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Saturday July 9 at Coleford Baptist Church, Newland St
Coleford Festival of Words presents...
Green guru Jonathon Porritt from Forum For The Future and Shadow Leader of the House of Lords Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon will on Saturday speak to the public at a free (donations welcome) event in the Forest of Dean reviewing the campaign against forest sell-offs so far, where it’s at now and discuss what we need to do to keep our woods in public ownership for the future.
The results of this event will also be submitted to the Independent Panel on Forestry, to feed into its April 2012 review to the Government. There will be workshops for all the family to answer the panel’s questions as part of its Call For Views, and children’s Make A Mural craft session, which will also be sent to the panel.
Programme of events:
COLEFORD FESTIVAL OF WORDS PRESENTS...
In association with Hands Off Our Forest and the Warren James Group
...A chance for all of us to celebrate what we've achieved so far in the HOOF campaign, to discuss what the future may hold for our campaign to keep the Forest of Dean in public hands, and managed by the Forestry Commission, and also to take a look into history and international land rights struggles. The whole day is free, but we will be asking for donations for the upstairs afternoon session to cover costs...
WALK and talk in Bircham Wood (near Whitecliff and Newland). This 50-acre wood about 2 miles from Coleford was recently sold to a mystery buyer (a settlement trust). However we still have the right to enter the wood on foot and walk around it under Countryside Rights of Way legislation. Bring a picnic if you like, as historian SIMON SANDALL talks about the Skimmington uprisings of the 17th century, some of which took place nearby.
DOWNSTAIRS in the Baptist Church: There will be an exhibition of HOOF campaign artefacts, artworks, photos and films in the lobby (we are still appealing for people to lend homemade banners/ artworks/ letters etc for the display - please drop them off at Coleford Town Council office, open until 2pm weekdays or email email@example.com to arrange collection)
In the main room downstairs will be a craft workshop for children and families - a chance to help make a mural or two about our Forest and... THIS IS VITAL: there will be a chance to express yourself and answer questions in any way you want to submit to the Independent Panel on Forestry. HOOF wants all the 11,000+ people who signed our petition to have their say, we only have until July 31!
UPSTAIRS in the Baptist Church: For all those lucky to get in, a chance to relive the Mark Harper public meeting of February 4 by watching it on the big screen (film by Michael Thomas) - for all the hundreds of people who didn't, see what happened.
UPSTAIRS in the Baptist Church:
2pm FILM by JOHN FRENCH
2.10pm MUSIC by MAX
2.25pm TALK by DAVE ROLLISON on the Aboriginal land rights struggle in Australia and how this connects to the battle in the Forest of Dean
2.40pm FILM of January 3 rally by NIAL ANDERSON
2.50pm MUSIC by BOB SMITH
3.05pm TALK by BARONESS JAN ROYALL OF BLAISDON on HOOF: the story so far
3.20pm FILM by WOODY MORRIS
3.35pm TALK by JONATHON PORRITT on future campaigning
3.50pm FILM or PHOTO REEL
4pm PUBLIC DISCUSSION chaired by RICH DANIELS (chair of HOOF), featuring councillor ANDREW GARDINER, BARONESS JAN ROYALL, JONATHON PORRITT, and anyone who wants to have their say
5pm-ish MUSIC by DICK BRICE
SAVING OUR FOREST - THE STORY SO FAR…
We defenders of our public forests have come a long, long way together – but we still haven’t reached the end of the road.
Hands Off Our Forest started our campaign in early November 2010 to keep our Forest of Dean publicly owned and managed by the Forestry Commission – we collected more than 11,000 signatures on a petition, held a rally in sub-zero temperatures attended by 3,000 people, and wrote thousands of letters to the environment secretary Caroline Spelman and our MP (and Cabinet minister) Mark Harper – local schoolchildren, unprompted by HOOF, wrote 1,000 letters alone.
We made it crystal clear we firmly opposed the transfer of our woods to private firms or charities. Nationally, almost 600,000 people made the same stand via 38 Degrees’ petition, and more than a dozen grassroots campaigns sprang up – including the national Save Our Woods and Save England’s Forests, and other groups representing individual forests. We later joined together as the Forest Campaigns’ Network to present a united national voice.
On February 17, 2011, the Government announced it was scrapping the proposals, and would not try and change the law via the Public Bodies Bill to allow it to sell the entire public forest estate in England. “I’m sorry, we got this one wrong,” Caroline Spelman told Parliament. It was recently revealed that out of 7,007 responses to the Government’s public consultation, only seven respondents (0.1%) expressed their full backing for the privatisation plan.
