COUNCILLORS have signed off £800,000 for a new cafe, toilets, playground and car park at Frensham Ponds.
The project proposes demolishing Frensham’s existing visitor centre and replacing it with a new “modern, more sustainable and energy efficient” building elsewhere on the common.
This promises an improved cafe offering a wider variety of food and drinks, indoor seating as well as public toilets, a ranger office, educational room and interactive visitor information area.
The report also proposes a new children’s play area and “re-configured car park” to increase the ponds’ parking capacity and reduce anti-social parking and queuing along Bacon Lane.
But the project will likely result in the introduction of all-year-round parking charges, replacing the existing charge of £4 per day at weekends and bank holidays, between April 1 and September 30.
Waverley expects the improvements to greatly reduce its running costs at the common from £50,000 per year to just £10,000, and the council claims the project should pay for itself “within 23 years”.
It also hopes to secure external funding for the project and has set a target date of April 2018 to open the new facilities in time for the summer season.
However, various hurdles must first be overcome in addition to planning permission - including gaining common land consent from the Secretary of State and securing the permission of land owners the National Trust which awarded a 73-year lease to the council in 1997.
Julia Potts, Waverley deputy leader and portfolio holder for major projects, said: “The ‘invest-to-save’ scheme – which is still in its early stages – has to go through an extensive process, including a number of important consents that need to be given, before the scheme can be approved.
“Amenities on the site are not fit for purpose. The vision is to transform the area and improve the visitor experience, while protecting and enhancing the natural environment. The scheme will also address some of the current parking issues on the site and surrounding roads. I am positive this scheme, if implemented, will benefit all who visit this wonderful place.”
The proposed improvements were opposed at the last full council meeting by Farnham Residents councillor Kika Mirylees, who objected to the £800,000 bill at a time when council tax is soon set to rise by 3.6 per cent.