Parking charges planned for Cannock Chase, with some laybys to close
Parking charges will be introduced across Cannock Chase and other parking areas and laybys are to be closed, under controversial new plans.
Thirty-five parking areas will be closed and charges applied at another 11, under the proposals which have been put out to consultation.
Officials say the move is designed to protect wildlife and habitats across the Chase, but critics say the move will put some people off visiting the site.
It is understood all of the money raised will go back into managing the beauty spot.
Campaigners say closing off laybys and free parking areas will force dog walkers, cyclists, runners and other visitors to pay to use the Chase.
A series of laybys and off-road parking areas are currently available across the Chase, allowing easy access for families and dog walkers.
There are already parking charges at five Cannock Chase car parks, but the new proposals would expand it across the 30sq mile site. Some areas would remain free of charges.
Mandy Dunnett, a councillor on Cannock Chase District Council, said: "This is without doubt the biggest restriction in access to Cannock Chase since it was gifted to the people of Staffordshire by Lord Lichfield in the 1950s.
“A lot of residents visit Cannock Chase daily whether to dog walk, cycle, run or just get out and see nature, and this has become increasingly important to us all as a result of the recent coronavirus epidemic. Closing car parks and introducing charging will make huge areas inaccessible for local people."
Councillor Dunnett said only 130 individuals and organisations had been consulted on the proposals.
She added: “Cannock Chase district contains more than 100,000 people, which doesn’t even include those from the nearby towns of Stafford, Penkridge, Burntwood and Lichfield, let alone Birmingham and the Black Country. The idea that you could put a consultation out to only 130 individuals and organisations is ludicrous."
The changes have been drawn up by the Cannock Chase Special Area of Conservation Partnership (SAC), which includes many of the borough and district authorities of Staffordshire, as well as the county council, although the latter is not a voting member.
Mark Winnington, Staffordshire County Council Cabinet member responsible for Cannock Chase, said: “Cannock Chase is a place of beauty and we want people to use and enjoy it.
“At the same time as we expect visitor numbers to the Chase increase to around three million people a year by 2026, we have a legal duty to protect the special landscape and rare species that make it such a place of national and international significance.
“Through the SAC millions of pounds from housing developments are being invested in managing use to increase enjoyment while protecting vulnerable areas.
“Until now parking policy has been in the hands of several different landowners and the SAC initiative aims to create a single parking strategy for 26 square miles of the Area of Outstanding National Beauty which will help manage wear and tear of the landscape.
“Staffordshire County Council already has some car parking charges at Cannock Chase with the money reinvested in the countryside service and the county council has yet to formally consider the SAC proposals and their implementation on SCC land.
“We welcome every contribution to the debate about to balance public access with nature conservation.”