Forest Campaigns Network disappointed that Queen’s Speech did not include bill to protect England’s Public Forests

04/06/2014

in Forest Campaigns Network

 

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Members of the Forest Campaigns Network are disappointed and puzzled that the Queen’s Speech did not include a draft Forestry Bill.

 

The Government has squandered its final opportunity to introduce legislation to give lasting protection to the public woodlands of England, which are enjoyed by 40 million people annually. Our woodlands remain at risk from sell-off and other forms of disposal, including leasings and privatisation of forestry functions and amenities.

Despite acknowledging how much the public value their forests, the Government has reneged on its commitment to plan for a sustainable future for forestry.

The Government has had two years to put into motion the clear recommendations of the appointed Independent Panel for Forestry, which were welcomed by Defra, forest campaigners, conservation groups and forestry industry bodies. The FCN hopes the £900,000 spent on the Panel will not be wasted, and its advice will be followed and put into practice by the next Government.

For the immediate future, we call on the Government to adopt and fully resource the Forestry Commission’s Payment for Ecosystems Services model – a comprehensive audit of all the services the Forestry Commission provides for public, cultural and conservation benefits. We understand £22 million per annum is required from the Treasury, equating to approximately 38p annually per taxpayer, so the Forestry Commission can efficiently and effectively manage our public woodlands. It has also been acknowledged by Government that this £22 million annual funding produces a calculated return of more than £400 million in terms of health, environmental and other quantifiable benefits.

Currently the Forestry Commission’s wealth of expertise in woodland management, especially in combating tree disease, maintaining public amenities, education and training, is increasingly compromised by funding falling short by several million pounds per year. In comparison with other public spending, the amount required from the Treasury is miniscule.

This Government may have failed in its stated intention to pass a law to conserve forests for the benefit of people, nature and the economy – the least it can do is to shore up the Forestry Commission’s work to prevent the Public Forest Estate falling into rack and ruin.

The FCN hopes the next Government concludes the unfinished business of preserving and enhancing public forests as one of its first tasks following its formation in 2015.

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Paul Beevers June 4, 2014 at 12:38

It is probably too early to suggest what should happen next but waiting for the next Government (or the one after that) is not a solution. If this government were forced into embarrassment yet again and close to the election then they might just do something. Given there are supposed to have been contacts between the FCN and DEFRA do you know why the Government has reneged on this? Is it to do with Osborne and Alexander et al?

SaveOurWoods June 4, 2014 at 13:03

Hi Paul,

We agree that waiting for the next Govt is not a solution, which is why we’re calling for them to fix this huge mistake by the time the next Govt is in.

Our public forests & the FC are in an incredibly vulnerable position at the moment and these changes are needed to safeguard their future (as I’m sure you know only too well!)

I am disgusted at the sheer waste of all the public money and work that has gone into the biggest consultation Govt has ever run over this past 3 years.

There are no excuses for it not being in the Queens speech. Whatever they say, in my opinion it’s for party political reasons. They’re too afraid to have such a potentially controversial issue going through parliament in the run up to the election. This is outrageous, disgusting and as you can tell I’m furious.

Should find out more about their excuses soon.

All the best,
Hen

Pip Howard June 4, 2014 at 13:29

Absolutely gutted.

What is worse is page 25 – Public Sector Land Assets.

The Bill would permit land to be transferred directly from arms-length bodies to the Homes and Communities Agency, reducing bureaucracy and managing land more effectively. ?

The Bill would ensure that future purchasers of land owned by the Homes and Communities Agency and the Greater London Authority will be able to develop and use land without being affected by easements and other rights and restrictions suspended by the Agency.

I assume that the PFE is included in this.

SaveOurWoods June 4, 2014 at 13:36

yes, it’s seriously worrying isn’t it Pip.

They’re finishing what they started at the beginning of their term, fulfilling the Treasury’s promise to speed up development in order to gain as much money as possible for the economy. At whatever cost to our environment. Let the kids deal with the consequences!

There was also ‘allowable solutions’ used in terms of development… now what could that possibly mean? Biodiversity offsetting no doubt.

Mark Fisher June 4, 2014 at 13:52

I disagree:
– the 2009 consultation on the future of England’s PFE was ignored by the incoming coalition Gov.
– the Independent Panel review was carried out under the duress of an attempt to privatise the PFE
– the coalition is happy for the Panel recommendations to be seen by the public as “safeguarding” the PFE in public ownership, but so many things about the proposed arrangements stink

I would suggest that now is the time to assert that the Panel recommendations can be ripped up and are not binding on an incoming Gov. because of that duress. Instead, an incoming Gov. should revisit the outcome of the 2009 consultation. I would argue that people’s voting choice be contingent on political parties having that stance in their manifesto.

I am still puzzled as to why the FCN appears to want the legislation to go ahead. I am also puzzled as to why the FCN expects this Gov. to hand out money to the FC without getting any of their agenda achieved through that legislation. Perhaps you can explain that to me.

