FRENSHAM Great Pond and its famed beach area has long been a popular draw for sun seekers from far and wide on sunny summer days and bank holidays.
Regularly celebrated in the national press as “Surrey’s secret beach”, much to the chagrin of locals, the Great Pond’s car park and facilities quickly get overwhelmed in the summer months.
This, in part, prompted Waverley Borough Council to unveil as-yet unfilled plans for a new visitor centre, cafe and pay-and-display car park in 2019.
However, as a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and protected habitat for threatened species such as the Dartford warbler, nightjar and woodlark, visitor numbers have to be tightly monitored – leaving the council in a Catch 22.
Does Waverley improve facilities to meet demand, or limit access to protect the rare heathland?
While the answer to this question remains open for debate, what has become certain after the chaotic scenes at the pond on the late May bank holiday Monday is that something now has to be done.
“Sadly there is a history here, but never have we seen anything on this scale,” said Julia Potts, borough councillor for Frensham and leader of Waverley when the decision to improve the pond’s facilities was made in 2019.
“The police, rangers and enforcement officers worked tremendously hard on Monday, under exceptionally difficult circumstances.
“However, the facts are that for the majority, travelling significant distances in cars, social distancing was forgotten, many had disposable barbecues which posed a significant fire hazard and the parking on the green outside St Mary’s School, Bacon Lane, Pond Lane and the A287 was extremely dangerous.
“People were visiting not just Frensham Great Pond but other parts of this fantastic SSSI, including the Little Pond.
“So this is an issue that does require action by all parties – Waverley, The National Trust, police and Surrey County Council.
“Following conversations with senior Waverley officers and both representatives of Frensham and Churt parish councils, I have asked this be placed as a priority on the agenda for the Safer Waverley Partnership Joint Action Group.
“However that leaves the matter of how this is managed in the short term.
“While the site is common land, I am of the view the only way to manage this safely, for visitors and staff, if the site is to remain open, is to operate a pre-book parking system for those within say a ten-mile radius.
“I would also like to see strong enforcement on the local roads and we need to look at additional, highly-visible signage.”
Pre-book parking systems have already been put in place to good effect by the likes of The National Trust, and the West Wittering Estate on the south coast.
Miss Potts also expressed concern that with schools, including St Mary’s on Frensham village green, are set to return on Monday – meaning problem parking poses an additional risk to children.
She said: “It is also my understanding the school is potentially re-opening next week and I have raised that with senior officers at Waverley, as all these factors need to be born in mind as a short-term safety action plan needs putting in place immediately.
“During conversation on Tuesday I was assured the matter is a major priority of senior officers working with the other key parties to address these issues, and both fellow Frensham councillor Brian Adams and myself will continue to monitor this closely.”