'Bullied and blackmailed': Anger at Walsall property tax for Cannock Chase conservation area

Furious council bosses say they’ve been “bullied and blackmailed” into accepting a tax on some future Walsall housing developments to protect an out-of-town beauty spot.

Walsall Council leader Mike Bird
Walsall Council leader Mike Bird

Walsall Council’s cabinet reluctantly agreed to formally join the Cannock Chase Special Area of Conservation Partnership at a meeting on Wednesday evening.

The legislation, under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 Act, means every planning application with 15km of Cannock Chase has to carry out assessments on the impact it might have on the area.

Without such assessments taking place, planning officers will not be able to progress applications that fall within the 15km radius of the area.

And, as part of the deal, developers will have to pay £290.58 on each dwelling in new schemes to go towards the upkeep of the conservation area.

But council leader Mike Bird said the levy was unfair, as Walsall received nothing for beauty spots such as Barr Beacon, which attracts visitors from outside the borough.

He said: “The tax which is being levelled on us will mean, according to the survey done by Cannock Chase, four per cent of the people in any new dwelling built within 15km are likely to use the facilities, whereas 34 per cent of the income generated from Walsall will go to assist them in keeping Cannock Chase in check.

“I find that reprehensible and do not take much joy in blackmail tactics towards our planning department.

“There are many people who use Barr Beacon from the wider areas and yet we get no benefits whatsoever. It’s kept in a good state of order by Walsall Council.

“I register my great concerns that here we are being bullied and blackmailed in my view into joining this Cannock Chase act, otherwise all planning will cease and regeneration will come to a halt.”

Deputy council leader Adrian Andrew said: “This is something in my view that has been forced upon this council – a competent authority – without any or much consultation, certainly in recent times.

“We have to go through this process and agree this in order for us to continue to do our planning process in this borough in certain parts.

“This will change the area from 7km to 15 km, which takes in huge swathes of the borough, which will now subject every new dwelling to the tax.

“We are where we are and we have to move forward in order for our planning department to get on and issue permissions.”

The 15km zone will take in large parts of the Green Belt in areas such as Aldridge and Streetly, including sites which have been earmarked for housing as part of the controversial Black Country Plan.

At the meeting, Councillor Ken Ferguson asked if this was a ‘coincidence’ given the potential new housing that could be built.

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