Car parking charges could be brought in at more countryside areas managed by Staffordshire County Council – including one near Knypersley – as part of future management plans.
Under the plans, more volunteers would be brought in to help with parks and “friends” groups potentially formed.
Visitors to Chasewater Country Park and parts of Cannock Chase already pay to use council car parks, with charges starting from £1 for two hours at Chasewater or three hours at Marquis Drive and Milford Common.
But Staffordshire County Council is now considering introducing parking fees to other parts of its countryside estate, (writes local democracy reporter Kerry Ashdown).
The authority is responsible for six country parks including Hanchurch Hills, Apedale, Deep Hayes and Knypersley’s Greenway Bank, and nine local sites including Froghall Wharf and three greenways – Leek to Rushton, Oakamoor to Denstone and Stafford to Newport.
Consall Nature Park is owned by Staffordshire County Council but now managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Proposals to outsource management of some sites to external organisations were approved by the council in 2019 but are now be reconsidered.
County Coun Victoria Wilson, Cabinet member for communities and culture, told a scrutiny committee meeting last Monday: “We are lucky to have the countryside estate and it’s highly valued by Staffordshire residents and visitors to the county. It includes some of Staffordshire’s most important environmental assets, with Cannock Chase being a world-renowned Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and parts of the Peak District fall within our county.
“Various options have been explored for the management of the estate since 2013, but in 2019 it became clear that significant financial savings could not be achieved through alternative management within the required medium term financial strategy timescales.
Cabinet then agreed to meet the required commitment through a review of the rural county staffing structure, and this has delivered savings of about £500,000.
“The Cabinet paper included a further commitment to explore alternative management as part of the longer-term financial sustainability of the estate.
“With our renewed focus on the environment, the high public interest in the countryside estate – clearly evidenced when covid struck and we saw countryside areas and rights of way being used by people more than ever before – and considering the risks and resources that management transfers would entail, I want to propose that we review this approach.
“A great alternative approach proposes we retain the estate in our ownership and management. This will focus time and resources on improving our countryside and environment offer for our communities.”
The council is also considering greater use of volunteers, including creating volunteer warden roles, as well as a “friends” scheme to boost public support with benefits including annual parking permits and discount vouchers.
Improvements to café facilities, as well as retail opportunities, are another option to bring in more money to fund park operating costs.
Sarah Bentley, head of environment and countryside, told the meeting: “We would look to increase community involvement. Should interest in community management or partnering arrangements emerge, we would look at that on an opportunistic basis.
“We want to increase our volunteering; there was a huge interest in people getting involved in managing the countryside estate and supporting it through the pandemic. So we would like to invest in our volunteer offer to support that greater involvement with a broader range of roles for people to play.
“In 2018 we brought in pay and display car parking charges at Chasewater Country Park and that’s been incredibly successful in helping us recover our costs and providing better facilities. It also enabled us to secure wider funding to improve the park and bring in a new play area, information panels, new kiosks in the visitor centre and a new trail.
“Parking charges for Cannock Chase have been the subject of great discussion over recent years and will be brought in over the next few years, in line with protection measures for Cannock Chase Special Area of Conservation.
“We would also like to extend the pay and display parking approach to other sites on our countryside estate. That would enable us to improve facilities and invest in the sites.” But Coun David Smith said: “Last summer I went to Cannock Chase and tried to pay for my parking. The parking machine was out of order and there was no member of staff in Cannock Chase at all. People had the will to pay to park but couldn’t pay the money.
“I think that if we’re increasing the amount of paid-for car parking we need to look at how we’re going to manage it before we go too far in introducing it, particularly when it is Bank Holidays where it is likely to be used.”
(Photo: Barry Knapper).