We would have celebrated a complete victory if Mrs Spelman had assured us the Government no longer wanted to sell our woods and would ensure they remained public – but she didn’t. Instead she appointed an Independent Panel for Forestry to review the future of forestry in England, both public and private. Campaigners’ pleas for a panel seat fell on deaf ears. The dozen appointees will report back to the Government in April 2012.
The panel chose, after receiving a number of invites, to make the Forest of Dean its first visit. It came in June and 99% of the 200 people it met hammered home our message for public ownership. It is also giving the public until July 31 (not long!) to answer some questions which will be part of its review.
However, despite the same message being delivered again and again – that our Forest belongs to us and must not be viewed as a commodity to be sold or given away to private companies or charities – the panel has failed (so far) to officially acknowledge our call. Jonathon Porritt, HOOF chairman Rich Daniels, Hen Anderson from Save Our Woods, David Babbs from 38 Degrees and others have now formed a group Our Forests to monitor the panel, and ensure it listens to the public.
On Saturday July 9, from 11am to 5pm, the Coleford Festival of Words (in association with HOOF) presents at the Forest of Dean town’s Baptist Church (in Newland Street) a showcase of HOOF so far, delves into historical battles, examines land rights issues, and will culminate in a public discussion on what we do in the future so we can finally achieve a complete victory!
- The Coleford Festival of Words runs from July 3 to 9, see www.forestbookshop.com or call 01594 833334 for details
- For more on HOOF see www.handsoffourforest.org, and look up Hands Off Our Forest on Wikipedia for a chronology of events leading up to the Government’s February 17 climbdown
The Forest of Dean will be visited by the forestry review panel before anywhere else because of the strength of the local outcry.
The 12 panel members, who were appointed by the Government in the wake of the Coalition's apparent U-turn over its proposals to sell and transfer England's public woodlands, will come to the Forest on Monday June 13 - their first event outside London.
The panel said it chose the Dean due to the immense clamour made by Hands Off Our Forest supporters, and the many battles fought by previous generations of Foresters.
Panel chairman the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, told The Forester: "The panel was unanimous that we should make the Forest of Dean our first visit, as we have received so many invitations. "We realise its tremendous natural and cultural heritage, and that local people have been active on forest issues for many years."
The panel's secretariat is currently in talks with HOOF and other organisations to decide on the venue and the best format for the visit.
Bishop James said: "What we want to do is choose a venue that allows us to gather evidence from as many people as possible, and hear a wide range of views. I'm particularly interested in hearing why the Government's proposals touched such a nerve."
Tributes were paid in both the House of Commons and Lords to the Dean's campaign, and Bishop James took part in a Lords forestry debate. He said he "appreciated" Lords' contributions from HOOF champions Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon and the Bishops of Gloucester and Guildford.
The panel was invited to the Dean by HOOF secretary Ian Standing, as well as MP Mark Harper, Baroness Royall and Foresters in individual letters.
Bishop James insisted the panel was genuinely independent and has been tasked to communicate the people's wishes to the Government.
"One thing I find very encouraging is that the panel is keen to do this together, to all go on visits and engage extensively with people," he said.
The panel will go on to visit England's northernmost and largest timber producer, Kielder Forest, in July, and private woods in Kent in September.
Bishop James said the panel's job, which also includes looking at private forestry, was exciting and "very challenging". He added: "When the Secretary of State offered me the job of chairing it, I had to decide which commitments to put down so I could devote my time to this.
"I'm really confident about the panel members, as they are bringing so many skills and experience to the table."
He said that if the calls of HOOF to keep our Forest publicly owned and managed turned out to be the predominant view they received, that would be in its final report to environment secretary Caroline Spelman, in April 2012.
"We will represent the views we hear - that's what we have . been asked to do," he said.
Ms Spelman confirmed in a letter to the Bishop that she was putting any forest sales on hold until the panel reported.
The panel wants people to answer, by July 31:
• What do forests mean to you?
• What is your vision for the future of England's forests and woods?
• What do you feel to be the benefits of forests and woods to you a. personally, b. society as a whole, c. the natural environment, and d. the economy?
• Suggestions of practical solutions and good practice.
• What do you see as the priorities and challenges for policy about England's forests and woods?
