Caroline warns of growing anger as “reckless” woodland sell-off plans published

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Fears grow over future of public forests as Defra publishes Forestry Commission proposals – and launches second FC consultation in 18 months
Coalition plans to sell off swathes of England’s publicly-owned forests have been published in the face of widespread public opposition and questions over the economic case for the proposals.

Private owners could be allowed to take over management of nearly half a million acres of land previously owned by the Forestry Commission. Some 15% of the forest estate, worth an estimated £100m, is already being sold. This latest consultation could lead to the sale of the remaining 85%.

Caroline Lucas, Brighton Pavilion’s MP, will try to amend the Public Bodies Bill – which would enable the sell off – when it comes to the Commons. She said:

“There was a public consultation on the Public Forest Estate less than 18 months ago. We don’t need another one.

“The public have already made it clear that they want to maintain public forests – and many are now concerned that the Government’s misjudged and short-sighted plans pose a serious threat to whole swathes of our much loved woodlands.

“Despite Caroline Spelman’s belief that the Government should not involve itself in forest management, there are very good reasons for our woodlands and forests to remain under public ownership.

“The Forestry Commission has a proven record in environmental protection and managing sites of special scientific interest. It is highly unlikely that the same kind of long term care and protection would be afforded to the land once in private hands.

“Furthermore, access rights on Forestry Commission land go far beyond the basic rights of access that the law offers.

“And if the Government’s claims about environmental protection are true, the sell-off makes no economic sense either. Who will want to buy this land unless they can develop it into a profit making enterprise?

“The fact is, the plans are unlikely to make any money and may even cost the taxpayer extra, as those who take our forests apply for Government grants that may match or even exceed the value of the sale.”

Caroline added: “The Government is now on the back foot as a result of the public campaign against their ill judged plans. But we still have a fight on our hands to resist the legislative changes that would make the sell off a reality – which is why I will be seeking to amend the Public Bodies Bill in the Commons.”

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