As part of plans to manage the long term future of the beauty spot 35 small parking areas could be taken out of use, while charging could begin at 11 other sites.
But the proposals have sparked concerns that areas of the Chase could become more difficult to access for visitors on low incomes or with mobility issues.
Cannock Chase Special Area of Conservation (SAC), a partnership involving Staffordshire councils, statutory bodies, landowners and wildlife groups, is considering proposals which aim to protect the landscape and wildlife while preparing for an expected rise in visitors over the coming years.
Visitors are set to include international athletes in two years’ time as Cannock Chase Forest has been chosen to host the mountain biking venue when the Commonwealth Games is held in Birmingham in 2022.
But recent news releases from Staffordshire County Council and Cannock Chase AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) have led to worries that car parking changes will be brought in ahead of the major sporting event.
Cannock Chase SAC held a public consultation in 2019 on its proposals.
Stuart Haynes, co-founder of the Save Cannock Chase group opposing the plans, said: “It’s clear that the intention from the start has been to redirect money raised for conservation into new parking charges and closures.
"Yet the county council, the primary landowner implementing these plans, and the SAC Partnership, have time and again tried to present this as an environmental not a commercial decision.
“In their latest publicity push Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet member for communities, Victoria Wilson, has confirmed that they intend to introduce charging in 2022, just in time for the Commonwealth Games.
“At the same time, the SAC Partnership has confirmed in writing that it has no intention of consulting with residents, despite having only secured 61 responses to their key question on closing car parks and 78 responses on introducing charging. 62% of respondents felt either fewer or no car parks should be closed, while an additional third had to select ‘other’ to declare that ‘no parking charges should be introduced at any car-parks’ as this wasn’t even an option.”
Last month Cannock Chase Council has called for an impact assessment to examine the potential effects of car park closures in the SAC. Concerns about access to Cannock Chase were also raised at a Stafford Borough Council meeting.
But Councillor Wilson stressed that any changes relating to car park closures or charges would begin in 2022 at the earliest.
She said: “The Commonwealth Games mountain biking event is scheduled to last one day on Forestry England land and organisers will be encouraging spectators to use provided public transport, but Staffordshire County Council has a legal and moral duty to protect the landscape and wildlife of Cannock Chase for generations to come.
“That protection has to be balanced with managing open access 365 days a year and we expect numbers to rise to around three million annual visits by 2026.
“The County Council has yet to formally consider the proposals by the Cannock Chase Special Area of Conservation Partnership, but our position is clear: if these proposals are introduced it will be a phased process with any changes in relation to car park closures or charges beginning in 2022 at the earliest.
“If charging is introduced, no parking will be more expensive than at Chasewater, which currently costs visitors £3 for a day, or less than 10p per day if you buy an annual permit.
“This car parking strategy across all the landowners on the Chase is an integral part of a long term conservation plan to reduce recreational pressure where the landscape and wildlife are most vulnerable and increase parking capacity in the more robust locations.
“The reality is that while many small laybys might close, there will be more parking places overall, disabled access will be provided for and 50 locations across the Chase will still have free parking.”