VISITORS to Colchester’s picturesque High Woods Country Park will soon have to pay to park there.

Colchester Council is introducing charges at the site, off Turner Road.

The move will raise much-needed cash for an authority, which is already badly hit by funding cuts.

It is also aimed at stopping staff, patients and visitors to nearby Colchester General Hospital and healthcare centre from parking there for free.

Joe Firmin, president of Colchester’s Natural History Society, said while he sympathised with the council’s intention of stopping people parking there who were not using the park, he was not in favour of charges.

He added: “I wouldn’t welcome a car parking charge, but I can see the reason for it.

“I just think it’s a bad thing all round, quite frankly. My own personal view is car parking charges at hospitals are getting quite outrageous.”

Tina Dopson, councillor responsible for communities, said a review had found charges were necessary.

Details are still to be finalised, but it is expected the charges will be low for those staying for a couple of hours, but rise dramatically for anyone staying all day.

Mrs Dopson said: “I think it’s a fair and equitable charge.

“People don’t even like to pay 20p for car parking, but it’s a realistic charge for people who want to use the service.”

Options include charging 50p for the first two hours, £2 for stays of up to four hours and £4 for any longer.

With an average of 50 people using the car park a day, that would bring about £16,000 into the council’s coffers.

However, the council estimates the charges would cut the £15,000 annual income from the visitors centre by £1,500.

Two ticket machines would cost £3,000 each, while a further £2,250-a-year would be spent on enforcement by parking wardens and maintenance.

Mrs Dopson denied the charges, which could be introduced as soon as next month, would impact on the council’s chances of winning lottery funding to upgrade the visitors’ centre.

“If you’re going out for a picnic with your family, people would pay quite a lot to go to a beauty spot.”

Martin Goss, Mile End councillor, said: “I’m not happy with the situation and I think it’s the result of a bad set of options.

“I’m concerned this will push more traffic out onto the streets.”

Mr Goss said it was the hospital’s responsibility to stop workers parking at the country park, not the council’s.

Helen Morgans said health workers parking on her street made getting into her Wryneck Close home incredibly difficult.

She added: “If they’re going to charge for High Woods Country Park, this little road of ours is going to be so congested.”