David Cameron hinted yesterday, during Prime Minister’s Questions, that he was unhappy with the Forestry Commission plans. Reports of an end to the public consultation are also slowly emerging.
The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, clearly stated in the House of Commons yesterday that "virtually every person in the country could see selling off our forests was a foolish and short-sighted policy but they went ahead regardless. Now they are panicked into a retreat hours after Mr Cameron said they would carry on with their consultation……
This is a chaotic and incompetent way to run government."
He went on to claim that the consultation currently underway was on how to ‘flog off the forests, not on whether to flog off the forests’. He pointed out that half a million people have signed a petition against the plans, and challenged the Prime Minister as to whether he was happy with his flagship policy on forestry. Mr Cameron replied: “the short answer to that is no….
As I have said before in this house, it is a consultation that has been put forward, and we have had a range of interesting responses to it, but what is important is that we should be making sure that, whatever happens, we increase access to our forests, we increase biodiversity and we do not make the mistake that was made under the last Government, where they sold forests with no access rights at all.”
Following the debate in the House of Commons, an article appeared in the Guardian which states that the Prime Minister has now ordered ministers to carry out the government's biggest U-turn since the general election by abandoning plans to change the ownership of 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland.
Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, is expected to announce within the next 24 hours, what will happen to the consultation on the sale of forests. It is hoped she will;
• End the consultation on plans to dispose of about half of the 258,000 hectares of woodland in England run by the Forestry Commission by 2020.
• Establish an independent panel with environmentalists to reach consensus on reforms to improve access and biodiversity in forests.
• Drop clauses in the Public Bodies bill that would allow the government to sell off all of England's forests. Under current laws only 15% of forests can be sold.
One government source said: "We have heard, we have listened. The consultation will be canned. The consultation will be terminated. It is now a case of coming up with something everyone is happy with."
If the announcement comes and is true, it is fantastic that we have all had such an impact – a real power of the people moment. The BMC will be listening intently, particularly over plans to amend the Public Bodies Bill – this still remains one of the biggest threats to the Forestry Commission Estate, giving Ministers the power to sell the whole Estate without further legislation.
The BMC this week has launched their Access Charter, calling on Government to secure and enhance public access to the whole of the English countryside.
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