier this summer at Southwater Country Park after erecting new fencing around the area.

It sparked public fears that the beach was being permanently cordoned off along with concerns for the safety of swans on the lake.

The council said the booking system was needed ‘to manage the volume of people on the beach during peak periods and make the beach safer and more enjoyable for children and families.’

Southwater country park

It later launched a user survey - and says that results were ‘overwhelmingly positive’ with people saying the system was easy to use, ‘the paddling beach was clean, safe, and it was easier to see the children in the water.’

The council says it will conduct another survey next year.

Council cabinet member for leisure Roger Noel said: “Whilst the council is delighted to have so many visitors from across the region to this ever popular destination, the cost of this success has unfortunately in the past brought about issues regarding parking, litter, overcrowding on the beach area and anti-social behaviour.”

He added: “For the first time in many years, this summer we did not receive complaints from residents about off-street or poor parking, or excess litter in the park.

“We saw a reduction in night-time activity in the park and reports of people entering the water after hours also decreased.

“In light of this feedback and information, we’ve decided to run the booking system trial again in peak times during summer 2022.

“The temporary fence around the beach area will stay up, but other than during peak holiday periods the gate will remain open and access to the beach will be open to all.

“We know that the mediocre weather this year may have put off some visitors, so in running the booking system trial for a second year we will see if it continues to help make the park run more smoothly and create an overall improved visitor experience.”

Next summer the council plans to conduct a further public consultation to determine, it says, how the park will evolve for future generations, and where future investments could be made.

A spokesperson added: “The council is acutely aware of the strong sentiment surrounding the welfare of the wildlife, and in particular the swans, in the park and it very much shares this sentiment.

“The council’s countryside warden team, together with the Swan and Friends Bird Rescue organisation, do not believe that the fence has any negative impact on the welfare of any of the wildlife at the site.”

A Swans and Friends Bird Rescue spokesperson said: “The Swans and Friends Bird Rescue team come out to Southwater Country Park to rescue injured and distressed waterfowl which is a key part of our role.

“We have seen the new fencing and believe it serves an important purpose in keeping dogs from the beach area where they disturb the waterfowl which may rest there. It also helps to keep the area clean.

“The recent shooting of two cygnets at the park was nothing to do with the new fencing and is a totally separate issue involving individuals committing a wildlife crime which is a police matter, not a matter for the council.

“A £1,000 reward has already been offered for information leading to the successful prosecution of the culprits.”

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