Walsall councillors hit out at 'cash cow' Cannock Chase plans

Angry councillors in Walsall said they are being used as a “cash cow” after reluctantly agreeing to an ‘outrageous’ tax to protect an out of town beauty spot.

Walsall Council
Walsall Council

Walsall Council formally agreed to sign up to Cannock Chase Special Area of Conservation (SAC) Partnership which means new housing developments within 15km of the site will be subject to a levy to go towards the upkeep.

But members made it clear at the meeting on Monday they were furious about the requirement being imposed on them by law.

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.

Council leader Mike Bird said he was in “uncharted territory” asking people to support a decision he himself didn’t have faith in.

And Walsall Labour Group leader Aftab Nawaz was also critical of what he said amounted to “blackmail”.

Previously, the requirement affected new developments within 8km of Cannock Chase but this has been increased to 15km, taking in a large part of Walsall.

Councillor Bird said a survey conducted by Stafford Council and Natural England showed only four per cent of people spoken to were from Walsall. But he said the tax would amount to Walsall paying 34 per cent of costs to maintain the beauty spot.

He said: “We have a situation where Stafford Council has designated that any development within 15km of Cannock Chase it is likely those residents might use it for their leisure.

“It didn’t effect us initially because the boundary was 8km and unilaterally Stafford Council decided to make it 15km.

“I am absolutely incensed. Before it was changed the 8km just touched on the edge of Brownhills but now it comes right into the town centre.

“Now, I’m a cynic and I think somebody was looking at the Black Country Plan and thought ‘a bit of Green Belt here is going to get developed, so here’s a chance of picking Walsall developers’ pockets and getting us something towards Cannock Chase because we can’t afford to upkeep it.”

Councillor Bird added: “I’m absolutely appalled this has happened. We are forced to bring this. Whilst I’m totally opposed to it, the law says I’ve got to put my hand up for it.

“If not, there would be no residential development until we have signed up to this partnership or come up with another mitigation measure.”

Councillor Nawaz said: “This Cannock Chase tax is totally outrageous. We are being blackmailed, we are being held to ransom by Stafford Council.

“As I understand, when they carried out the survey only four per cent of people were using Cannock Chase. So for Walsall to be asked to pay above 30 per cent of the cost of maintenance is absolutely outrageous.

“We are told if we do not accept this, planning applications in Walsall won’t be decided and approved.

“I’d ask that scrutiny is allowed to look at what has happened and how another authority has been able to use us as a cash cow for themselves.

“We cannot stop our planning process. This stinks and we should not be put in this situation and Walsall council taxpayers should not be subsidising Cannock Chase but we have no choice.”

Stafford Council has been contacted to comment by the Express & Star.

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News