As well as responding during the panel's June 13 visit, people can email: forestrypanel@ defra.gsi.gov. uk, or send a letter to: Secretariat to the Independent Panel on Forestry, Defra, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR.
CONTINUED public ownership is the only way to safeguard England's largest off road family cycle network now and for generations to come.
That's the proclamation from Roger Geffen, from the national Cyclists' Touring Club. The CTC has joined forces with eight other influential organisations to form the Forest Access User Group.
These include the Ramblers' Association, the British Horse Society, Open Spaces Society, the Sport and Recre ation Alliance, dog a owners' group the Kennel Club, the Mountain Biking Association plus orienteering and climbing groups.
A meeting they had with Bishop James earlier this month kickstarted the independent panel's call for views.
Mr Geffen said: "The well-maintained 10,000km of forest road and waymarked trails in Forestry Commission woodlands provide England's largest network of routes for families to enjoy away from the perils of road traffic. Public ownership is the only reliable way of securing this benefit." Justin Cooke, policy officer for the Ramblers -which was at the vanguard of battling forest privatisation plans in the early 1990s - said: "We call on the panel to find ways to protect, maintain and increase access to all our nation's woodlands and ensure that access is at the heart of its work.
"We look forward to engaging with them to ensure that public access to our forests is pro tected, now and always."
The Ramblers' chief executive Tom Franklin, pictured, is the only one of the nine organisations to have a seat on the panel.
The panel has now published the minutes from its inaugural meeting, which took place in London on March 31. The minutes reveal the panel acknowledged groups, including Hands Off Our Forest, the Forest Campaigns' Network, cycling and other forest user groups were disappointed not to be given places on the panel.
Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh told a meeting at Beechenhurst Lodge she requested with the HOOF steering group that she has been unable to find the source of the Government’s claim existing law allows it to sell up to 15 per cent by 2014. The figure does not appear in the Forestry Acts 1967 or 1981.
Mary Creagh, Shadow Environment Secretary, meets with HOOF representatives (L to R) Ian Standing, Rich Daniels and Nigel Costley.
The Labour frontbencher said: “I have come to the conclusion it was a lawyer with his finger in the wind who came up with the 15 per cent figure as being an insubstantial amount of forest. A legal challenge to this is a good idea.”
HOOF is also disputing that the Treasury can benefit from the sale of woodlands, saying the Crown should be the recipient.
Currently, the statutory Forest of Dean – its core - and adjoining woods Highmeadow, Hope and Clearwell are protected against sale by the Forestry Act 1981. However, many woods outside those boundaries are vulnerable to a sell-off, as the Government interprets the law as allowing it to sell 15 per cent of the public forest estate by 2014 – despite no figure appearing in the Act.
Defra has postponed selling off any woods until its appointed independent panel reports back in spring 2011, but last Thursday Mrs Creagh urged Forest campaigners to remain vigilant. She said there was no guarantee the Government would follow the panel’s advice. The secretariat of the panel, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, has been in contact with HOOF but has yet to confirm it will visit the Forest of Dean. Two dates have been allocated in June and July for panel meetings – but locations have not yet been confirmed.
The sale of woodlands was due to begin last Tuesday but the Government’s climbdown on February 17, following a public outcry, granted public forests a reprieve for a year. However, Ms Creagh warned future legislation which would threaten our Forest’s public ownership and management might slip below the radar before next spring. Publication of the Natural Environment White Paper, which could include forests, has been pushed back from spring until later this year.
The shadow Defra secretary predicted there would be “nuances rather than outright policies declared”, and warned of a slow degradation of Forestry services as the Commission’s staffing, funding and role is reduced, which she said would have a gradual detrimental effect on the environment.
Mrs Creagh said the Forest Research department, currently battling devastating tree diseases, such as phytophthora racorum, will be dismantled. Forestry workers have so far kept the pathogen from wiping out Japanese larches and potentially oaks and other species north of the Severn by spraying at-risk rhododendrons near Parkend, and the Forestry helped destroy a 2008 outbreak on the private Lydney Park Estate.
HOOF secretary Ian Standing said: “It was a very useful meeting and it has updated us on what’s going on in Westminster. Mary Creagh was keen to meet with HOOF, and we hope Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, will respond to our invitation to a meeting with HOOF in due course.”
WE DEMAND A SEAT ON THE PANEL!
