Media release - issued 23 Nov 2021

Important step forward for new visitor centre

Rushmoor Borough Council's Cabinet has agreed to proceed with a new visitor centre and cafe at Southwood Country Park in Farnborough, with a recommendation to council that £901,000 is added to the capital programme to fund the detailed design and development of the building.

The Cabinet, meeting on Tuesday 16 November, agreed the move after hearing the details of a completed feasibility study and initial design development by architects, commissioned back in July. 

The council will also be entering into a lease agreement with an experienced café operator over the next 12 weeks, with the recommendation going to Council on 2 December. 

The addition of a visitor centre at Southwood Country Park, a Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG), will be funded by an estimated £461,000 of developer contributions. Funding will initially come directly from the council until enough contributions are received by 2024. Developer contributions will also pay for environmental improvements and ongoing management and maintenance of the park.  

Funding for the café will be provided separately, with expenditure based on a business case which shows a return on investment via rent and a proportion of the income paid by the café operator. 

Environmental sustainability has been considered throughout the scheme and includes several environmental features including a green roof, ground source heating and PV Panels. The project will also look to use much of the existing buildings at Southwood to minimise the embodied carbon impact and costs. Both the café and visitor centre will be fully accessible to people with disabilities. 

The visitor centre and café incorporate a ranger's office, education space and public toilets. Future plans include additional paths and bridges, a children's play area, a pond dipping platform, and the possibility of a fenced dog exercise area. 

A full planning application is expected to be considered by the council's Development Management Committee at their December meeting. 

Rushmoor Borough Council's Cabinet member for Major Projects and Property, Councillor Martin Tennant, said that the recent public engagement on the country park and visitor centre proposals had been 'overwhelmingly positive' with over 100 people attending two drop-in sessions and almost 400 online surveys completed. 

He said: "We've taken a major step towards revitalising and transforming Southwood Country Park into a wildlife haven and big visitor attraction. The park is already proving a big draw and I'm sure a new visitor centre and café will make it an even more attractive proposition. 

 "I'm really looking forward to the day when we can see the start of construction work on this exciting project." 

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