England’s woodland sell-off plan gets a partial rethink

Looks like some welcome changes in the government plans for our forests according to the papers today:

The government is to make a partial climbdown tomorrow over proposals to sell off England’s woodlands, following pressure from campaigners and Liberal Democrats. The environment department is expected to announce that up to 80,000 hectares of England’s most cherished woodlands, such as the Forest of Dean and Cannock Chase, will be put into charitable trusts with the requirement that their current goals are maintained.

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  • My own view is that it would be fair enough for the Government to seek to rid itself of the annual cost of running these forests (although the amount is not much), but the solution must be – as is planned for some of the sites – to hand them over to a new non-commerical body to run them, or to the Woodland Trust or whatever. Simply flogging them off is a truly terrible plan.

  • Leviticus18_23 27th Jan '11 - 4:39pm

    So much for our greenest ever government.

    I’m sure the LibDems will announce the plans to slash and burn the lot for their Conservative masters and be a complete sell out as they have done at every turn.

    Even Thatcher wouldn’t do this…

  • Andrew Suffield 27th Jan '11 - 5:07pm

    I’m sure the LibDems will announce the plans to slash and burn the lot for their Conservative masters

    I don’t think you read the story.

  • Thatcher did and so did labour. The idiocy is compounded by the fact that the purchaser of the forests were then able to apply for grants to develop them for logging etc. So zilch gain to the public purse. Will the coalition keep these grants in place?
    I want to see where this policy goes. Selling off to the Woodland trust, RSPB I can live with. Anything else and its time to go hug a few of my favourite trees. I can’t see the money gained worth the political damage. Also, its another slap in Danny Alexander’s increasing number of faces, given he led the attack on this policy in Scotland in a previous incarnation.

  • Andrew Duffield 27th Jan '11 - 5:29pm

    Flog the forests, lease the land and recover the rent.
    Sensible, sustainable and simply Liberal.

  • David Allen 27th Jan '11 - 6:50pm

    As usual – when we are up a gum tree, we announce a partial climbdown. Which leaves us stuck halfway up a gum tree….

  • LabourLiberal 27th Jan '11 - 7:16pm

    What’s the point of selling off to charitable trusts? Their aims are admirable on the whole, but they simply don’t have the money for full-scale buyouts of Government land, indeed they’ve said as much. So we wouldn’t be looking at a selloff, we’d be looking at a donation, which defeats the object of moneysaving. OK, so the Government will save on the (miniscule) amount that the Forestry Commission currently requires to manage this land; but the trusts don’t have the sort of cash to take over the management either, so if the woodlands are to be kept to their current standard then the state will have to cough up cash in grant form, and then we really won’t have made any savings at all.

    The Government seems to be trying to turn forests into a magic bullet which in reality just isn’t there. If they want to use our woodland resources for a bit of short-term cash raising, then so be it, but they need to realise they can’t do that whilst keeping them as the wonderful areas they currently are. If we flog off our forests for cash, then they, for the large part, won’t be the resources they currently are. If we want to keep them as they are, we’re gonna have to spend the cash on them, whether it be in the current FC format, by unnecessary third-party trusts, or by splurging grants on fully private owners. There’s no magic solution, where we keep both the money and the public sites. No amount of Government spin will alter that fact.

  • I see no Iceberg 27th Jan '11 - 7:31pm

    This Policy was examined in Scotland and rightly rejected.
    The money it can make for the Treasury is negligeable but the long term damage it could wreak is anything but. Pretending every bad policy is fine because of a couple of small public relations concessions won’t work for this anymore than it has worked for any of the many others rammed through by the Conservatives.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 27th Jan '11 - 9:57pm

    And to think that it used to be a long standing Liberal Party policy to nationalise the land so as to return it to the people it rightly belonged to in the first place. Has Clegg no shame whatsover – why doesn’t he rename hos party the National Liberals and be done with it!!

