More than 2,000 join campaign against car park charges at Cannock Chase

More than 2,000 people have now joined a group protesting against a multi-million-pound plan to close car parks, introduce parking charges and manage Cannock Chase over the coming years.

The road near Cannock Chase visitor centre, which was packed full of cars over the bank holiday weekend
The road near Cannock Chase visitor centre, which was packed full of cars over the bank holiday weekend

Save Cannock Chase was formed in June by residents who noticed Chase Road had been closed off during lockdown.

It has been protesting against the £7.8 million masterplan for the Chase ever since.

Thirty five parking areas will be closed and charges applied at another 11 under proposals put forward by the 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.

Visitors must already pay to park at five Cannock Chase car parks, but the new proposals would expand charges across the 30sq mile site.

Some areas would remain free for drivers while laybys and pull-in areas routinely used by dog walkers, cyclists, runners and other visitors would be be closed off.

Officials say the move is designed to protect wildlife and habitats across the Chase, but critics say charges will put people off visiting the beauty spot.

Camp Field car park is earmarked for closure

A report drawn up on the future of the site shows that introducing the parking changes, "engagement with the public" and future management for the Chase over the next 20 years will cost £7.8m.

It is understood all of the cash will come from housing developers through the Community Infrastructure Levy, which sees money put back into communities by house builders in return for planning permission. Only £1.1m has been allocated so far but leaders say they their projections are based on homes due to be built in the coming years.

Save Cannock Chase held a six-hour litter pick over the bank holiday weekend which dozens of people attended to help clean up the beauty spot, and to find out more information about the campaign.

One of the group's founders, Stuart Haynes, said the event was also to raise funds for Katherine House Hospice, which supported him after his mother died last year.

Councillor Mandy Dunnett, Chris Ellse and Stuart Haynes next to the entrance of Camp Field car park

The 35-year-old said: “Save Cannock Chase now has more than 2,000 members from right across Staffordshire having formed just three months ago.

"It’s time that the SAC and Staffordshire County Council started listening to the people they are supposed to represent and what better way to do that than by speaking to us directly.

"We wanted to show the council how much we care about the area.

"The first part of the event was at Chase Road and we found hardly any litter there, it told us that people in that area really really care about it."

Save Cannock Chase held a litter pick event which also raised awareness of the plans

Mr Haynes said he formed the group to help people who are disabled or elderly to be able to access the Chase, after watching how his late mother struggled.

He added: "I saw how limited she was with her mobility, she couldn't come on dog walks with us.

"The closures will stop other people who could drive up and look at the birds, I want to look out for these people.

"And people don't want to be forced into heavily-populated areas, these plans were published in March, they were outdated as soon as they were published.

"Most of us who are local just don't go to these places anymore, and if you start charging people won't go there."

Three million visitors per year

Victoria Wilson, Staffordshire County Council cabinet member for communities, said: “Cannock Chase is a place of beauty and we want people to use and enjoy it.

“We expect visitor numbers to increase to around three million people a year by 2026 and at the same time we also 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 AONB, 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 manage public access with nature conservation.”

Save Cannock Chase collected responses from nearly 1,000 members over the summer, and 81 per cent said they did not support reduced access to the Chase, while 82 per cent said they did not support further restrictions to parking in laybys and free car parks.

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