CANNOCK CHASE: £7.8M conservation plan backed by cabinet
A £7.8m conservation plan to protect Cannock Chase for future generations has been backed by senior county councillors – and controversial parking proposals will remain under review.
The beauty spot is expected to see an increase in visitors in the coming years, with up to three million a year by 2026. But leisure activities such as walking, cycling and horse riding can effect sensitive landscapes and wildlife, Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet heard on Wednesday (January 20), and action is being taken to mitigate the visitor impact on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Cannock Chase Special Area of Conservation (SAC) Partnership, which involves organisations including local authorities, has put forward a 15-year plan to protect vulnerable areas, while maintaining access for visitors.
Some proposals, such as the closure of a number of smaller car parking areas, have met with strong opposition from thousands of residents and visitors who fear they will reduce access for people with disabilities. The introduction of car parking charges in some other areas has also been criticised as it may restrict visits for residents on low incomes.
Councillor Victoria Wilson, cabinet member for communities and culture, said: “Staffordshire County Council has a legal and moral duty to protect Cannock Chase Country Park’s vulnerable wildlife and landscape so that our children and grandchildren will enjoy it in the same condition that we do today. We want to balance that duty with retaining open access.
“Visitors should understand that even with the best intentions, almost everything they do potentially has an adverse effect which we have to manage.
“Over the next 15 years we want to spend £7.8m from housing developers on conservation work for Cannock Chase. That includes improving trails and way signs and providing conservation education in schools, with children’s groups and on the Chase itself.
“It also 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. Inevitably, initiatives such as this take a long time to bear fruit and these are decisions to be taken now so they can be implemented over the next 15 years, and the benefits seen and felt into the 2040s and beyond.”
She added that there will still be around 50 free parking locations across the Chase with 500 free spaces – and parking will be kept under review. Disabled access will be maintained and there will be investment to improve the existing disabled access trail.
Fellow cabinet members also spoke in support of the plans and shared their own experiences of the Chase.
Councillor David Williams, who represents the Penkridge area, said: “The ecology in Cannock Chase is under threat and doing nothing may cause irreparable damage to this delicate ecosystem. Being local to the area, working on it and exercising on the Chase itself I have observed the changes in the area and I have seen some of the damage caused accidentally and deliberately from both fire and inappropriate intrusion.
“Even the area of Shoal Hill Common, situated within the AONB, which I personally have helped being a member of the Shoal Hill Common Committee, has been damaged by people walking and riding motorcycles over these vulnerable natural habitats, straying from the prescribed walking areas, littering and having fires.
“Trained qualified ecologists back this proposal, other political and environmental groups back this proposal, and the majority of my constituents who have spoken to me personally back this proposal. This is a plan to save and invest in Cannock Chase now and for generations to come.”
Councillor Julia Jessel, cabinet member for environment, infrastructure and climate change, said: “We all know that human activity on a global and local basis, is damaging our environment. If we carry on as we are, we are going to destroy Cannock Chase.
“I think everybody – even those who have objected – do recognise that we need to manage Cannock Chase in a different way. If we don’t it will end up being what I would call a sandy wasteland, which nobody wants to see.
“When you look at all the objections that have been made they can be categorised as ‘I want to be able to park in the same informal car park’ and ‘I want to be able to use the same paths’.
“When you look at Cannock Chase there are so many informal paths which are damaging sensitive parts, flora and fauna and we cannot continue like that. What this report is about is asking people to make relatively small changes in what they do to preserve a beautiful area for future generations to enjoy.
“Blue badge holders will still be able to access car parking for free and there are still free car parks.”
Councillor Mike Sutherland, who represents Cannock Chase’s Etchinghill and Heath area, said: “I live within five minutes’ walk of the Chase and have enjoyed it since 1970. But over the years I have seen more and more visitors using the Chase and the facilities that have been added.
“I feel privileged to live within the jewel in the crown for Staffordshire. As with anything that is well used it is evident this needs careful managing.
“I’m sure all my locals want to protect this fabulous facility for future generations, but with the best will in the world activities on the Chase can have an adverse effect which has to be managed. As with all changes, you will never please all of the people at the same time.
“But this is about saving Cannock Chase. It will result in much-needed additional parking and better walking trails.”
Words: Kerry Ashdown, Local Democracy Reporter
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