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Author Topic: Nick Clag says...  (Read 860 times)
simonm
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« on: 2 Feb 11, 17:05 »

Anyone else write to Local MP about the FE sell off ?

Thank you very much for writing about the future of British woodland.  The Liberal Democrats have always strongly believed in sustainability and protecting the environment and public access and we view the UK’s forests and woodlands as a valuable resource and an integral part of our history and culture.

As you know, the Government has proposed for consultation plans to introduce significant reforms to the Forestry Commission. This will include the disposal of much of its estate to reduce the existing conflict between its role as a primary supplier of timber and the regulator of that industry. 

Under the consultation paper recently published by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, England’s best known historic forests will be protected for future generations through the possible transfer of heritage forests such as the New Forest and the Forest of Dean to charitable trusts, while commercial land could be leased, with strict protections built into its clauses.

Across much of the estate the transfers will be through a leasehold model; thus providing a better chance to enforce conditions to protect the woodlands and the public interest.

The plans also make clear that these woodlands would not simply be sold off to the highest bidder. Instead they recognise that no two woodlands are the same and that no single ownership model is appropriate.  The proposals suggest a mixed approach that would deliver benefits for users and taxpayers, and makes clear that public access and biodiversity will be protected.  To ensure that safeguards are in place to protect public interest, the government will also bring forward amendments to the Public Bodies Bill to ensure the public benefits the forests provide are protected.

I can assure you that Liberal Democrats will seek to ensure that the essential role that forests play in British life will be retained – it mustn’t lead to free-for-all of golf courses and housing developments built on protected land. I believe priority should be given to environmental trusts and local communities to secure these forests, ensuring that the individuals, charities and local authorities have the chance to play bigger role in protecting their local environment, and not private companies making irreparable changes. I am therefore pleased that the government has said that first refusal will be given to community bodies or civil society organisations.

I am also glad to see that the proposals include measures to prevent any diluting of the safeguards protecting forest and woodland, including the protection of biodiversity and laws surrounding replanting. Any proposals for development will continue to require coming before town and country planning processes, and land owners will still need a license from the Forestry Commission when wanting to fell more than five cubic meters of growing trees. The Forestry Commission has been managing the ongoing sales and purchase programme for British Woodland for many years and it will continue to ensure that the our forests will not be sold to purchasers who have no intention of using the land for forestry.

It is also important to note that around 70% of England’s woodland is already under private ownership – with the Forestry Commission only controlling 18% of all forests in England more than 20% of which it leases, and therefore cannot sell. This is not a fire-sale of woodland, but rather the beginning of a long-term managed programme of reform that will enable the Forestry Commission to make better use of its extensive experience, and will also allow those who live closest to our forests greater powers to protect them.

I do believe that these proposals give us an opportunity to improve the levels of public benefit and environmental protection we give to our woodlands. By contrast, over the last thirteen years Labour sold off 25,000 acres of woodland with barely any protection, whilst this Government is putting secure safeguards in place to protect public access, the natural environment and the interests of local communities in any future sales.

Finally, you may be interested to know that the Coalition Government has announced a new ‘Big Tree Plant’, which will see one million extra trees planted across England – especially in urban and suburban areas - in the next four years. This is the first government tree planting campaign since the 1970s and will plant trees in urban areas that need them most. The campaign will be carried out by the Government and the Forestry Commission and will bring together charities and conservation organisations, such as The Tree Council, Woodland Trust and Trees for Cities.

Thank you once again for contacting me about this very important issue. I would strongly encourage you to take part in the consultation process and please rest assured that the Coalition Government will protect our forests better than ever before.

Yours sincerely

 

Nick Clegg MP

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