Edward Garnier, the MP for Harborough, Oadby & Wigston has reassured his constituents about the Government’s decision to look at ownership of the Public Forest Estate.
The Government is consulting on the future of the nation’s forests. It is looking at whether the heritage forests would be better run by charitable trusts, whether communities would be interested in running areas of local woodland and whether state-owned woodland which is already set aside for commercial use would be more effectively and more efficiently run by private investors.
Edward Garnier said:
“It is right to consider who is best placed to own and manage our forests and what role there can be for government, communities, charitable trusts and the private sector. It is also right to end the irresponsible practice of selling woodland without adequate protections which took place under the previous Government.
“The Government has made clear that, without exception, rights of public access will be guaranteed, heritage forests protected, communities put first and biodiversity preserved. No other approach would be desirable or acceptable.
“This is not an ill-considered sell-off; it is an open-minded look at how we can best secure the future of our forest estate. I have had hundreds of identical emails from concerned constituents and I will try to reply to all of them as soon as time allows but I hope this statement will allay their concerns. That said, I encourage people, no matter what their views, to participate in the public consultation.”
Obligations enforced through leasehold arrangements. Any transfers of land to private investors would only happen on a leasehold basis. The Government’s consultation proposes ‘finding commercial operators to take on long-term leases for the large-scale commercially valuable forests. By leasing rather than selling, it will be possible to make sure that these forests continue to deliver public benefits through lease conditions.’ Leaseholds will have strict rules on preserving the existing levels of public access and protecting the natural environment. Any breach of the terms of a lease would lead to its termination and the Government would reclaim the land without hesitation.
Rights of access guaranteed. All leaseholds will include strict rules on protecting public access. Existing limits on access to state-owned woodland where tree-felling is being carried out will remain in place on public safety grounds. But all access rights will be preserved where no timber production is taking place. Any company or other organisation which buys a lease but breaks its terms by preventing access will have control of land seized back by the state.
Heritage forests protected. The Government has guaranteed that heritage forests – such as the Forest of Dean and the New Forest – will stay out of the private sector. Only charitable trusts will be allowed to take on ownership or management of the heritage forests. An amendment to the Public Bodies Bill will enshrine in law the principle that heritage forests remain outside of the private sector.
Communities put first. Communities will have the first right of refusal on any woodland of particular local importance. If communities wish to come together to take ownership of local areas of woodland, the government is saying they should be given the chance to do so.
Biodiversity preserved. No site will be sold where more than 10 per cent of land is classified as Planted Ancient Woodlands (PAWs). The Forestry Commission will regulate tree-felling as it does now. The Plant Health Act, which sets out a legal framework for the control of pests and diseases of forest trees and timber, will remain in place. The Wildlife and Countryside Act and Sites of Special Scientific Interest will continue to protect biodiversity.
Members of the public can take part in the public consultation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Defra, The future of the Public Forest Estate in England: a public consultation, 27 January 2011.