Wednesday 13 November 2013

Latest News - Harrison's Toilet Block to be Refurbished

A brief history of events

The toilet block has fallen into disrepair, and for Sport England, who currently finance the running
of the block,  their lease is set to expire in November 2014.  The lease is then set to be transferred back to the Forestry Commission.

Sport England needs to, under the terms of their lease, restore the toilet block to a good working order before handing it back over to the Forestry Commission. The Forestry Commission do not want to take on the responsibility of maintaining the toilet block due to financial cutbacks and have made their intentions known that they intend to demolish the toilet block after November 2014 if a suitable lease holder has not been found.

Sport England had an original plan for the toilet block to be demolished and the upper car park to be remodelled, as it was deemed a bad idea and far too costly for the initial repair costs to be carried out to the block and also continue the running of the facility for it only to be demolished in one years time anyway.  The decision to demolish the toilet block had attracted a lot of attention and outrage from locals and climbers as it also meant that the Julie Tullis Memorial campsite had to be closed as well.  There were also obvious concerns that the surrounding woodland would get messy without toilets nearby as Harrison's Rocks is one of the busiest crags in the Southeast and the surrounding woodland is also frequently used by walkers, families and cyclists . At the sandstone open meetings climbers made suggestions offering to make repairs to the block. Climbers and locals volunteered their labour for free to make the repairs. This was all well and good for the present, but what was needed was someone to take on the lease after it had expired to take on the on-going running costs.

A petition was started by a proactive climber to show the strong support to keeping the toilet block open for at least one more year. The petition proved successful and now has over 1,000 signatures. It was taken to the meeting which involved Withyham Parish Council, Forestry Commission, Sport
England, and Harrison’s Management Group on 4th November 2013.

Did you know that in the 1970’s it only took 270 signatures to open the toilet block in the first place!

The Outcome

At the joint meeting it was agreed that Sport England will honour the terms of their lease and restore the toilet block to make it safe and usable once again by the new year (2014). Sport England should, under the terms of the lease, return the site in the same state as it was in when the lease started.

Withyham Parish Council have offered to assist the Forestry Commission in researching options for future tenancy after November 2014. If there is no interest in the lease being taken over when it expires after November 2014, then there is no guarantee the toilet block will remain open. So the main objective now is to find a non-commercial organisation which will take on the new lease and maintain the future of the toilet block. Funding will be needed for electricity, water, cleaning services, cess pit emptying and general maintenance repairs if the lease is taken on. So for the time being, the toilet block will be repaired in the new year of 2014, and the surrounding woods will remain clean for yet another sandstone summer.

Withyham Parish Council will keep the public up to date on their facebook page.

(News report written November 2013)