PARKING charges have been introduced for drivers at a popular beauty spot.

Visitors to the Derwent Reservoir, near Consett, are to be charged to use the main car parks, which have been free since the reservoir was opened in 1967.

Pay-and-display meters were installed this week at car parks near the dam wall, which are popular with anglers and families using the walks along the reservoir banks.

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Drivers will be charged between £1.50 for two hours up to £10 for a 12-hour stay, which operators Northumbrian Water say will raise funds to pay for upkeep and maintenance of facilities at the site.

Don Coe, the company’s Waterside Parks Operations Manager, said: “We have introduced a nominal charge at our Derwent Reservoir site which attracts a range of visitors.

“These charges are comparable to similar tourist attractions in the area”.

Mr Coe added: “The income from our car parks contributes towards the continuing improvements of our waterside parks and facilities across the region for the enjoyment of our visitors.”

Charges will apply every day that the car parks are open and the company says that tickets are transferable and can be used at other Northumbrian Water car parks.

Cars displaying a blue badge will be exempt from the charge and the company said drivers would be able to get change from the nearby visitor centre.

However, the introduction of charges has provoked anger among some regular visitors to the reservoir and led to widespread discussion on social media.

Pensioner Henry Robb, from Bridgehill, who first saw the meters when he visited the site yesterday, said: “It’s outrageous.

“It’s absolutely disgraceful that a water company making millions of pounds from maintaining the reservoir has got the nerve to squeeze money from people who can’t afford it.

“It was such a shock to find the parking ticket machines at a site which is pretty remote, about three miles from Consett”.

The 70-year-old added: “The signs are pretty vague – you could park and get back from a walk and find yourself with a fine.

“It costs £1.50 for two hours, so people will be thinking twice about visiting there

“I have been going there for years, but I feel that I have been restricted from going.”

The car park at nearby Pow Hill, run by Durham County Council, remains free to use.