Campaigners hail forest sale U-turn

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Feb 17 12:54:58 GMT 2011

Campaigners hail forest sale U-turn
(UKPA) – 1 hour ago - Campaigners have hailed the 
"people power" which has forced the Government to 
abandon plans to privatise England's public forests.
News that Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman 
is to announce a halt to the consultation into 
proposals to sell thousands of hectares of 
woodland has been welcomed by grassroots 
campaigners and conservation charities.
The proposals put out for consultation last month 
detail measures to dispose of up to 100% of 
England's 258,000 hectare public forest estate, 
which is currently managed by the Forestry 
Commission, over the next 10 years. They included 
a £250 million sale of leaseholds for 
commercially valuable forests to timber 
companies, measures to allow communities, 
charities and even local authorities to buy or 
lease woods, and plans to transfer well-known 
"heritage" woods such as the New Forest into the hands of charities.
But the proposals attracted cross-party 
opposition and sparked a public outcry, with 
critics arguing they threatened public access and 
wildlife, and campaign group 38 Degrees started a 
Save Our Forests petition which attracted more than 532,000 signatures.
Executive director David Babbs said: "Some people 
say signing petitions and emailing MPs never 
changes anything, but it did this time. This is 
what people power looks like, and over half a 
million of us are feeling very proud of what we've achieved together."
The Woodland Trust welcomed the U-turn but warned 
that the campaign to protect and restore England's ancient forests must go on.
Sue Holden, chief executive of the trust, said: 
"Whilst we welcome the removal of threats to 
public access... ministers have made strong 
commitments over the past few weeks to increase 
protection for ancient woods, and we will be 
holding them to these commitments."
Labour leader Ed Miliband, who had urged the 
Government to drop the "ludicrous" policy and 
pointed out the "irony" that the Conservative 
Party's symbol is a tree, said the U-turn was a 
chaotic and incompetent way to run Government. 
Fiona Reynolds, director general of the National 
Trust, one of the charities potentially in line 
to take on the heritage forests, said the change 
of heart was the "right decision".

British Mountaineering Council: Cameron unhappy with Forestry Sale

David Cameron hinted yesterday, during Prime 
Minister’s Questions, that he was unhappy with 
the Forestry Commission plans. Reports of an end 
to the public consultation are also slowly emerging.
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, clearly stated in 
the House of Commons yesterday that "virtually 
every person in the country could see selling off 
our forests was a foolish and short-sighted 
policy but they went ahead regardless. Now they 
are panicked into a retreat hours after Mr 
Cameron said they would carry on with their consultation

This is a chaotic and incompetent way to run government."
He went on to claim that the consultation 
currently underway was on how to ‘flog off the 
forests, not on whether to flog off the forests’. 
He pointed out that half a million people have 
signed a petition against the plans, and 
challenged the Prime Minister as to whether he 
was happy with his flagship policy on forestry. 
Mr Cameron replied: “the short answer to that is no
As I have said before in this house, it is a 
consultation that has been put forward, and we 
have had a range of interesting responses to it, 
but what is important is that we should be making 
sure that, whatever happens, we increase access 
to our forests, we increase biodiversity and we 
do not make the mistake that was made under the 
last Government, where they sold forests with no access rights at all.”
Following the debate in the House of Commons, an 
article appeared in the Guardian which states 
that the Prime Minister has now ordered ministers 
to carry out the government's biggest U-turn 
since the general election by abandoning plans to 
change the ownership of 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland.

Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, is 
expected to announce within the next 24 hours, 
what will happen to the consultation on the sale 
of forests. It is hoped she will;
• End the consultation on plans to dispose of 
about half of the 258,000 hectares of woodland in 
England run by the Forestry Commission by 2020.
• Establish an independent panel with 
environmentalists to reach consensus on reforms 
to improve access and biodiversity in forests.
• Drop clauses in the Public Bodies bill that 
would allow the government to sell off all of 
England's forests. Under current laws only 15% of forests can be sold.

One government source said: "We have heard, we 
have listened. The consultation will be canned. 
The consultation will be terminated. It is now a 
case of coming up with something everyone is happy with."
If the announcement comes and is true, it is 
fantastic that we have all had such an impact – a 
real power of the people moment. The BMC will be 
listening intently, particularly over plans to 
amend the Public Bodies Bill – this still remains 
one of the biggest threats to the Forestry 
Commission Estate, giving Ministers the power to 
sell the whole Estate without further legislation.
The BMC this week has launched their Access 
Charter, calling on Government to secure and 
enhance public access to the whole of the English countryside.

+44 (0)7786 952037
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"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic 
poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung
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