NEW Mon 8th Sept 2014
HOOF challenges MP to protect the Forest
Mark Harper MP (right) talks to a HOOF supporter
HOOF have today published an open letter to Mark Harper MP, challenging him to support HOOF, and the people of the Forest of Dean, in their efforts to exempt the Forest from a new privatisation threat.
The Government is introducing legislation that will extend the power of Ministers to transfer ‘surplus’ public land to the Homes and Communities Agency for development. Baroness Jan Royall and other members of the House of Lord's have tabled an amendment that will exempt the Forest of Dean and other public forests from the bill. HOOF is asking our MP to support this.
(See column on left for how YOU can help)
The full text of the letter is reproduced here:
An open letter to Mark Harper, MP for the Forest of Dean (September 8, 2014)
Dear Mr Harper You work hard for your MP's salary. Since your party came to power in 2010 you have had three ministerial jobs, and have rolled up your sleeves and worked tirelessly for the Government.
You and your staff have a good reputation for addressing issues brought to you by individuals at your Friday surgeries. In Parliament, you have intervened at least 10 times regarding cross-border NHS arrangements, an issue which affects 6,000 of your constituents; you have also intervened on behalf of Forest businesses who may have unfair disadvantages compared to incentives offered by the Welsh Assembly to businesses in Monmouthshire; on several occasions you have called for a third Severn Bridge (while arguing that high tolls on the existing crossings are inevitable); you have supported farmers on the issue of bovine TB and culling badgers; you have supported a boar cull; used your Parliamentary position to criticise the Co-op in Cinderford; and also lambasted the elected independent Gloucestershire Police and Crime Commissioner, Martin Surl, on two occasions, for raising council tax by two per cent.
But – and this is a huge But – you have failed consistently to address the most fundamental concern of your constituents, the threat to our Forest from sell-off, disposal, transfer or whatever jargon is being used in Government policy and legal documents.
Hands Off Our Forest represents the broadest swathe of your constituents. HOOF is a completely non-party-political organisation, and we would be writing this letter to any MP, of any party, who we felt was letting down his or her constituents by failing to protect the Forest of Dean.
We have had numerous meetings and correspondence with you, calling on you to get behind us all. All we receive in reply from you is a parroting of Government assurances – assurances that our Forest is safe from sell-off, disposal or the 'transfer schemes' involving the Homes and Communities Agency, when you are well aware that these assurances do not measure up to the safeguards identified by the Independent Panel for Forestry as necessary to secure the long-term future of the Public Forest Estate.
You have told us there is no need for an exemption from the Infrastructure Bill as it is not this Government's intention to dispose of the Public Forest Estate in any way. The former forestry minister Jim Paice told the European Union's Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment Sub-Committee's Inquiry on Forestry on November 24, 2010, that the Government had a “clearly established” policy “to proceed with... very substantial disposal of the Public Forest Estate, which could go to the extent of all of it”. Bearing this in mind, the assurances given by Baronesses Kramer and Stowell, and you, are insufficient.
We understand the Government's assertion that Parliament cannot bind a future parliament, but the axiom has not prevented the Government from including an exemption for Crown lands within the proposed Section 53A of the Infrastructure Bill. Additionally, this inability to bind future parliaments is no reason to facilitate future actions – including disposals of Public Forest Estate assets – to which your Government is now opposed. In the hands of a future government Clause 21 can be used without the need for primary legislation and proper Parliamentary scrutiny to undermine the Government's stated policy of January 31, 2013 entirely, particularly in the absence of the promised forestry legislation.
It is not just a few of us on the HOOF steering group demanding an exemption in Clause 21 of the Infrastructure Bill for the Public Forest Estate – it is the bulk of your electorate, including people who voted for you in 2010. In the past few months, representatives from HOOF have visited parish and town councils and received overwhelming support. We have handed out thousands of leaflets and again the support has been near universal. From St Briavels to Kempley, Lydney to Ruardean, Coleford to Cinderford, the response has been the same.
