March 9 2014 Latest news:
Nick Hitchens, Reporter
Thursday, March 24, 2011
The impending closure of a popular historical country park has shocked users and raised fears that housing could be built on the site.
Dog-walkers, ramblers and nature-lovers were furious to discover Beacon Wood Country Park, in Bean, will close indefinitely next Friday after managers Kent County Council (KCC) stated they could no longer afford to run it.
It will be handed to owners Lafarge Cement UK, who have failed to find alternative managers for the 70-acre woodland, despite knowing about the council’s plan to pull out for nearly a year.
Kelly Hosford 34, of Goodge Avenue, Northfleet, walks her dog Max in the woods and was devastated by the news.
She said: “I come here two or three times a week. I will be really sad to see it go. I love it here. Max absolutely loves it. The birds, the wildlife, it is a lovely place to come.”
Michael Easter, 67, a former Kent Wildlife Trust volunteer who walks the park with his wife Pearl, 60, said the area was in need of better management.
He fears the closure could be a ruse to open the way for future development on the site near Bluewater shopping centre, saying: “It feels neglected when you walk around. It would be really sad if things stayed as it is then the site was developed. We need a few volunteers to step up and save this place or it could go that way.”
Young mothers Kelly Thomas, from New Barn, and Anna White, from Longfield, said they can’t use nearby green spaces such as Jeskyns Park, Cobham or Shorne Country Park.
“We need managed paths to be able to push our prams. It is very covered here which keeps it cooler than at Jeskyns which is very open,” said Mrs Thomas, 32.
“Shorne is further away and costs £2 parking, which quickly adds up over the weeks,” added Mrs White.
Opened to the public in 1992, the woodland contains a number of historic landmarks, including a beacon used to signal the coming of the Spanish Armada in the 17th Century and a former gunpowder factory, alongside an array of wildlife.
Bosses at Lafarge UK say they are searching for new managers but KCC officials say it had given the company 10 months to negotiate a new contract by issuing a warning in May last year.
It also claims Lafarge refused to change terms of the contract which could have seen the site closed for a shorter period than the now six-month minimum. A notice at the park states that KCC recommended other groups that may be interested in running the site.
A spokesman said: “KCC has been reviewing the portfolio of the sites it manages and has decided a number of these, not owned by KCC, will be handed back to the original owners, Beacon Wood being one of the sites.
“In view of this decision, Lafarge Cement is actively exploring the long-term management of Beacon Wood with various organisations for the benefit of the local community.
“The current economic climate requires tough decisions.
“This will allow us to direct our resources towards sites that are better used, have greater conservation value, or are Sites of Special Scientific Interest, ensuring they are managed, maintained and developed efficiently, in future.”
A spokesman from Lafarge refused to comment on claims by KCC but maintained the company has no plans to develop the site.