Petition against parking charges at Wakehurst Place reaches 1,336 signatures

A petition calling for Wakehurst Place to drop its proposed car parking charges has reached 1,336 signatures.

The gardens at Wakehurst Place are popular with visitors
The gardens at Wakehurst Place are popular with visitors

The petition was started by local news website East Grinstead Online and calls on Wakehurst director Andy Jackson and chief executive of the Kew Foundation, Michael Murphy to drop the charges for National Trust (NT) members, which will see visitors paying up to £10 to park at the venue in Ardingly, Sussex, despite offering free entrance to NT members.

Friends of Kew, Wakehurst Place season ticket holders and those who purchase a day ticket to enter Wakehurst have continued to park for free since the charges were introduced in April.

Wakehurst Place is owned by the National Trust but has been leased to Royal Botanic Gardens Kew since 1965 under the proviso that NT members could visit for free. The property comes with an annual maintenance endowment of just £80,000 from its last private owner, Sir Henry Price, but the venue costs £2.2 million to run annually.

Now 80 per cent of visitors are NT members and do not bring any income to Wakehurst Place except for shop and cafe spend.

Several of those who signed the petition on the website, have said they have stopped visiting Wakehurst since the charges were introduced, with many saying they had previously spent money in the cafe and shop. Some write that they refuse to visit on principle, while others, often pensioners, complain they can no longer afford a visit.

Crawley resident Richard McAdam wrote: "£10 for a single pensioner is way too much- even the hospital doesn’t charge this much". While Ann Nunn of Hassocks said: "I miss visiting, but will not pay to park. There must be other ways to resolve this. Because the decision was made "at the top" does not mean it's the right one - maybe the people at the top need to be changed."

Jackson told Horticulture Week in March that he hopes to raise £1m a year by 2016-17 from the parking charges – part of a drive to plug a £1.4m hole in Wakehurst's annual finances and become self-sufficient.

He is relying on repeat National Trust visitors taking up an offer of £25 to park all year round. Around 70,000 people visit the site at least four times a year. 

He said he expected shop, cafe and visitor numbers would drop by about 40 per cent in the first two years after the change – from 335,439 in 2013 to around 200,000.

A Kew spokeswoman said, "We are aware of the petition. While we respect people’s right to sign the petition and express their views on the introduction of the parking charges, it is not appropriate for the petition to solely target individuals connected to Wakehurst Place and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

"The decision to introduce parking charges was taken at the highest levels, at both the NT and RBGK and was agreed by both organisations’ boards of trustees. 

"We have a responsibility to operate Wakehurst Place sustainably, in a manner that will ensure it continues to be a beautiful, educational, world-class garden and conservation site for future generations to enjoy. We urge all those who have signed the petition to support Wakehurst Place by becoming a Wakehurst Season Ticket holder at an average cost of just under 50 pence per week."

The decision to charge NT visitors a per-vehicle fee for parking was arrived at by both organisations as the best solution to the problem.

However the petition calls this "unreasonable and unfair" as NT members already pay for "costly annual membership".

Jackson is also planning to have more festivals and events at Wakehurst Place to raise money, bring in visitors and highlight its botanic and scientific work.

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