There is no excuse for you not to take up this call for an exemption on our behalf – the Forest of Dean Conservatives website clearly states: “Our local MP, Mark Harper, believes that as your elected representative, it is his job to be the voice of the Forest of Dean in Westminster, not Westminster’s voice in the Forest of Dean.”
And yet you have failed to support us all every step of the way – unlike your Conservative counterpart in the New Forest, you did not speak in the February 2011 debate on Forestry in Parliament, and you voted for a sell-off, not against as the New Forest MPs did. In 2012, you – like HOOF – welcomed the recommendations of the Independent Panel for Forestry, but you failed to support us in getting these same recommendations implemented in a Forestry Bill. You said nothing when, to our great disappointment, no draft legislation was announced in the Queen's Speech on June 4 this year.
The Infrastructure Bill was introduced to Parliament on the following day. Clauses 21 and 22 – as the Bill is currently written – will allow any public land to be transferred to the Homes & Communities Agency and then passed on to developers, with all rights of access suspended. There are also no given parameters within the legislation detailing which type of developments can take place on 'transferred' public land, and also no distinctions between which types of public land will be included or excluded.
In 1981, when our Forest was under threat of privatisation from Mrs Thatcher's government, our Conservative MP Paul Marland threw his weight behind concerned Foresters. He told Parliament: “We want more than a gentleman's agreement that the Forest of Dean will not be sold off. It is a sad fact that Ministers... come and go, Forestry Commission officials come and go, and Members of Parliament... undoubtedly come and go, so more than a gentleman's agreement is needed to ensure the freedom of the Forest of Dean for future generations.”
Mr Marland helped gain an exemption in the Forestry Act, as he was asked to do by his constitutents. In other words, he did his job as an MP. In 2011, it was revealed how vital it is that definitions of what can and can't be disposed of are written into law when Bircham Wood, near Coleford, was sold to a faceless investment trust fund because the extent of the Forest of Dean was not defined in this same Act.
Therefore it is absolutely essential that the Public Forest Estate as a whole is exempted from Clause 21 of the Infrastructure Bill to ensure all our forest, its outlying woodlands and other public forests in England are protected.
If Baroness Royall can back us – as she is doing so, with help from the Bishop of St Albans and all the support among Lords they can muster, why can't you, as our elected Parliamentary representative, strive to build similar cross-party support for an exemption in the House of Commons?
Do your job, Mr Harper – represent us, your constituents.
Yours sincerely, Hands Off Our Forest Steering Group
Mon 21st July 2014
HOOF needs your help urgently!
Government introducing legislation that will extend the power of Ministers to transfer ‘surplus’ public land - including public forests
Door will be left wide open for our forest land to be disposed of by any future government
Government refusing to amend the Bill to keep our forests safe
HOOF needs people to send individual emails and letters to members of the House of Lords
Hands Off Our Forest needs your help urgently. The Government is introducing legislation that will extend the power of Ministers to transfer ‘surplus’ public land to the Homes and Communities Agency for development.
HOOF is encouraging people to help us spread the word and to organise and take part in fundraising and awareness-raising events - which could be a guided walk, bring-and-buy, a concert, or something else. Please email email@example.com if you can help or if you have any questions.
We need to persuade the Government to insert words within the proposed new law, the Infrastructure Bill, which would confirm our public forests cannot be included in these land-transfer schemes.
So far the Government is refusing to amend the Bill to keep our forests safe.
This means the door will be left wide open for our forest land to be disposed of by any future government if we do not succeed in nipping this in the bud. The House of Lords meets next to consider the Infrastructure Bill in October - our next opportunity to persuade the Government to do the right thing.
HOOF needs people to send individual emails and letters to members of the House of Lords calling on them to “support the amendment which will be tabled by Jan Royall and the Bishop of St Albans in respect of Clause 21 of the Infrastructure Bill at the Third Reading this autumn”. (See column on left for details)
You can also find us on Facebook (Hands Off Our Forest of Dean), and on Twitter @handsoffdean.
The following is paraphrased from an article written by HOOF secretary Owen Adams in the Ecologist. The full article can be read here.
Like the Public Bodies bill, this new Bill is an enabling Bill: economical in its wording with the most far-reaching implications.
