Forest sell off backtrack, lies and spin

Tony Gosling tony at
Sat Apr 2 12:21:54 BST 2011

Some public forests will still be sold off, minister admits

A chunk of England's publicly owned forest will 
still be sold off, Caroline Spelman, the 
Environment Secretary has admitted, despite the 
public outcry over plans to privatise woodland.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent 8:26PM BST 30 Mar 2011 

In an embarrassing admission earlier this year, 
the minister was forced to back down from plans 
to change the law so the government could sell 
all the 258,000 hectares of woodland owned by the taxpayer.

"I am sorry, we got this one wrong, but we have 
listened to people's concerns," Mrs Spelman told the commons in February.

But giving evidence to the Environment Select 
Committee, she admitted that the government would 
still go ahead with plans to get rid 15 per cent 
of UK woodland - the maximum allowed without changing the current rules.

It means some 38,700 hectares, will be sold off over the next five years.

Proposals to sell off the land have generated 
huge public opposition with one petition calling 
for the plans to be scrapped generating more than 500,000 signatures.

Another petition calling for ancient woodlands to 
be exempted from the sale, has been signed by 20,000 people in a week.

Those opposing the sale include Dame Judi Dench, 
Bill Bryson, the writer and film producer, Trudy Styler.

Mrs Spelman said the sale would raise £100 
million for the Environment Department (Defra), 
which has suffered painful spending cuts as part 
of the Coalition's drive to cut the deficit.

She insisted the sale would be mostly commerical forests.

Once protection for access and other benefits of 
woodland had been addressed, she said "the 
planned sales will be in a position to resume 
within the period of the spending review, and 
won't have an impact on expenditure".

Dr Hilary Allison, policy director at the 
Woodland Trust, warned that there would be 
further protests if the sale is not carried out carefully.

"If these sales are to go ahead the government 
has to put condition on the sales so that public 
beneift - that is public access and biodiversity 
- are protected. We also expect to see the 
Government fufil its commitment to the trust not 
to sell PAWs [damaged ancient woodland sites 
planted with conifers which should be restored by the government]."

Mrs Spelman defended her earlier consultation on 
plans to dispose of the remainder of the public 
forest estate to businesses, charities and 
communities which provoked such widespread anger.

She said previous governments had already been selling off the public forests.

"I simply thought it was right to give the public 
the chance to be consulted about the future of the forest estate," she said.

The government has pledged that the public would 
not be prevented from enjoying the same 
activities as they do currently, while the land is in public hands.

An independent panel has been set up to examine 
the future of England's forests, which will 
ensure the sale of 15 per cent and any further reforms benefit the public.

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More than half of Tories oppose forest sell-off 12 Feb 2011
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