I signed the petition to 'Save our Forests' at the excellent 38degrees website. My local MP, Lorely Burt wrote back to me, which was good (she has been a good campaigner on local issues), however, she has voted for the bill to go through and seems to have fallen victim to the governments spin.
The 'consultation' she refers to has a number of options. Unfortunately, one of the options is not to keep things as they are. One of the issues that the government seems to have is that the Forestry Commission (FC) is seen as both a regulator and is therefore regulated by itself. OK, this is perhaps wrong, but surely the answer would be to split the FC into two rather than sell off the forests?
Here's what she said. I will be trying to get to see her.
Lorely Burt MP for Solihull
HOUSE OF COMMONS
LONDON SWIA OAA
03 February 2011
RE: Forestry Commission
Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding the Forestry Commission.
I would be strongly opposed to any proposals to change the protection that our treasured forests and woodlands currently enjoy, to restrict public access to them, or to sell off "heritage forests" (such as the Forest of Dean) to the private sector, but there are no such proposals. The coverage in some parts of the media of the government's proposals has been very misleading.
The public benefits of our Heritage Forests, which include the Forest of Dean, New Forest and Sherwood Forest will be maintained in full. There will be no sale of Heritage Forests to the commercial or private sector. The government is tabling an amendment to the Public Bodies Bill in order to enshrine this principle in law.
However, many areas of woodland in the Public Forest Estate are used for timber production and there is no reason why the government should be closely involved in this. The government proposes selling these sites on the open market.
Even when part of the estate is sold, there will be safeguards. The sale to commercial investors will be conditional upon guaranteeing public access and sales will be on a leasehold basis of 150 years so that conditions on replanting can be guaranteed. The government will also not allow the sale of any site where more than 10 per cent of land is classified as Planted Ancient Woodlands (PAWs). Statutory environmental protections that currently apply will not be affected by any change of ownership.
In terms of my own voting intention, I believe that it is appropriate to wait until I see the recommendations of the consultation before making this very important decision. I will be listening to constituents and colleagues, as well as representations of charities and interest groups in the run up to the debate on the day.
There is more information on the DEFRA website and you can download a copy of the government's consultation paper from here:
I would strongly urge you to reply to the consultation, as I will be myself, in order to ensure that the department is able to base their decisions on a wide base of evidence from many different perspectives.
If you would like to raise any further issues or if you would like to come and discuss this with me in person then do please let me know.
Yours sincerely,The forests are currently owned by the people. And according to recent surveys, 84% of the people are opposed to the sell-off, in any shape or form. So come on UK government, listen to the people and act.
Lorelt Burt MP
Member of Parliament for Solihull
For an up-to-date view on the situation, visit saveourwoods.co.uk.
You should also visit the Woodlands Trust website for their view on the sale.