In its current form, the Bill allows any public land to be 'transferred' to the governmental Homes and Communities Agency, to developers - with little if any recourse to local planning or public scrutiny and with all restrictions, covenants, rights of way and easements waived. Campaigners have been on the alert for biodiversity offsetting schemes, disagreeing with the idea that a site of natural importance and vitality could be destroyed if it was offset elsewhere. But this Bill doesn't even provide for any mitigation for loss of any sites.
So while the Sunday Telegraph initially spread the word about a forests sell-off in October 2010, this time around it was left to grassroots campaigners to raise the alarm via emails, social media, and a petition set up independently by a concerned HOOF supporter. Within five days it had accrued 25,000 names and despite coverage in only one regional mainstream media outlet, it was clear the Government was rattled on the day of the Bill's first debate on Wednesday June 18. The Government issued a statement claiming that the petition was "wholly untrue", said the Bill only proposed "minor changes" to planning law, and that only "surplus" public land was involved in the transfer scheme.
Lords Adonis and McKenzie articulated many of the concerns raised in the petition, by bloggers and the alternative activists newspaper Schnews, and the end of the debate saw a flustered Minister of Transport, Baroness Kramer, forced into a statement: "I confirm that the Government are committed to England's public forest estate and national parks remaining secure in public ownership for the people who enjoy them and the businesses that depend on them”.
It shows that the ringing of alarm bells and petitioning had an impact - rousing the forests again would be a nightmare for the Coalition just before an election, when their own supporters are opposed to the status quo being upended.
But promises are not enough - the Bill must be substantially amended. Without an exemption for the Public Forest Estate clearly written into the Bill, any assurances are meaningless.
Getting amendments passed during the Committee and Report stages of the Bill, due to start on July 3, is the next objective of forest campaigners.
SO - WE MUST LOBBY THE MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS AS A MATTER OF URGENCY See the box on the left.
Wednesday 4th June 2014
What's not in the Queen's Speech
HOOF is disappointed and puzzled that the Queen’s Speech did not include a proposed draft Forestry Bill.
The Government has squandered its final opportunity to introduce legislation to give lasting protection to the Forest of Dean and other woodlands in England, which are enjoyed by 40 million people annually. Our woodlands remain at risk from sell-off and other forms of disposal, including leasings and privatisation of forestry functions and amenities.
Despite acknowledging how much the public value their forests, the Government has reneged on its commitment to plan for a sustainable future of forestry.
The Government has had two years to put into motion the clear recommendations of the appointed Independent Panel for Forestry, which were welcomed by ministers and forest campaigners alike. HOOF hopes the £900,000 spent on the Panel will not be wasted, and its advice will be followed and put into practice by the next Government.
In the immediate future, HOOF calls on the Government to adopt and fully resource the Forestry Commission’s Payment for Ecosystems Services model – a comprehensive audit of all the services the Forestry Commission provides for public, cultural and conservation benefits. HOOF understands £22 million per annum is required from the Treasury, equating to approximately 38p annually per taxpayer, so the Forestry Commission can efficiently and effectively manage our public woodlands. It has also been acknowledged by Government that this £22 million annual funding produces a calculated return of more than £400 million in terms of health, environmental and other quantifiable benefits.
Currently the Forestry Commission’s wealth of expertise in woodland management, especially in combating tree disease, maintaining public amenities, education and training, is increasingly compromised by funding falling short by several million pounds per year. In comparison with other public spending, the amount required from the Treasury is miniscule.
This Government may have failed in its stated intention to pass a law to conserve forests for the benefit of people, nature and the economy – the least it can do is to shore up the Forestry Commission’s work to prevent our forests falling into rack and ruin.
HOOF hopes the next Government concludes the unfinished business of preserving and enhancing public forests as one of its first tasks following its formation in 2015.
Thursday 10th April 2014
Shadow Minister meets HOOF
Right to left: Maria Eagle, Shadow environment minister;Rich Daniels, HOOF; Steve Parry-Hearn, prospective Labour parliamentary candidate for the Forest of Dean; Jackie Fraser and Cheryl Mayo, HOOF
Shadow environment minister, Maria Eagle, hears HOOF's case detailing why the Government's latest proposals for the public forest estate in England are inadequte.