NEW ALLIANCE OF FOREST CAMPAIGN GROUPS CALLS FOR A PROPER SAY ON FUTURE OF OUR PUBLIC WOODS
Many may have thought that after the Government made its U-turn following a massive public outcry against the disposal of our forests that the many campaigns that sprang up would have packed up and gone home victorious.
But while the Government dumped its consultation and the forestry clauses in the Public Bodies Bill, it has failed to give any indication of ditching its policy of privatisation – which we view as a land grab from the people. It is also pressing ahead with plans to decimate the Forestry Commission (with a quarter – up to 500 - staff jobs set to go), and is setting up an “independent” (but Government-appointed) panel to review the future of the public forest estate.
We have yet to hear of anyone with an interest in keeping our forests public being invited on to the panel – that includes our forests’ inhabitants and frequent users, and the half-million-plus people that have campaigned to keep our woods in public hands.
The forestry minister Jim Paice is holding the cards close to his chest regarding the panel. He told Parliament on Tuesday March 1: “I am sorry, but I will not be drawn on the membership of the panel because once I give way on one aspect of who might be on the panel, I will be drawn into discussing everything.”
One thing we have heard: the panel will only have a small number of members. We believe that, as the future of our forests are being reviewed, we – as those who use, inhabit, care deeply about them and are connected to them – must be given a place on the panel.
Forest of Dean group Hands Off Our Forest has already written to the Prime Minister and environment secretary Caroline Spelman requesting a seat, and has not yet had a reply.
The Forest Campaigns’ Network was formed on February 28, 2011 to speak with one voice to keep our forest in public hands and publicly run by the Forestry Commission.
We are calling on the Government to appoint one FCN member to the panel, so the people wedded to our forests get some say in their future. We will select someone with the necessary expertise and knowledge, who also shares our aims.
The FCN is also promoting Celebrate Our Forests day across England on March 20, on the eve of World Forestry Day. 38 Degrees plans to list events country-wide where the public will be encouraged to demonstrate just how much their forests mean to them, with rambles, cycle rides, picnics, rallies and more being organised.
Tony Farndon, from Save Our Forests, part of the FCN, said: “When you are forced to make a u-turn, you can either go back home or you can try and find a side street and still get to your destination. We ask the Government not to seek this side street, but instead protect and increase public benefits through a properly resourced Forestry Commission.”
* Groups that have joined the Forest Campaigns’ Network so far include 38 Degrees (national), Friends of Bourne Wood (Lincolnshire), Friends of Chopwell Wood (Tyne & Wear), Friends of Hurn’s Forests (Dorset), Friends of Thetford Forest Park (Norfolk), Hands Off Our Forest (Forest of Dean), Keep Our Forests Public (Sussex), One Voice (New Forest), Save Cannock Chase (Staffordshire), Save Haldon Forest (Devon), Save Our Forests (national), Save Our Woods (national), Save Sandlings Forests (Suffolk) and Save Sherwood Forest (Nottinghamshire). Invitations are being sent out to other grassroots campaign groups from across England.
* The FCN website is in the process of being completed.
In a shock move yesterday, the government ordered the Forestry Commission to take down all signs on Forestry Commission land critical of their policy to dispose of the English Forests - including the Forest of Dean.
To avoid putting Forestry workers in an embarrassing position, HOOF has decide they will remove the signs that are on Forestry land themselves over the next day or two.
As far as we know there has been no such order regarding the yellow ribbons.
Signs are still available for you to put up as long as they are on private property with the permission of the owner or on roadside verges not part of Forestry land.
This heavy handed move, together with the news that his own prime minister no longer supports him (see right) can only further deepen the embarrassment that our MP Mark Harper must be feeling now about his calamatious campaign to dispose of the Forest of Dean to charity.
Mr Harper's masterclass in how not to win hearts and minds has been a disastrous public relations excercise for the Public Bodies bill and the attempt to give our Forest away.
Harper's insulting attempts to imply that the depth of feeling shown at the meeting was organised by a left-wing plot will not wash with all the concerned people who stood outside in the wind and rain or listened politely to him in the sweltering meeting room. Nor will it be believed by the thousands of Foresters who were not there.
And for Harper to run to the press saying that the meeting was marred by violence when in fact the sum total was an egg or two thrown at a van (an incident unreservedly condemned by HOOF) is unworthy of him.
All this must be such a disappointing outcome for someone who, prior to the forests disposal bill, was often acknowledged, even by those of other political persuasions, to be a diligent constituency MP.
