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.