  • toryboysnevergrowup 27th Jan '11 - 10:04pm

    This is being done fopr pure ideological purposes by the Tories – if there is revenue to be earned from forests the let it accrue to the public purse. Given that whoever acquires the land will probably do so to benefit from the tax perks given to woodland and to obtain various subsidies (just Google tax and woodlands if you don’t believe me) I very muich doubt that this move will add anything significant to reducing the structural deficit.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 27th Jan '11 - 10:35pm

    Here’s an idea – scrap the current proposals. Remove the tax advantages attached to the 69% of woodlands held in private hands unless public access rights are given. The net result the deficit is reduced by more, the public benefit from greater access rights, the policy is tax progressive rather than regressive, tax avoidance is reduced (as per the Lib Dem manifesto). The LibDems are seen as calling the Tories bluff and distinguish themselves from their coalition partners. Why not? Or is Clegg really a Tory at heart?

  • The sell off will be a good thing we have a PLEDGE from the minister from the environment that everything will be better. Or not !!! What a short sighted ridiculous policy designed to alienate yet more liberal thinking people who actually contribute and work in the community … Well done Clegg and co.

  • gramsci's eyes 27th Jan '11 - 11:06pm

    No such thing as the Common Wealth then, just the Big Society.
    Party of landowners sells common land to landowners in order to get grants from the public purse.
    Most things seem to be made up on the back of a fag packet , but only the weak suffer.
    There are some things however that the Tories are doing and they know exactly what they are doing.

    But hey ho , Vince got his 15 minutes of fame.

  • Peter Chivall 28th Jan '11 - 11:13am

    Should we really be surprised at this mess? 1. It’s proposed by DEFRA, which under Labour totally cocked up the farm payments one year, losing £50m and had to cut British Waterways’ budget in half to help pay for it.
    2. DEFRA and it’s predecessor MAFF have ‘form’ over the decades in being little more than a mouthpiece for big landowners, agri-business and the agrochemical industry (remember GM – it’s back!)
    3. There are NO LibDem ministers in DEFRA to add balance to a department whose Tory ministers include many large landowners.
    Most observers agree there will be little or no net cash saving from selling off FC lands and any loss of amenity or access, or even the halting of improvements would breach the Coalition Agreement:”Measures to promote green spaces and wildlife corridors in order to halt the loss of habitats and restore biodiversity.”
    People I know who are strong Tory supporters have signed the Online Petition from 38degrees and others on Facebook etc. – probably topping 1million by now.
    The leaks of a so-called climbdown are a figleaf (who will endow the ‘Charitable Trusts’ for future costs?)
    It’s simple, LibDem MPs should simply vote against this nonsense, as will many Tories and others. The only way Cameron could get this through is if Labour’s scottish and Welsh MPs fail to turn up (because it doesn’t affect them).
    At least our MPs will be seen to have done a right (and popular) thing.

  • Peter Chivall 28th Jan '11 - 11:36am

    I just copied this from a contribution to the Guardian website (with acknowledgements):

    “I think that there is one massive issue in the sale of the UK forests that has been ignored. Payment for ecosystem services, forests are the biggest active carbon sinks in the UK and based on DECC pricing the annual value of this climate regulating service will be worth approximately £600 million per annum by 2020. If the forests are sold and a fully functioning carbon market developed (both government policy) who will profit from the “trading” of these ecosystem services?

    It seems to be the forests are being sold at a fraction of their assumed annual value, even when looking at only one of the services that forests provide. Therefore particular attention be paid to the age of the forests being sold as any woodland planted after 1920-1930 can be assumed to be sequestering CO2 (at a rate of around 7 tonnes CO2 per hectare, valued at £60 a tonne in 2020). Forests planted in the 70 and 80s (there as a lot) are going to be particularly valuable as they will be sequestering CO2 until around2050-2060 with government estimates of carbon prices at more than £200 per tonne by 2050.

    I have seen nothing by the government that seem to address this point. Does anyone know if it is being addressed?”

    Chris Huhne, are you listening?
    The more I read, the more it seems like corruption masked as ideology: the ancient woodlands will be palmed off to the charities (but the Woodland Trust says it can’t afford them), while the coniferous tracts will be flogged off cheaply to DEFRA’s friends in the City as Carbon sinks to attact payments from the Carbon market – which would have easily covered the FC’s losses many time over if it stays in public ownership.
    This isn’t flogging the family silver: it’s pulling up the floorboards and flogging them off by the skip.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 28th Jan '11 - 12:08pm

    Where is the estimate of the lost tax revenues (and increased subsidies) as a result of the sold woodlands being used for tax avoidance schemes? Without such an estimate it is not possible to gauge what the savings are from handing part of our national heritage over to private hands. With such an estimate we could work out what the otther 69% of woodlands in private hands are costing us in terms of tax avoidance – and probably work out a scheme where the public benefit from greater access and so do the public finances. The lack of such information just demonstrates the competence and political motivation of those concerned.