We are nearly there, keep up the good work and we WILL keep the Forest safe from disposal.
A crowd of over 250 people who had waited outside in the wind and the rain for over 2 hours hoping to hear Mark Harper MP talk about the disposal of the Forest of Dean, shouted “Mark Harper out” as he was smuggled out of the back way of the building into a waiting police van at the end of the meeting.
Locked-out constituents waiting quietly for Mr Harper to appear
HOOF had earlier written to Mr Harper and warned him that the venue was too small and the 24 hours notice given too short and urged him to rearrange the meeting properly, but he went ahead, with chaotic results.
The external PA system that had been promised was not functioning, leaving those who were not allowed in to the meeting room frustrated and unable to participate in what Mark Harper called “The first step in a consultation process”.
Had Mr Harper gone outside to talk to the crowd and apologise he might have gained some respect, but he chose not to.
During a Radio Gloucester phone-in on Saturday morning, Mark Harper said that he was upset at the "violent" crowd outside but no one we can find witnessed any violence apart from an egg thrown at a van. One of the audience locked out of the meeting, James Greenwood, told HOOF:
"To describe those of us who couldn't get in last night due to his incompetence as 'violent' is absolutely outrageous - and a lie. I was in the wet and cold for 2 and a half hours along with 250+ others, waiting for some kind of apology or statement, which never came. The man certainly seems to lack 'connection' skills".
Inside the stiflingly hot room, Mr Harper remained impassive, calmly answering the audience’s questions.
He began the evening by saying he had come to the meeting to tell us that the government had decided to hand over the Forest of Dean and other “Heritage” forests to charitable trusts. He said that there was no option to sell it off into private hands and that if the charity option was rejected by a large enough number of people it would stay in state control. He said this was the first step in a consultation process that would last for 3 months.
Mr Harper said the consultation document published by DEFRA would give everyone the chance to tell him what they wanted for the Forest.
However, questions from the audience made it clear that many people think the consultation paper is badly drawn up as it does not give options to select the status quo – keeping it in state control and managed by the Forestry Commission.
As the 2 hour meeting progressed it became clear from the thoughtful, knowledgeable and often impassioned questions from the audience, that everyone present was against turning the Forest into a charity. And in an informal show of hands at the end of the meeting to the question, “Do you want the Forest of Dean to remain with the Forestry Commission” every member of the audience raised their hand.
Questioner after questioner was applauded as they made their points critical of their MP’s stance; but the largest ovation of the night was saved for the last questioner, Rich Daniels, chairman of HOOF, who,although ignored by the chairman throughout the meeting, was able to speak by virtue of another member of the audience giving him his turn. He roundly condemned the shambolic organisation of the meeting and powerfully made the case for keeping the Forest in the hands of the Forestry Commission.
Although the government’s position still leaves a lot to be desired, especially for those other forests not designated as “Heritage”, it is clear that the pressure from HOOF and Foresters in general, and other organisations in the country, have forced the government into a considerable climb-down.
Somebody who was outside the library building on Friday evening has sent the following to HOOF:
A quick story about how violent it was on Friday: A local lad, one of the 300 locked out, had nipped home and picked up some cardboard tubes to make a telescopic arm to get a message to the second-floor windows of the meeting. Absolutely total Forest ingenuity.
Someone had a roll of tape, and there was a placard immediately to hand. Up it went in minutes. As the pole wasn't quite long enough to appear above those at the back, somebody jumped up onto my shoulders.
At the bottom of the wall and at my feet was a drain filled with gravel - and after looking at it for a while, I remembered the traditional way to attract attention to the ground from an upper story window. When I suggested to several people that we tap some of this gravel up onto the windows of the meeting, everybody, every single one, thought that was a step too far and totally out of the question.
Harper wasted police time and our time, by not organising the event properly. We ran after him, because we were trying to talk to him - and he was running away out of the back door! The stupid thing from Harper's point of view is that half the people outside probably voted for him. Hope this non-issue won't detract from the debate.
Another constituent who was there has written to HOOF:
I was there hoping to see him emerge from his extended meeting to address the sad souls who had hoped to hear him that night, who had waited two and a half hours in wind and rain, who on the whole were very cold and patient, apologise for so mis-managing and under-estimating the local interest that his "consultation" would have.... !!
He was our MP, we are constituents, I was surrounded by foresters, many of them , the majority, were grey haired and , amongst them pillars of the community. from whom did he require police protection ?
