Note: – This article was originally submitted to the Friends of Cannock Chase newsletter.
Cannock Chase resident and co-founder of the Save Cannock Chase resident group, representing almost 3,000 local people from across Staffordshire, Stuart Haynes, outlines why they are objecting to the £7.8 million Detailed Car Park Implementation Plan.
Members of Save Cannock Chase first uncovered and publicised the £7.8 million plan by Staffordshire County Council and the SAC Partnership to close car parks and introduce charging across Cannock Chase in July 2020[i]. The 69 page document, which outlines plans for mass closures and expanded parking at the expense of green space in places like Marquis Drive and Birches Valley, had originally been published in March 2020 but hidden on a small sub-section of the Stafford Borough Council website. It was not readily available on either the SAC website or Staffordshire County Council and outside of those council officers tasked with creating the plan it was unknown to the vast majority of residents, visitors, parish, county, district and borough councillors.
More than 34 car parks, pull-ins and access points were identified for closure, with 12 set to be transformed into pay and display (Staffordshire County Council has now increased this to 51 closures and 17 new charging sites). Although supposedly intended for conservation, further reading of the £7.8 million budget reveals that very little if any is being spent on conservation. £3.3 million has been identified for ‘engagement,’ £2.2 million for staff for the SAC (at a time when our ranger service is being consulted on redundancies), £1.9 million for car parking including charging machines and closures and a further £100,000 for ‘special projects’ including the proposed either partial or complete closure of Chase Road to cars. Money ring-fenced for conservation has instead been diverted to a paid-for parking plan that will allow Staffordshire County Council to generate further income from the Chase and reduce its current investment at the expense of residents and visitors.
The 2012 report ‘Impacts of Recreation to Cannock Chase’ commissioned by SAC (financed by Staffordshire County Council) from consultants Footprint identifies that Natural England – the only body to undertake an in-depth assessment of Cannock Chase – make ‘no mention of impacts upon the SSSI/SAC features resulting from recreational activities.’[ii] To assess the health of heather and woodland, Natural England focus on assessing the heather and woodland – unlike the Footprint Consultancy who were briefed to review the condition of paths not the health of the flora. Unsurprisingly, they found that there is an impact to paths from recreational use. Both the methodology and focus of the report were flawed from the outset. In other words, the consultation from Footprint provided a shallow environmental analysis as justification for a commercial decision: to raise money from parking charges.
Lack of consultation
It turns out that the same cloak-and-dagger approach seen in the publication of the Report was also used during the consultation. Through minimal promotion, and a deliberate attempt to hide the true purposes of the consultation, the Cannock Chase SAC Partnership, supported by Cannock Chase AONB and Staffordshire County Council were able to ensure that just 130 people could respond to the consultation, including only one councillor and one parish councillor.
An article published at the time on the Express & Star website reveals that not once was it mentioned that the consultation was on car park closures and charging[iii]. Despite this, both questions on this topic proved to be the most popular; 61 people responded to the ‘Car Park Growth’ (closures) question. 62 % felt either no car parks should be closed, or fewer should be closed – a clear majority against the plans (page 13). 78 people responded to the car park charging question (page 17). Despite not being given “no charging” as an option ‘Around a third (33%) indicated ‘other’, mostly those who believed that there should be no parking charges at any car-parks.’ Again, given the tiny sample and restrictions placed on people by the phrasing of the question, this is a very significant percentage (page 17). With even its own poor consultation showing a major opposition to the plans, both the SAC Partnership and now Staffordshire County Council have carried on regardless, with 100s of requests for a second consultation (from residents, MPs and every councillor and party at Cannock Chase District Council) being completely ignored. Save Cannock Chase undertook its own survey of residents across Stafford, Brocton, Cannock, Hednesford, Heath Hayes, Rugeley, Penkridge and Burntwood – and in just two months, with no financial or other support, spoke to 1,000 people. The results?
81% do not support reduced access to Cannock Chase through the closure of access roads, including the 2-mile Chase Road that connects Hednesford and Cannock to Brocton via Camp Road.
82% do not support further restrictions to parking in laybys and free car parks across the Chase.
Why we object
Throughout this article, I’ve outlined the many flaws and issues present within Staffordshire County Council’s parking plan – from the mis-spending of money that could be used to benefit everyone, the environmental impact of expanding existing car parks into green spaces and the deliberate attempt to hide these plans from residents and visitors to the Chase. What I haven’t done is explain the most important reason why we are objecting. The clear issue we see with these plans is the effect they will have on all of those who are regular visitors to the Chase. Those hit hardest are going to be the elderly, infirm, disabled and young families, who will find that they can no longer reach areas they have been visiting for decades. The closure of the car park at the Oldacre Lane duck pond is a perfect example of this. Originally designated for improvement, this has now been closed without any consultation with residents or visitors. Elderly, disabled, and young families are now expected to descend a steep hill and negotiatebarbed wire fencing to reach this gorgeous part of Cannock Chase.
Finally, I just want to share a note from local resident Emma who got in touch after seeing me putting these points across at the Prosperous Staffordshire Select Committee:
Lockdown has made us all love where we live, including my disabled daughter. She is 10, non-verbal with complex disabilities, and sadly lockdown distressed her that she started to self-harm. Cue parking at the pull in by Shugborough and seeing her face come alight as we spent time immersed in nature. This carpark is on the closure list, we stick to the NT footpath that are a public right of way so how is that harming the surroundings?
We also parked at marquis drive during lockdown, as she loves to ride her adapted bike; she is extremely sensitive to noise and loud so the quiet chase is a perfect place to go. This is due to be made busier due to cramming all users into fewer areas meaning she wouldn’t enjoy it
I understand we need to do something to protect the Chase but I feel these measures are ill thought out and are being rushed in without proper consultation. Surely everyone who lives nearby, some 300,000 people, should know and be able to have a say on what is being proposed not just 130 people?
Friends of Cannock Chase we need your help now more than ever before. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Trevor and as a result of the motion approved by every member of Cannock Chase District Council, Judy has now been invited onto the SAC Partnership as the only representative of residents and visitors. A £7.8 million investment is a huge opportunity and we can’t afford for Staffordshire County Council to squander it on a discriminatory, undemocratic and hugely damaging plan that will only negatively affect all of those who regularly visit and genuinely care for Cannock Chase.
You can find out more about Save Cannock Chase and the alternative plans being put forward by the group by visiting www.facebook.com/groups/savecannockchase or contacting Stuart at stu@Bigbearcomms.com.
[i] Parking changes could be ‘biggest restriction to Cannock Chase since it was gifted to the people of Staffordshire’ https://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/news/stoke-on-trent-news/parking-changes-could-biggest-restriction-4279492
[ii] Impacts of Recreation to Cannock Chase SAC p.6
[iii] Consultation opens about Cannock Chase https://www.expressandstar.com/news/local-hubs/staffordshire/cannock-chase/2019/10/21/consultation-opens-about-cannock-chase/