Councillors face online abuse over Cannock Chase plans

Councillors considering controversial plans for the future management of Cannock Chase have faced abuse on social media, it has been revealed.

Birches Valley
Birches Valley

Members of Staffordshire County Council have also had to deal with a “veritable onslaught of misinformation” during the process of considering the proposals put forward by Cannock Chase Special Area of Conservation, a full meeting of the authority was told on Thursday.

Cabinet members gave their backing last month for the management plan, which aims to protect the Chase’s most ecologically sensitive areas over the coming years when a rise in visitor numbers is also expected.

The decision was called in for scrutiny however earlier this month after concerns were raised about the level of public consultation that was carried out.

There are also fears that plans to close some smaller car parking areas and introduce charging in some others will affect access to the Chase for residents on low incomes or with disabilities.

Last month Councillor Victoria Wilson, the cabinet member overseeing plans for the future management of the Cannock Chase Special Area of Conservation, apologised for “unguarded” comments made during an exchange on social media.

Protect

At Thursday’s full council meeting she said: “I want to thank all the members, particularly the local members, for their resilience through the veritable onslaught of the information, misinformation and vitriol they have all received when all they want to do is protect our beautiful Cannock Chase.

“I hope that anyone watching this meeting will see for themselves that this plan transcends all politics and all point-scoring. I’m really proud to associate myself with all the comments from my colleagues.

“It’s now time for action. We will engage throughout the implementation process and we will save Cannock Chase.”

Councillor Bryan Jones who represents the Hednesford and Rawnsley division, said at Thursday’s meeting that a number of “myths and untruths” had circulated on social media.

“First of all the greatest myth is the green at Marquis Drive is going to be tarmacked over – I would lie under the bulldozers before that was going to take place. That will not happen”, he stressed.

“The other myth is that any car parking charges won’t be spent on Cannock Chase – absolutely they will. Any monies from car parking will go back in to securing the future of Cannock Chase.

“I support these mitigation measures to protect the flora and fauna of Cannock Chase. I commend the cabinet member for this particular item, who has received untold abuse and criticism in social media.

“I live next to Cannock Chase – in fact I grew up some 100m from the area – and I know it very well. I walk over Cannock Chase three or four times a week and I’m passionate about it.

“I was over there on Sunday at Marquis Drive and it’s wonderful to see so many people using that resource for their mental health and general well-being. But the cars were parked indiscriminately on verges, litter everywhere, and we need to focus people and move them to the additional parking that will be provided where it is more robust and it can sustain it for the future.”

Objections

Councillor David Smith said he and fellow members had been “subjected to emails”.

He added: “I can’t help but come to the conclusion that either you are for or against the protection of Cannock Chase.

“You have put up proposals that make the protection the best possible thing we could have done. I think the people who are objecting to those are not actually looking to protect Cannock Chase but are part of destroying it.

“I think that the work Victoria has done has been exceptional. It’s very unfortunate the amount of criticism she’s had, both personally and in her portfolio role.”

Councillor Phil Hewitt, who represents Hednesford and Rawnsley, said: “I walk on a very regular basis on Cannock Chase and I absolutely adore the place. These proposals were brought forward by SAC – the Special Area of Conservation – and it’s really important to understand it is these people who are bringing this forward.

“What concerns me about these protests is the political nature of them, that they have been used blatantly as a political football. Whether it be Cannock Chase or any other area that needs looking after it is never a political football.

“This is a plea to every politician and the wider people listening to it – Cannock Chase is not a political football. It is far too important for that.”

Councillor Johnny McMahon, cabinet member for health, care and well-being, said the proposals put forward were measured.

He added: “They’re still allowing folk access, including the disabled, and they enhance the access over time.

"But we have to remember this outstandingly beautiful part of the world is extremely fragile.”

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