Campaigners critique 'draconian' forest sell-off law
tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Wed Nov 10 19:58:59 GMT 2010
Campaigners question need for 'draconian' forest sell-off law
Liz Roberts, Reporter
Tuesday 09 November 2010 01:27 PM GMT
Last updated at Tuesday 09 November 2010 01:29 PM GMT
The coalition Government was accused of taking on
draconian powers in a move that could see access
to Englands forests curtailed.
The Open Spaces Society expressed its suspicion
about the Public Bodies Bill, which has its
second reading in the Lords today, saying it
gives the Government the right to alter how the
Forestry Commission disposes of land, manages it, and uses it.
The Secretary of State can use this power for
any purpose and unconditionally under the proposed legislation.
In a briefing sent to members of the House of
Lords, the OSS general secretary Kate Ashbrook
said: It is hard to conceive why ministers want
such draconian powers unless they intend to
dispose of much or all of the Forestry Commissions estate.
At present, the public has a right to roam on 90
per cent of the 200,000ha of freehold Forestry
Commission land in England an area the size of West Sussex.
The access is provided by a dedication under
section 16 of the Countryside and Rights of Way
Act 2000. This land provides immense pleasure to
people, for recreation and relaxation. The
recreational opportunities are as varied as the forests themselves.
The minister must guarantee that those public
rights of access will continue forever,
regardless of land ownership. He must also
guarantee that the quality of those rights will
be maintained, with good access points, clearly
waymarked trails, picnic sites, interpretation and education opportunities.
The Forestry Commission has a fine record for excellent-quality access.
Ms Ashbrook pointed out that if the land is used
for another purpose the access to it may be lost,
because it could become excepted land to which
the Countryside and Rights of Way Act does not apply.
We fear that the effect of this bill will be the
wholesale loss of public access and enjoyment,
not only in the famous woods and forests like the
New Forest, Kielder, Bedgebury and Westonbirt
arboreta, Cannock Chase and the Forest of Dean,
but in numerous smaller woods close to peoples
home their local breathing spaces, she continued.
There has been no consultation about this
measure, which could have a damaging effect on
peoples lives. We hope that the Government will
rethink these devastating proposals.
The Open Spaces Society call echoes that of the
Ramblers last week. Their chief executive Tom
Franklin said: We are seeking assurances from
government that guaranteed public access will be
a prerequisite of any sale so that we can all
continue to enjoy a woodland walk, and that the
right to access British forests will be protected for future generations.
More than 58,000 people have so far signed a 38
Degrees petition against the sell-off of Forestry
Commission land in England. In Scotland and
Wales, the devolved issue will be dealt with by
the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government.
Minister confirms forest sell-off plans
Liz Roberts, Reporter
Friday 29 October 2010 07:04 PM GMT
Much of England's forest land will be sold to private owners
The coalition Government today confirmed reports
that large tranches of publicly owned forestry will be sold off.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs said it intended to fundamentally reform
the public forestry estate, with private owners
and civil society partners taking over much of
the Forestry Commissions land.
The confirmation of the widely leaked plans came
in a letter sent by Defra Secretary of State Caroline Spelman to MPs.
In the letter, she said: We are committed to
shifting the balance of power from Big
Government to Big Society by giving
individuals, businesses, civil society
organisations and local authorities a much bigger
role in protecting and enhancing the natural
environment and a much bigger say about our priorities for it.
We envisage a managed programme of reform to
further develop a competitive, thriving and
resilient forestry sector that includes many
sustainably managed woods operating as parts of viable land-based businesses.
The Public Bodies Bill, which was published by
the Cabinet Office today, contains sweeping
powers to abolish or reform public bodies beyond
those detailed earlier this month in the
Governments bonfire of the quangos, will clear
the way for the privatisation of much of the
Forestry Commissions land in England.
The Cabinet Office said: Where proposed changes
have implications for the devolved
administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern
Ireland, the Government will continue to work
closely with them to develop and implement changes.
Defras plans have caused consternation among
walkers, mountain bikers and other outdoor
enthusiasts, who fear recreational access will be
curtailed by private owners of woodland and
forest. An online petition by pressure group 38
Degrees had, at the time of writing, attracted
almost 27,000 signatures against the sell-off.
Defra Secretary Caroline Spelman
However, Ms Spelman said: Full measures will
remain in place to preserve the public benefits
of woods and forests under any new ownership
arrangements. Tree felling is controlled through
the licensing system managed by the Forestry
Commission; public rights of way and access will
be unaffected; statutory protection for wildlife
will remain in force and there will be grant
incentives for new planting that can be applied for.
When the plans were first revealed, Green MP
Caroline Lucas said: If Government plans mean
vast areas of valuable forest being sold to
private developers, it will be unforgiveable act of environmental vandalism.
And Allan MacKenzie, secretary of the Forestry
Commission Trade Unions, said: We will oppose
any land sale. Once weve sold it, it never comes back.
Once it is sold restrictions are placed on the
land which means the public dont get the same
access to the land and facilities that are
provided by the public forest estate.
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