Every day in every way we are paying for more and more. I realise this increasingly. Things we took for granted as free are added inexorably to the list of things we are charged for.
And now we have rural parking charges, by which I don’t mean we are going to be charged for parking outside a village shop. Sleepy little One Stops have been on viciously policed meters for years now, as we all know. I mean parking outside a deserted wooded area while you walk your dog.
Very soon, there will be no such thing as a free walk, or a free picnic.
In Surrey, where I reside, Chobham Common, Newlands Corner, Ockham Common and Whitmoor Common are just a few of the reasonably deserted places where you now can’t pull up in your car without a parking warden appearing to ticket you.
Wooded areas in particular have gone ‘Pay by phone’.
From July, Ockham and Wisley Commons, where I walk and ride, will be £1.30 for up to an hour, £2.60 for one to two hours, £3.90 for two to three hours or £5 for three hours and over. It’s £6 if you want to take your horse there in a horse box. Luckily,I can park at the field where I keep my horses, but for the rest of you, I’m afraid, a breath of fresh air costs money.
It’s an interesting legal point, because access to common land should be free. Oh, I’m sure the council makes the point that it has not actually locked the common land behind a gate with a kiosk. There are no entry barriers. But as these wooded areas are on busy main roads, they know full well that there is no other way to get to them for 99 per cent of people who visit other than to drive. There are no pull-in places available other than the main one, and just to make sure they have painted all the roads for miles around with double yellow lines.
And so the overwhelming effect in all but name is that Surrey County Council has started charging people £1.30 an hour to visit the common land that it is their legal right to visit, all of which is music to the ears of the militant tendency of the conservation lobby who want to ban human beings from the countryside so the birds can have it to themselves.
Now, at first I was a good deal crosser about this than I am now, because a rumour had gone round that the parking control hours were going to stop at 9 p.m. This would mean that walkers and picnickers would be charged during daylight hours, then at nightfall the doggers could arrive in their multitudes, as they do every evening, and enjoy having sex in the bushes for free.
And as the parking money is being used for maintenance and litter collection, the walkers and picnickers would therefore be paying to clear up after the doggers, who drop condoms and drug paraphernalia.A regressive tax if ever there was one.
But, but, but… Surrey County Council has done something more sensible than that. A spokesman tells me the council is planning to make the control hours 24/7 and that it has every intention of enforcing the parking charges after dark.
There is talk of CCTV, after years of local people begging for it to no avail. A private firm will be tasked with the uncomfortable job of going into the car park after dark to fine all the miscreants. Look, I mean miscreant in the sense of violating parking charges. I would never suggest that a middle manager stopping off to have a knee trembler with a trucker on his way home to his wife Margery is doing anything other than exploring a valid part of his sexuality.
I have been much influenced in my thinking on this matter by the fact that up until now the council, the police and pretty much all the politicians in this neck of the woods have insisted there is nothing to be done about dogging, and nor should there be. These people must go somewhere nice for sex in the undergrowth. It is their human right, we have been assuming.
But then the authorities ran out of money. And everyone was forced to scratch their heads for ideas. And clearly, someone in power has realised there is money to be made from the intrepid adventurers who pull up in their cars at night to have sex in woodland car parks.
It’s going to be one hell of a job for the private firm tasked with slapping tickets on windscreens as their owners cavort in the bushes. But that’s what the council has just told me they are going to do. And who am I not to believe them?
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