WORK on a new £800,000 visitor centre at Frensham Great Pond and Common could finally get underway next autumn, after Waverley Borough Council reached an agreement with landowner The National Trust.

In March 2016 Waverley’s decision-making executive gave officers the green light to submit a planning application for a new cafe, toilets, playground and car park at Frensham Common, which the council leases from the trust, shortly after the full council signed off funding for the works.

This hit a snag in August 2016 when The National Trust rejected the council’s initial "spaceship-style" proposals, as described by the chairman of Waverley’s environment overview and scrutiny (O&S) committee Jerry Hyman this week, raising particular issue with the re-siting of the visitor centre.

But the council’s revised plans - which include building a "simpler" new centre on the same site as the Great Pond’s existing cafe and toilets, which face demolition - have at last won the trust’s backing, meaning work on Frensham’s new facilities is on track to begin in October 2019 followed by a "grand opening" in April 2020.

The project also proposes a "re-designed" pay-and-display car park aiming to free up rangers’ time and reduce problem parking in Bacon Lane - as well as boosting the council’s revenue with the introduction of all-year-round parking charges.

However, owing to the sensitivity of Frensham Common, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Protection Area, Waverley is prevented by Natural England from increasing car capacity at the site or, in the words of Waverley’s greenspaces manager Matt Lank, to "actively be seen to promote more visitors". As a result the number of parking spaces at the site will remain the same.

Discussing the newly-dubbed Frensham "Heathland Hub" at Monday’s meeting of the council’s environment O&S committee, Mr Lank told members the development of the project has been complicated by the "environmental sensitivity" of the site and the lease arrangements with the National Trust.

However, following "extensive stakeholder consultation and joint working with the National Trust", he added Waverley at long last has a proposal that can proceed to a full planning application, to be submitted this May.

Responding, councillors expressed disappointment that The National Trust had objected to Waverley’s initial plans for a larger building - resulting in the loss of much-desired classroom space for children - as well as the inability to increase parking capacity. But members universally praised the design of the new centre and expressed delight that something was finally being done to tackle issues with litter and problem parking at the beauty spot.

It is hoped the new facilities will cut Waverley’s running costs at the common from £50,000 per year to just £10,000.