CHARGES are set to be introduced at one of the town's most popular visitor attractions, as weekly running costs hit the £1000 mark.

The Church Walk Paddling Pool has been keeping families in Northwich entertained for decades and throughout its history has always been free.

When the town council-managed facility introduced a booking system last summer to control numbers, those changes meant employing extra staff, which led to the pool operating at a significant loss throughout the year.

It is thought more than half of the pool's visitors come from outside the area, which is another reason the council looks set to introduce a £1 charge per person for each visit when it re-opens.

Town Clerk Chris Shaw explained the move at a meeting of the council on Monday, January 11.

He said: "Last year we decided to operate the paddling pool at a reduced capacity and introduced a booking system.

"This was due in part to do with the pandemic but also because of over-crowding in previous years.

"We carried out surveys and the general consensus was that people found the booking system easy to use and that they liked the reduced numbers.

"Due to the booking system, we had security on the gate to ensure we kept to 150 people per session."

During the course of last year, the paddling pool ran at a £6,500 loss and although the booking system was designed to allow people to book just one session per week, people got around that by using multiple e-mail addresses.

"One of the problems with this was people block booking sessions for a whole week and not turning up," added Mr Shaw.

"This meant some families missed out on attending.

"From the information gathered it seems to show that more than half of those people making bookings were from out of the area."

It is hoped the introduction of the non-refundable minimal charge will discourage that kind of behaviour, but councillors are keen to ensure local families in need can still use the pool for free.

Cllr Kate Cernik said: "I'd really like to see a system where local children from vulnerable families can be given tokens or exemptions from the charge."

Cllr Lee Siddall echoed her comments, saying: "It's really important that we do look at the most vulnerable families being able to use the pool.

"With cost of living rising all the time, it's important there are still some free things to do in the town.

"Obviously lots of families can afford to pay it, so I'm not against the idea in principal."