RESIDENTS and walkers are up in arms over the potential closure of a popular country park due to council cutbacks.
Chester and Cheshire West Council (CWaC) is examining proposals to discontinue its lease on Little Budworth Common when it expires at the end of February next year.
A free car park and toilet block for visitors would be dismantled.
Oulton Estate, which owns the land, would prefer the country park to stay – otherwise it may have to fence off part of the land to prevent tipping and illegal camping.
The common – a mosaic of heath, ponds and woodlands – has been run as a country park by the council since the late 1970s and is visited by tens of thousands of people every year.
Little Budworth Parish Council says it will fight the proposals and plans to call a public meeting unless assurances are given over the park’s future.
“The country park is popular not just with local people but also with visitors from far and wide,” said Ray Hall, chairman of the parish council.
“It would be a tragedy if this valuable amenity was to be lost.”
CWaC is responsible for 19 country parks and nature reserves in west Cheshire but Little Budworth Common is more vulnerable to budget cuts as the land is not owned by the council.
It is understood a separate proposal – that CWaC manages the common at Oulton Estate’s expense – has been rejected already.
Despite its name, the area is not common land: it’s been in the possession of the Egerton family since 1752, when Philip Egerton took out a 1,000-year lease from neighbouring landlord, the Earl of Shrewsbury.
It is thought he wanted to preserve the approach to his estate.
CWaC began leasing the site more than 30 years ago and renewed the agreement in 1995.
Oulton Estate, which already provides land for the village cricket club, is understood to be happy with the current arrangement. It rents the common to CWaC at a ‘concessionary’ rate.
Estate trustee Michael Scott said: “It would not be appropriate to comment at this stage as negotiations are on-going.
“We hope these will be concluded satisfactorily and that a new, long-term lease can be agreed.”
Little Budworth council is disappointed at the lack of public consultation and says it is examining contingency measures should CWAC back out.
This may include “Friends of the Common” group to voluntarily manage the park.
However it fears Oulton Estate will be unable to police access to the common and, in the absence of a car park, surrounding roads will be choked.
Parish councillor Cora Cowap said: “You only have to see the number of cars that are parked there on a Sunday morning to understand how popular the common is.
“And it’s not just local people either – visitors come from as far afield as Manchester and Liverpool.”
In response to local concerns, CWaC has called a private meeting with the parish council and Oulton Estate.
A spokesman said: “No firm decision has been taken about the council’s future involvement in the management of Little Budworth Country Park.
“The council is in the process of arranging discussions with all the stakeholders involved to consider various options for the future management of the site, including public access and nature conservation.”