The term Public Forest Estate (PFE) suggests the estate is owned by the public, us – all of us.
And we, the public, don’t own the land either. But we already know this, the 84% of us who, in a recent YouGov poll, voted overwhelmingly for the PFE to remain in public hands.
We know we hold it in trust for future generations.
This reason alone should be enough to maintain public land in public hands in perpetuity. But it seems, in our modern commercial world with a soaring deficit (and Big Society government) we must base our arguments on economic reasons.
The Forestry Commission (FC) costs the taxpayer about £76 million each year and generates income of about £61 million. Actual costs work out to around £15 million, or 30p per person per year. Not a vast sum of money considering the size of the PFE and the scale of the work of the FC. A sale would mean this income is lost and the planned 25% cuts to the FC’s budget could also see job losses throughout the country, including up to 450 at the FC UK headquarters and Forest Research sites in Scotland.
How much would the Government raise to help pay the trillions of pounds of deficit?
About £700 million. But they think they can get more:
The total estate was valued at £700 million in 2009-10, but that does not necessarily reflect the true market value. [note]
And the way to get more is parcel it up and sell it off in smaller chunks. But, as Private Eye have already pointed out, this makes no economic sense:
When it recently flogged an area of woodland for £60,000, for example, the new landowner immediately applied for funds under the English Woodland Grant Scheme to grow and cut timber and was given assistance totalling £55,000.
The private landowner will also be able to come back and ask for more grants in future – as well as bidding for other environmental stewardship and rural development subsidies available to forest owners – while the government can only sell the land once.
And the economic argument for the sale of the PFE comes tumbling down. A windfall now followed by payouts to new landowners later.
As the economic argument for a PFE sale stands it’s befuddled to say the least. And if it makes the government any happier, I’ll double my contribution to the upkeep of the PFE to 60p/year. And I’ll be willing to bet that 84% of England’s public would follow suit.