Financial contributions are already required for developments of 10 or more houses granted permission to be built within just under 5 miles of Cannock Chase’s Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
From April the amount is set to be increased from the current rate of £159 per property to £290.58 – and the fee will apply to all new residential developments, including affordable housing.
The area the charge applies to will also increase. Currently it is payable for developments within 4.9 miles of the SAC, but this will almost double to a 9.3-mile “zone of influence”.
The funds go towards the work of the Cannock Chase Special Area of Conservation (SAC) partnership, which involves local authorities including Stafford Borough Council and Staffordshire County Council.
Members of Stafford Borough Council’s cabinet backed the changes and agreed to sign a new financial agreement to allow the authority to administer funds on behalf of the partnership.
Councillor Frances Beatty, cabinet member for economic development and planning, said: “We are the host for the project.
“The current use of that money is being put to improving public access through things like enhanced infrastructure such as car parks, paths, signage, interpretation boards and also managing visitor engagement and education. It’s enormously valuable because the AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) does not receive very substantial sums of money, despite being a nationally important landscape.
“It’s a very fragile landscape and this money is very valuable to us. It has internationally important species, internationally important landscapes and nationally important heritage features – it is a very special place.”
Cannock Chase SAC Partnership has put forward a 15-year management plan to protect vulnerable areas of the Chase, while maintaining access for visitors. The £7.8m plan aims to address pressures on the landscape from an expected increase in visitors to the beauty spot in the years to come.
But some proposals proved controversial, such as the closure of a number of smaller car parking areas. This 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 was also criticised as it may restrict visits for residents on low incomes.
Staffordshire County Council said action was needed to protect the most sensitive parts of Cannock Chase for the flora and fauna that live there – and so that future generations can enjoy the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting Councillor Jeremy Pert, cabinet member for community and health, said: “In other places there has been much discussion on the management of Cannock Chase, as well as within the council and its partners. It’s clear that it is a much-loved area within a hair’s breadth of our boundaries.
“Anything that we can do to conserve and preserve this area for future generations is critical, so I welcome not only the report and the principles it sets out but also the finances that go behind that to support the ongoing conservation and protection of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”
Deputy leader Mike Smith said: “This money is to be spent on the Special Area of Conservation, which is only about 25 per cent of the whole Chase. This is for those areas where there is real danger of damage to flora and fauna and it is very welcome that they’re going to increase the distance from 8km to 15km and the increase to the contribution per dwelling.
“Quite clearly there has been a lot of development locally in recent years and that will inevitably put greater strain on the Chase, which is a fantastic destination for the people who live in the locality.
“We are fortunate to have an area of internationally important heathland on our doorstep and these proposals will help the partners in the SAC to protect, conserve and restore this beautiful area.
“The Chase has grown in popularity and will continue to do so. As well as being an area of outstanding natural beauty Cannock Chase provides a benefit to the physical and mental health of many residents and visitors.
“It is right that, with an increase in homes being built and therefore more people living in the borough, developers make a contribution to help protect and preserve the more sensitive areas.
“That work will include improving footpaths, introducing appropriate bike trails, upgrading car parks and providing more visitor information.”