Published: 10:58, 14 April 2021
| Updated: 14:05, 15 April 2021
A £2 charge per child could be imposed at a popular padding pool after being free to enter for decades.
Walmer Paddling Pool's owner Dover District Council has confirmed it has drawn up and agreed a lease that permits the new management company Walmer Family Leisure to charge for entry.
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But despite there being no immediate plans to do so, if at all, the move by DDC has attracted criticism, with one councillor saying the charge could amount to a “costly day out” for hard-up families.
And the district council’s leaders have also been blasted for handing the attraction over to a private company to reap the profits when the tax-payer has invested money into the maintenance of the attraction for decades.
DDC has confirmed that no fee will be brought in during 2021 but has not guaranteed it will stay that way in the years to come.
New lease holder Michael Humphries confirmed introducing charges is not in their plans, but said the Walmer Family Leisure "will always continue to review all aspects of the facility."
“These charges (if implemented) will hit the least well-off families hardest and particularly their youngest children who have already suffered from the effects of lockdown..."
The community attraction draws people from across Kent but was closed throughout last year because of the pandemic.
It was run by not-for-profit outfits Vista Leisure and then Your Leisure, which ran Tides Leisure Pool and Dover Leisure Centre before the new centre was built at Whitfield and is managed by Places Leisure.
Walmer Parish Council has until now been paying for its maintenance each year after the district council said it could not afford to.
Reacting to the news, the parish council said in a statement: “The Parish Council appreciates that the families of Deal and Walmer love the paddling pool and hope that if any charges have to be made they are kept to a very token amount and the sum re-invested in the facility.”
But its vice chairman Cllr Mike Eddy took a harsher approach and said: “It really is time that Dover District Council Conservative leaders took seriously their role as providers of public services rather than as providers of business opportunities.
“These charges will hit the least well-off families hardest and particularly their youngest children who have already suffered from the effects of lockdown.
“DDC seems to base its finances on a policy of threatening closure of a facility unless the local parish council takes on the costs and then, after a few years of the parish council picking up the tab, they let the private sector make money from it.”
Dover District Council leader Cllr Trevor Bartlett was asked to comment but because of purdah publicity restrictions ahead of next month’s local elections, says he has been advised not to. Cllr Bartlet's seat is not up for re-election.
A spokesman for Dover District Council said: “DDC is currently in advanced lease negotiations with a new operator for the paddling pool.
“The prospective operator, Walmer Family Leisure, has exciting proposals to make the pool and surrounding space much more stimulating for the children who use it.
“These proposals are very much in the early stages of design, and costs are not yet known, but there is likely to be provision in the lease for a nominal charge for children, but not accompanying adults.
“However, despite this provision existing, Walmer Family Leisure has confirmed they have no current plans to introduce charging for the paddling pool and has confirmed that there will be free entry for this facility in 2021.”
Walmer Family Leisure is linked to Manston Golf Centre Ltd which has gained planning permission to build an 18-hole adventure crazy golf course at the former putting green adjacent to the paddling pool.
Similar to the Manston attraction, it will be themed and fun, but will include local landmarks like the Goodwin Sands.