A campaigner said he is “astounded” as a petition to keep Epping Forest free of charge continues to grow after a leap in support.

As of Tuesday afternoon (November 10), more than 12,000 people had signed a petition to the City of London Corporation (CoL) saying simply “Keep Epping Forest free of charge for the people.”

The call from the Epping Forest Forum comes after the announcement of possible charges for parking and cycling in the forest, and proposed changes to the Epping Forest Act in parliament.

A draft bill, which will be debated in the House of Commons next year, could allow the CoL greater control and increase opportunities to use the forest to raise money.

Organiser Paul Morris said a lack of public trust in the corporation’s plans had been revealed by the huge support for the petition.

He said: “I am astounded with it, I think it is brilliant.”

He added: “In the future the forest is going to turn into something else.

“The draft bill really is very vague, it has blanket powers and you are completely relying on what [the corporation] decide.”

If successful, CoL could take control of some roads and would be allowed to license activities such as professional dog walking and fitness classes.

The bill could allow significant interpretation on some matters.

One line says: “The corporation may take any steps in an open space which appear to them necessary or expedient for the proper management or husbandry of the land forming part of an open space and its flora and fauna.”

A CoL spokeswoman said: “Managing Epping Forest’s 4.2 million annual visits is expensive. 

"The City of London Corporation spent £5 million last year on Epping Forest from its own resources.

"Charging for these car parking spaces is common practice amongst many open spaces and other green spaces across the UK, such as the National Trust properties and Forestry Commission sites.

"All money raised will be reinvested in looking after and managing the Forest."

She added that charged would only be introduced at less than 10 per cent of car parks, "initially in areas where many commuters, hospital visitors and shoppers use the spaces intended for forest users.

"Blue badge holders will continue to be able to park for free.”

The forum is planning another public meeting to discuss the corporation’s proposals.

To view the petition, visit https://www.change.org/p/city-of-london-epping-forest-commons-committee-keep-epping-forest-free-of-charge-for-the-people.