Halt of forest sales ‘a tiptoe in the right direction’

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We have responded to the government’s announcement, that it is temporarily suspending the sale of 15 per cent of the public forestry estate, as ‘a tiptoe in the right direction’.  But we want the government to abandon its plans to sell off much of the rest of the English public forest estate.

In making its announcement on 11 February, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that the halt is merely ‘a technical change’, to review the sales criteria and ‘increase the protection for access and public benefit’.

Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary: ‘We have said that we are opposed to any sale of public forests and woods unless the prospective purchaser has signed an agreement, legally-binding in perpetuity, to protect the woodland; maintain and create new rights for walkers, riders and cyclists; convert any pre-existing permissive access into legal access, and welcome informal access, free of charge, at all times.

‘We have no evidence that the government intends to insist on these requirements.

‘The government should withdraw those clauses from the Public Bodies Bill, now in the House of Lords, which allow ministers radically to alter the Forestry Commission.  Then there should be a long period of inclusive discussion and debate about the future of our forests and woods, which is not constrained by ministers already having decided what to do.

‘The government’s announcement allows for the first step in that process.  We hope the government will have a complete rethink of its damaging proposals to sell off the public forest estate,’ Kate concludes.

You can respond to Defra’s consultation about the future of the public forest estate in England, closing date 21 April.

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