On Thursday 10th April, the shadow environment minister Maria Eagle met at Beechenhurst with representatives of HOOF and with Steve Parry-Hearn, the Forest of Dean's Labour parliamentary candidate, who supports HOOF in their campaign.
Ms Eagle listened attentively to HOOF's case for why the Government's proposed new forestry bill will still leave England's public woodlands under threat.
HOOF had also invited the Defra secretary Owen Paterson and Forestry minister Dan Rogerson to the Forest of Dean, but so far they have not taken up our invitation.
HOOF is pleased that our cause has been championed by the Forest of Dean Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Steve Parry-Hearn, and Maria Eagle. HOOF has also received full backing from the Green Party.
Now HOOF calls on our MP, Mark Harper, to back our campaign aims: These aims are:
1. Guaranteed £22 million in funding from the Treasury for the English Public Forest Estate per annum (or 38p per annum, per taxpayer) to ensure public benefits, plant health and conservation are protected.
2. To follow in full the Independent Panel for Forestry's recommendation of a board of Guardians (with its members balanced between community, conservation and business representatives) delivering and bound by the terms of a statutory Charter, and answerable to Parliament.
3. To introduce draft legislation in the June 4 Queen's Speech, and not delay it any longer.
4. For the legislation to include a safeguard ensuring that the new Public Forest Estate Management Body cannot be privatised during the lifetime of the Act of Parliament.
5. For the cessation of biodiversity offsetting schemes, backdoor privatisation of public facilities, and land sales, swaps, leasings and other forms of piecemeal disposal and change of use of land within the Public Forest Estate.
Hands Off Our Forest has been giving presentations at public events and parish and town meetings across the Forest of Dean explaining our concerns and we have received universal support and positive feedback at all of them.
Monday 31st March 2014
New law allows sell off of woodlands
800 year old woods to be bulldozed to make way for new motorway service station using the bio-diversity offsetting laws.
HOOF urges you to object NOW to avoid this devastating legal loophole (see later for how to register your protest)
Grave implications for the future of the Forest of Dean says HOOF
Smithy Wood is a haven for a variety of ancient woodland plants, fungi and butterflies. But developers want to bulldoze the 12th-century forest to make way for a motorway petrol station.
In a crucial test case, Extra MSA Group has submitted a formal planning application to destroy 20 acres of ancient woodland, and offered to plant twice as many new trees nearby.
The firm, which specialises in building motorway services, is the first to attempt to use the controversial process, known as 'biodiversity offsetting', for ancient woodland
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is very keen on the idea of offsetting.
But wildlife groups say it is a travesty to suggest that ancient woodlands, which in this case are 850 years old, could be replaced overnight. They are worried the proposals will create a loophole that allows developers to freely concrete over Britain’s forests.
But even if this case is rejected, the implications for the Forest of Dean and other English public forests is dire, as very little of the FoD is classified as ancient woodland and would have far less protection.
Under the new law, any forest can be destroyed as long as trees are planted elsewhere. In theory, this means the whole of the Forest of Dean could be concreted over, as long as a hillside in Scotland or Bavaria was re-forested.
What can we do?
HOOF's legal advisor, Alan Robertson, has sent the following information and we urge you to follow his example and register your dismay at this desecration. If we can nip this in the bud now, perhaps we will stand more chance of saving our Forest from this appalling new law.
Alan writes that the sensible and practical thing to do NOW is to object to the application and encourage the world and his wife to do likewise.
Send an objection - online. To do so, go to the Sheffield City Council Website and make a comment. You will need to register first, but it only takes a minute.
He says "In addition, send an e-mail to the local MP, Angela Smith, who opposes the application. Give her as much ammunition as possible. I can't see 38 Degrees taking up cudgels against a planning application so if there is to be an expression of large-scale opposition it is up to campaign groups and the like to organise and encourage it".
Monday 17th March 2014
"Why we must keep fighting"
HOOF has produced a document explaining why our Forest is still under threat.