Owen Adams June 4, 2014 at 14:49

Mark – I am puzzled by your interpretation of the Panel’s recommendations, and am curious to know why you think they “stink”. The Panel’s final report was endorsed by the FCN and a number of other groups as a good solution… ie delivering our woodlands to the people, rather than being held at the whim of short-term political expediency.

As for the £22m we are calling for, this was the level of funding in 2010, and this is the minimum of what is required to run our Forests properly.

SaveOurWoods June 4, 2014 at 14:55

Hi Mark,

There is no forestry legislation in public existence to go ahead. What is being called for is that any forestry legislation proposed is allowed full and proper public scrutiny and plenty of time given for public debate to get the legislation right. This was the last chance for that to happen before the next Government comes in and scraps 3 years work preparing for the draft legislation to be written… again.

You’re right the, IMHO brilliant, May 2010 report, which we published here during the height of the 2011 campaign- http://saveourwoods.co.uk/articles/news/the-report-that-they-didnt-want-you-to-see/ was totally ignored but rather beautifully, the content of which has been reinforced over and over again throughout consultations this past few years.

On the basis of talks with DEFRA & FC the forestry legislation they would propose would look quite different to the ‘independent’ forestry panel’s recommendations, much of which was ‘unrealistic’ according to civil servants or ‘lacked teeth’. So it’s not true that the coalition are happy for the public to think the panel’s recommendations would safeguard the PFE. The coalition moved on from the panel’s recommendations ages ago. Check out DEFRA’s most recent Woodland Policy Statement. It’s the closest you’ll get to an insight into what might be put into draft legislation.

A quick aside.. SoW never recognised the independence of the forestry panel and was outraged that there were no grassroots representatives on there. Especially as the panel was made up of those organisations that originally had their hands in the pot trying to get a piece of our forests. However, I stress, that is a SoW opinion!

There’s been tens of thousands of excellent consultation responses, a ton of excellent research collated and well over 2 years work by the FC and DEFRA forestry team pulling it all together sat there waiting to be drafted into legislation and then debated in public.
Do we really want to keep going through all this every 10/20 years, which is what has been happening? With more and more of our public forests long leased or flogged off and the managing organisation stripped to within an inch of it’s life, I would rather see an end to this particular chapter. BUT only with full and proper public scrutiny of what is proposed.

On the subject of safeguards, we’ve made very strong cases as a whole and individually, as have many organisations across the sector, for safeguards to protect the estate from privatisation & exploitation, to bring the public into the heart of decision making on the estate and get our forests away from political whim. All of SoW’s input into the past few yrs consultation on this is published on this website.

The public forest estate provides a huge amount of public service which has to be paid for. Money for public services is what we are asking for to cover those services we want that the PFE provides that it can’t generate money from.
Can you clarify what you mean by the ‘FC not getting any of their agenda through that legislation’? It will help me answer your question better.

Thanks Mark,
Hen

Roderick leslie June 4, 2014 at 17:45

Defra seem to have gone to ground completely – I’m not aware of anything visible having happened since January and my letter to Dan Rogerson urging for legislation has not even been acknowledged, let alone replied to !

Personally, I think we need to redouble efforts to get the wide range of issues that do not need legislation – especially a sensible finance package agree, concluded and made as binding as possible, as soon as possible.

On the Panel recommendations, I wonder whether it is not the Government’s response that is causing the confusion – the panel recommendations turned honestly into law would in my view be a very positive outcome – – but in the meantime the Government produced its own view – the estate as far from Government as possible, but with a Board entirely appointed by the Minister and Defra, making money the overriding priority, no Charter and, if there were Guardians, no powers to intervene in management – if that is the version of the Panel Recommendations Mark is objecting to (and Defra tried to sell it as consistent with the panel) then I am sure we are all behind his comments !

Owen Adams June 4, 2014 at 23:08

Spot on Rod. If the Treasury can find £300m every year to pay farmers to keep their land undeveloped, I can’t see why a few million pounds more to fully resource the Forestry Commission (especially when it has all been audited through the Payment for Ecosystems Services model) can’t be found.

Mark Fisher June 6, 2014 at 09:14

Hi Hen

It is the Gov. not getting any of their agenda achieved through that legislation, not FC.

Rod is correct. But I would go further, that the Panel played into the hands of Gov. by their recommendations.

What I worry about is the element of duress. It seems to be that the reaction to the omission of legislation appears like an example of Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors!

Roderick leslie June 6, 2014 at 11:30

that’s an interesting analogy, Mark ! But I do feel it is one that has been resisted – I think we would all feel there have been attempts to persuade us that ‘its all alright now – we’re talking to you, so it must be – after all isn’t is a huge privilege to be allowed to talk to government ?’ but, at least as far as SoW and the campaign groups are concerned it hasn’t worked and we haven’t been diverted from the quite clear red lines we’ve laid out very clearly – I think Government has struggled with this because they have got used to being able to push the NGOs – a big reason for this is that they put up proposals, then the NGOs try to make them less bad. In contrast, we have laid out a positive vision of what we require and have stuck to it. The way this whole issue has developed since 2010 is, to me, a pretty good model of why people are alienated from the political process – with the exception that we have not, as probably quite a few people in Defra have been hoping, either rolled over or gone away in frustration.

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