Posted on Thursday 7th January 2021
A county council Cabinet member reviewing another body’s public consultation about conservation plans for Cannock Chase says it is strong enough to proceed.
Victoria Wilson’s support clears the way for Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet to decide whether to back a 15-year, £7.8m strategy to protect vulnerable wildlife and landscape on Cannock Chase.
The move follows a request by the county council’s Prosperous Staffordshire Scrutiny Committee that Councillor Wilson, the county council’s Cabinet member for Communities and Culture, reviewed the effectiveness of consultation carried out by the Cannock Chase Special Area of Conservation Partnership (SAC).
Victoria Wilson said:
The SAC’s consultation began with a visitor survey of more than a thousand people in 2018, followed by an online survey in 2019, which was shared by six local authorities, was reported in the region’s biggest newspaper and was shared with local councils and user groups.
The work included specific reference to reviewing car parking and parking charges, and consultation was also carried out directly with more than a thousand visitors on Cannock Chase itself.
Apart from those responses direct from Cannock Chase, the consultation website was viewed 6,000 times and provoked more than 400 responses representing more than a hundred individuals and bodies.
Some of those responses were against the proposals and others were in favour and I am satisfied that enough people and groups had the opportunity to provide a representative cross section of opinion.”
The fact remains that the vulnerable landscape and wildlife of Cannock Chase is under pressure.
We expect it to receive around three million visits a year by 2026 and we have to protect the very things that make it so special while maintaining open access.
Even with the absolute best of intentions, visitors should understand that almost everything that we do there, whether it’s dog walking and rambling, cycling or horse riding, potentially has an adverse effect which has to be managed so that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy it in future as we do today.”
If adopted by the county council, the SAC conservation plan will use £7.8 million of housebuilders’ money on a wide range of conservation projects across the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, including improving trails and way signs and providing conservation education in schools and with children’s groups.
It includes a car parking strategy across all the landowners on the Chase with the intention of reducing footfall where the landscape and wildlife are most vulnerable and increasing parking capacity in the more robust locations.
The report says that many of the current 124 parking locations are sited in the most sensitive areas of the Chase, with the paths and tracks leading from them disrupting plants and wildlife.
The conservation proposal includes closing up to 51 parking locations in the most sensitive areas, including 33 small areas which have space for four cars at most.
Victoria Wilson added:
Managing parking is an integral part of conservation at Cannock Chase, not separate to it.
By the end of this process there will be still be 500 free parking spaces and more parking than before.
Disabled access will be maintained, improvements made to a disabled access trail and Blue Badge parking will remain free on our car parks.”
Charging will be considered initially at up to 12 car parks from 2022 at the earliest.
Victoria Wilson said: “No parking will be more expensive than at Chasewater, which currently costs £3 for a day, or less than 10p per day if you buy an annual permit, and any surplus will be reinvested in maintaining Cannock Chase.”
More information can be found here.
The Cannock Chase Special Area Conservation Partnership (SAC) is a consortium of local authorities that receives S106 and CIL money from housing developers, plus interested parties such as Staffordshire County Council, Forestry England and Cannock Chase AONB. Staffordshire CC does not administer the S106 and CIL money directly and is therefore a non-voting member of the SAC.
Staffordshire County Council is legally responsible for the conservation of Cannock Chase Country Park.
The 1,300 hectares of Cannock Chase Country Park, and the 26 square mile Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that it lies within, contains plants and species of such national and international importance that parts are also listed as both a Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Cannock Chase has a remarkedly varied landscape, with ancient woodlands, river valleys and wetlands, as well as open heathland. The range of flora and fauna includes herds of fallow deer, four of Britain’s six reptile species, rare and endangered birds including the woodlark and nightjar, and some seldom found plants.