Open letter February 7th 2011
Re: Forestry Commission
I acknowledge receipt of your communication in relation to the Coalitionís proposed sale of Forestry Commission holdings.
First I should make it abundantly plain that the issue is, as a result of the publication of the Paper, a matter for consultation on the options for ownership or management of currently publically owned forest estates. (The consultation itself can be found at www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/forests/index.htm.) While I would hope that you will wish to visit this site and to view the matter personally, if you have not already done so, the key points contained within the consultation are that there are four overriding principles: to protect and enhance biodiversity, to maintain public access for recreation and leisure, to ensure the continuing role of the woodlands in climate change mitigation and to protect nationally important landscapes.
The consultation also makes clear that there is no one size fits all model and that any changes would take place in a gradual and considered way such that safeguards and protections can be secured.
If the proposals are adopted there will be no sale of Heritage Forests to the commercial or private sector and the Government intends to bring forward an amendment to the Public Bodies Bill to give this the force of law. Such forests include the Forest of Dean and the New Forest as examples.
The Secretary of State has indicated that it is the firm intention of the Department to enshrine in law the commitment that no Heritage Forest can be sold to the private sector, to offer first refusal to community groups or civil society organisations any sales of local woodland, to guarantee access and benefits in any sales of commercial forests by only selling land on a leasehold basis and preventing the sale of any site in which more than ten percent is Planted Ancient Woodlands.
The Secretary of State has made it plain that far from, as has been suggested, seeking to deny people access to woodlands the transfer of Heritage Forests such as the New Forest and the Forest of Dean to Charitable Trust will mean that walkers, riders and cyclists will still be able to enjoy them in perpetuity. The clear intention is to protect historic forests for future generations.
I believe that the future of our Forest Heritage does have to be addressed if we are to secure the future on a sustainable basis and a financial and ecological basis and that this is a genuine consultation. I would therefore urge you to make your views known to the Secretary of State and shall of course myself consider with care and interest all of the submissions that are made to me and, if and when legislation is brought forward, will address any outstanding issues at that time.
With my best wishes,
ROGER GALE MP
For the record, I did not vote "no" - I voted in favour of the well-informed and realistic Government amendment that set out the position as it actually is rather than taking the ill-informed and populist view of the Opposition.
With best wishes
Roger Gale, MP