HAS the number of visitors to Alyn Waters Country Park fallen dramatically since car parking fees were introduced there last May?

Figures show that in the eight months from April to November last year, the number was 11,189 compared with 19,658 recorded for a nine-month period the year before. So the answer is clearly yes.

It’s when one asks whether that fall can be attributed directly to the introduction of the fees that things start to get more difficult. There could be several reasons, some more plausible than others, why a lot more people decide not to visit.

One thing it’s unlikely to have been though is the weather, because most of the country was experiencing a heat wave from mid-June to the end of August.

The reason why knowing the cause behind the drop in numbers is so important, is because the country park is there for yet another a reason, namely as a healthy and fun leisure resource for the benefit of as many local people as possible.

If no one visits, there’s no point it being anything more than yet other beautiful grassy woodland valley with a lovely river running though it.

Fortunately, along with the visitor statistics - disclosed at a meeting of Gwersyllt Community Council last week - figures were also given for the number of cars using Alyn Waters’ car park, down from 11,933 in 2017 to 6,013 in 2018 - so that should tell us something.

Gresford councillor Gwenfair Jones said the figures, obtained from Wrexham Council, were a real concern. She and other community councillors had expected the number to be lower but were shocked by the extent of the fall.

“The drop is definitely because of the parking charges,” she said. “I’m really concerned because people go to Alyn Waters for lots of reasons, including for the benefit of their health, and this is a massive step backwards as far as health and wellbeing in the community is concerned.”

She added she was also concerned about the possible impact of the ‘lower footfall’ on the future of the park’s cafe, now due for review along with so much other council spending.

Interestingly, I think, Wrexham Council is making no bones about the fact that visitor numbers to all three of its country parks - Alyn Waters, Ty Mawr and Nant Mill - have declined significantly since the introduction of a £1 daily parking charge.

However, it insists this was “not unexpected” and, as such - as I read it - no cause for concern.

Cllr David A Bithell, Wrexham Council’s lead member for the environment and transport, explained: “The drop...was expected due to the introduction of car parking charges, but we are meeting our income targets for car parking following the ‘Difficult Decisions’ consultation.”

So, as long as the target income from charges is being met, it doesn’t matter if people are deserting the parks in droves as a result, then?

One Leader reader, ‘Dom Estos’, wrote: “£30 a month if you want to go for a walk everyday […] try dropping the charge to 50p, if numbers increase, income will be about the same, then again to 25p and maybe quadruple visitor numbers for same income. What’s the point of a park if people can’t afford to visit?”

And, of course, he’s right there - and possibly correct too in thinking the same target could be reached if reducing the charge increased visitor numbers proportionately.

It should be stressed that blue badge holders can park for free with no time limit, and a £50 season ticket covers parking charges across all three country parks, which would reduce the cost to around £4 a-month - an absolute bargain for frequent users, or even would-be frequent users - but how many of those can spare £50 up front?

Since the claims were made last week, Cllr Bithell has hit back, insisting visitor number figures are ‘misleading’ in that they had already been falling before parking fees were introduced.

“The overall level of visitors to our parks are on target in line with our council plan presented to the executive board in December,” he said.

“The actual figures for quarter one and two [is] 283,000 against a target of 500,000. This shows that we are on track for visitor numbers across all our parks, not just Alyn Waters.”

Make of that what you will.