  • Kirsten de Keyser 28th Jan '11 - 3:02pm

    These are not ‘welcome changes’ Mark. The Forest of Dean, Cannock Chase, Nottingham Forest, New Forest etc etc were all exempt from the outset, being designated Heritage Woodlands in the original DEFRA document.

  • David Blake 28th Jan '11 - 6:17pm

    Nigel – I agree. Liberal Democrat MPs should not feel bound to vote for anything that wasn’t in the coalition agreement. I am beginning to despair.

  • Totally agree and it’s about time some of the LD MPs started speaking out against these inept proposals.

  • Tony Greaves 29th Jan '11 - 12:36am

    I think you will find that Tim Farron has said some rather strong things. The DEFRA team have made private representations to the government on some of the issues.

    Read Peter Chivall’s piece which is full of good sense. And note that this comes form a department which has no LD ministers.

    But forget the MPs for a while. The mechanism is in the Public Bodies Bill which is currently crawling through its committee stage in the Lords. The forestry clauses (17-19) come very near the end.

    I have put down a number of amendments: some to remove these clauses altogether, others to insert safeguards (eg an amendment from Floella Benjamin and myself on access) and another on forests in the National Parks.

    You can dig it all out at http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11/publicbodieshl/documents.html

    (Look for the Bill text and the 7th Marshalled List of amendments and a supplementary sheet).

    The Forest of Dean will be discussed at the next outing (probably after the February recess). The rest of the forestry stuff probably in a few weeks time. At committee stage the main purpose of the amendments is to produce a full debate, both on the overall issue and on details. The government are also promising some amendments of their own but when they will appear is not known.

    Tony Greaves

  • Ed The Snapper 29th Jan '11 - 9:23pm

    What happens if one of these “charitable trusts” goes bankrupt? Will the state have to intervene and take the forest back into public ownership? Why would a trust want to get involved with a loss-making asset? And if these forests are not making a loss then why does the government want to give them away?

  • Dear Sirs,
    The pending scale back on the fire sale of England’s woodlands
    leads most true English people to understand very clearly were the current coalition is heading .
    The Forced sale was and is unneeded . Who then is making money from this event ?

    Magna Carta 1215 gave the Freemen of England certain rights .. these should never be forgotten ..
    will we march in the streets to protect these .. ?
    Indeed we shall with our banners and our hearts . English woodlands should Never be for sale
    Westminster has forgotten some basic lessons of British justice .
    Paul Welch

  • Patricia Lewis 30th Jan '11 - 9:26am

    • Patricia Lewis
    Posted 30th January 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink
    I am most concerned by the government’s plans to sell off our forests into private ownership. It makes me wonder if modern conservatism is as far from the old as our present politicians would have us believe.

    The wealthy and/or powerful have throughout centuries ring-fenced what was once public land to their own use, often just to use as sporting/shooting playgrounds for themselves and their friends. Just look at the resentment still felt by many Scots at the land-snatch now known as the “clearances” In many parts of the world the English are still widely distrusted for similar actions overseas.

    If you believe that such actions are ancient history, think again!

    A land-snatch of enormous proportions took place the last time the conservatives were in power, when the Thatcher government sold into private ownership all our water catchment areas, many areas of great natural beauty including the Lake District and Peak District national parks, that now no longer belong to you and me.

    Why that sale was not protested to the heavens I do not know, but I believe that many people, both public and politicians do not realise the enormity of what was, and is, being lost.

    Is this blatant theft from the people of our forests also to slip through unchallenged? The Scots and the Welsh want no part of it. Why are we English so apathetic?

    Old conservatism is clearly not dead, but why on earth- our English earth – are the Libdems going along with it?

  • Patricia Lewis 30th Jan '11 - 9:34am

    Ps The discussions regarding practicalities / advantages / disadvantages etc. are a distraction – the whole idea is MORALLY wrong!

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