Download it here. Read it, print it out, send it to everyone you know. This leaflet will make it clear why we have not yet won the battle to keep our forests out of the hands of property developers and charities
Over the next few weeks HOOF will be campaigning vigourously to make everyone aware of why we cannot accept the Government's new proposals. They will be holding community/council consultations,starting with a presentation to Newent Council on Monday 17th March at 8pm.
We will also be at the Transitions Spring Fair at Cinderford Miners' Welfare Hall, from 11am-4pm, so come along and find out what's going on and ask questions.
Wednesday 1st January 2014
Our Forest is still in danger of being taken away from us!
The first few months of 2014 will be a crucial time.
Flying in the face of the recommendations of the Government appointed independent panel, and in spite of frequent meetings between HOOF, Save Our Woods and Government ministers, this Government has produced a bill that will have the effect of selling off our woods to private developers .
In a letter being sent today to local and national press and TV, Rich Daniels, HOOF Chairman, says:
"The time has come again for everyone to engage again with the fight to save our Forest from predators, and battle a new piece of legislation which, if passed by Parliament, has the potential of leaving our Forest of Dean open to exploitation from (to quote from the latest proposals) “a range of commercial freedoms... [including] mineral extraction, agriculture and industrial lettings of land and premises”.
"HOOF doesn’t think there are anywhere near enough safeguards to protect the Forest from being taken over by private leisure and industrial concerns, and we fear that transferring the ownership and management to a public corporation could be a halfway house to full-scale privatisation."
The full press release from Rich can be viewed or downloaded here. This is essential reading. Please download it now and email it to everyone you know
If we do nothing, we WILL lose our precious Forest
The HOOF Committee will be meeting next week to plan an urgent new campaign, so keep coming back to this website for details.
So it is with great regret we have to say - Hands Off Our Forest - Again!
Monday 23rd September 2013
HOOF submits its document of disquiet to Secretary of State
Government falling short on its promise to implement the Independent Forestry Panel's report.
Toothless Guardians, opening up our forests to commercial interests and lack of funding particular worries
HOOF today has submitted to the Secretary of State its response to the Government's proposals for England's forests. It singles out for particular criticism the changed role of the Guardians from that of powerful control to toothless watchdog; the lack of adequate funding from the public purse; and the hazy rules about disposal of parts of the estate which HOOF feels do not adequately safeguard the forests, especially the Forest of Dean.
In the 8 page document, HOOF argues that on these and other issues, the Government's proposals fall far short of the Independent Panel's vision of a strengthened and expanded forest estate, kept safe in perpetuity for the people.
To read the full document, click here or on the image above
The two recently published Government documents to which the above refers can be seen here and here
Sunday 4th August2013
Bishop James unhappy with Government palns for Forests
Head of independent report tells HOOF of fears that draft government proposals contradict the panel’s main recommendations
The Bishop of Liverpool (left) with members of the panel
visiting a working mine with Rich Daniels
Government “unwise to provoke a public reaction” by failing to follow the panel’s key points.
In an exclusive interview with HOOF’s Rich Daniels, the Bishop of Liverpool expressed his fears that the government may not be planning to implement the key recommendations of the report that he and the rest of the Independent Panel published, following the government’s U-turn over privatising the English public forests.
Bishop James said he would not be content with any proposals about the future of forestry which contradicted the recommendations of the Independent Panel.
In particular he said he would be unhappy if:
- The Government abandoned the proposal to establish a Parliamentary Charter
- If it marginalised the proposed Guardians to the point that they become ineffectual
- If it failed to establish a distance between the Government and the management and development of the Public Forest Estate.
These were all key elements of the Panel’s report and recommendations.
He said the Government would be unwise to provoke a public reaction by failing to follow through on the Panel’s recommendations.
Rich Daniels, HOOF chair and Our Forests member, said,
“The latest arrangements appear to minimise the direct and real influence of the public and forest communities in the management of the public forest estate. And the emphasis for the new body seems to be primarily on developing commercial enterprises that can exploit and extract cash from our forests and woods, rather than maximising their less readily monetised and marketable, but nonetheless hugely valuable, public and environmental goods and services”
To listen to our very own Forest radio station, click here