Government U-turn on forest sale?


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DEFRA minister, Jim Paice, has announced the Government have “put on hold” their commitment to sell 15% of the Public Forest Estate outside of the on-going consultation

The government had already committed to selling this 15% before the consultation was announced or published. This announcement, though welcome, doesn’t stop the Public Bodies Bill, which will give the Secretary of State enabling powers to dispose of all of the Public Forest Estate.

It is a small step in the right direction and we’re pleased the Government has decided to look again at this. It’s blatantly clear the public care passionately about their forest estate and want to be a part of a “big society” that helps decide the fate of our forests.

But it still leaves us with many questions:

What are the government’s real intentions behind the inclusion on the Forestry Commission in the Public Bodies Bill? And why haven’t they yet told the House of Lords their intentions (or other MPs of the Coalition for that matter!)

Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to ask the public what they think about the forest estate before putting the Forestry Commission in the Public Bodies Bill?

Will the government now remove Clauses 17-19 of the Public Bodies Bill so an open and honest debate about the future of our public forest estate can be carried out?

Does this announcement mean the Government will “rethink” the flawed consultation document? In our ideal world they will retract the consultation document and deliver a new open and honest consultation that includes: Do you want the public forest estate to be sold? What do we want from our forests? Caroline Spelman has gone to great pains to tell us the consultation is “real”, “open and honest” when we clearly see it’s not and presupposes a sale/lease/transfer scenario is the only way to go.

For the Government to commit to a FULL rethink of the forest estate sale rather than just “holding off” plans for a sale of 15% of the PFE they’d already committed to, they must first remove Clauses 17-19 of the Public Bodies Bill. Then “big government” will be listening to “big society” and we’re in the right place to discuss the future of our publicly owned forests.

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Paul Byrne February 11, 2011 at 12:55

The consultaion has always ben a smoke screen that was rushed out to divert attention from the Public Bodies Bill. So rushed they forgot to stop the sale of the 15% they had already planned.Even they are not stupid enough to make a sale DURING the consultaion. Instead they are trying to make it look like a concession, again diverting attention away from the Public Bodies Bill. Scrap the forestry clauses and have a consultation on IF they should be sold and not, as is the case now, HOW

Weez February 11, 2011 at 16:20

Paul you are absolutely spot on. Whilst we should all take heart from this is is vital that we get folks to continue with the campaign to withdraw clauses 17 & 18 from the PBB and withdraw the dogs-breakfast of a consulation, which poses the questions no-one wants to answer and avoids the ones they do.

rachel featherstone February 11, 2011 at 17:03

I think the government were too afraid to publish the list of woodlands for sale under the first 40,000 hectares whilst the consultation is running – it would cause even more of an uproar in the areas where people would then discover (during the consultation period) that their local woodlands are for sale. Unfortunately, although this seems like a move in the right direction, it may be that the government are simply sitting it out for now, but they will then go ahead and publish the first 15% to be disposed of after the end of the consultation. If this was really a U turn they would be stalling the 30% of FC job losses that are still in progress, as well as adapting the public bodies bill

Tony greaves February 11, 2011 at 18:35

This is what the Government announcement says (from the DEFRA website) –

The programme of forestry sales announced in the Spending Review in October 2010 will be temporarily suspended until extra protections on access and biodiversity are put in place. Once this has happened, the sales will go ahead.

This only applies to the 15% of the public forestry estate referred to in the Spending Review. It is not connected to the ongoing consultation on the future management of the other 85% of the public forest estate which Defra announced on 27 January. This open and genuine consultation will continue until 21 April 2011 and is unaffected by today’s announcement.

The temporary suspension of the Spending Review sales programme is a technical change to ensure that the right framework and robust criteria are in place to meet the commitment from Ministers to protect the public benefits of the forest estate

In a written statement to Parliament, Caroline Spelman said:

“As in previous years, the selection criteria for land in the Forestry Commission England’s forthcoming assets sales programme were published on 27 January. In light of the Government commitment to increase protection for access and public benefit in our woodlands, the criteria for these sales will be reviewed so that protections are significantly strengthened following the inadequate measures that were applied to sales under the previous administration. Pending this review, no individual woodland site will be put on the market.”

Of course, just because they say this is a “technical” change doesn’t mean it is not a response to the campaigns.

The list of forests and woods in the present sell-off has been announced – in a reply to a House of Lords written question from me. It is quite long so I will put it on the Forum on this website.

Tony Greaves

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