He should have have come out of the front door to us, like a grown-up politician. There was a strong notion that he would duck any further encounters with our debate and would probably make for the back entrance, which he chose to do. He did not require police protection.... his silly melodramatic exit from the youth club door for a waiting police van of course provoked a roar and a chase.....There was a lot of noise, but I too would like to know whether eggs were thrown, I did not see any but I was way at the rear. I certainly heard at least two bangs on the van....
I spoke with a number of the police who were at the time at the front of the Main Centre, who were all in a good mood, and commented on the humour and ingenuity of the foresters who were waited frustrated from not hearing their MP speak that night and were denied the opportunity to speak with him.
HANDS Off Our Forest, the broadly supported campaign to keep our Forest of Dean publicly owned and publicly run, is urging its thousands of supporters to wait for further advice before filling in the Government’s so-called consultation document on the future of the public forest estate.
HOOF is challenging the 64-page document’s legitimacy, and the lack of options it offers. Rather than engaging with a fundamentally flawed document, we are demanding a proper and genuine consultation – one which includes the option of keeping our Forest in public ownership and managed by the Forestry Commission.
Consultation is supposed to be carried out to inform decision-making, rather than after decisions have already been made. Yet a Bill which includes powers to dispose of our Forest of Dean and all other public forest land across England to the charity, private, commercial or voluntary sectors is already being debated by the House of Lords. In a marked break with democratic convention, there was no Green Paper, no White Paper before the unconstitutional Public Bodies Bill, which was introduced into the House of Lords in October 2010. The clauses that propose the disposal of all public forestry land in England – Clauses 17 to 19 – could well be debated and voted on before the end of the consultation period.
Even if the responses to the consultation paper are genuinely listened to, the results of the consultation will be irrelevant if the Bill is passed in its current form.
If, as we hope, enough Lords and MPs realise the folly and the deep unpopularity of going ahead with these proposals and vote to throw out forestry clauses from the Public Bodies Bill, the consultation is again rendered irrelevant. Even Conservative MPs have rounded on the Government and wondered whether the Coalition is facing its own ‘poll tax moment’. In the New Forest (a designated ‘heritage forest’ like the Dean), Tory MP Julian Lewis has expressed his horror at the proposals and voted against his Party.
HOOF says our campaign will not be diverted by this flawed document, which doesn’t give the option of our public forests remaining in public hands which, according to a YouGov survey last month, 84% of the population want and only 2% opposed.
In a time of forced austerity, the Government wants to scrap a popular system in which our land is managed at a cost to each of us in England of 30p per year, and take our forests out of public hands, in an ideological land grab that will COST the Government millions of pounds.
The Government has attempted to placate a rising tide of opposition in the Forest of Dean, by proposing to dispose of most of our Forest by handing it to a charitable trust, rather than selling it on the open market.
Rich Daniels, chairman of HOOF, called on the Government and Forest of Dean MP and minister Mark Harper to call a halt to the disastrous proposals that the Coalition is – without any mandate – trying to foist on its electorate.
He said to Mr Harper at the MP’s poorly conducted public meeting organised last Friday (February 4): “Why don’t you do the honourable thing for your Party and for yourself - 400,000 people and rising have voted against this on the 38 Degrees website, 10,000 people have signed the petition in the Forest of Dean, 3,000 people came out in a snowstorm, in the freezing cold, to tell you how we feel about it. Thousands and thousands of people are looking at the HOOF website. Just call a halt to it now, and say ‘we’ve made a mistake, let’s call a halt to it, let’s do away with the forestry sections in the Public Bodies Bill and let’s get on with our business’.”
The amendment to the Public Bodies Bill supported by HOOF may be debated in the House of Lords on February 14. Baroness Royall and the Bishop of Gloucester are among those who will call for a vote to retain an exemption (granted in 1981) for the Forest of Dean, protecting it from being taken out of public hands. HOOF opposes an alternative amendment (yet to be published) by the Government, which would allow the Forest of Dean to be transferred to charity.
Meanwhile, the Government proposes, through its Comprehensive Spending Review, to sell 40,000 hectares of public forest land by 2014 – HOOF has learnt woods in the west and north of the Forest of Dean are may be among those sold, without any of the safeguards to public benefits the Government is offering in its consultation document.
Hundreds of Forestry Commission staff are also set to lose their jobs under current Government plans (a decision not consulted on), and the Commission will eventually be reduced by 80% under the proposals.
Rather than being diverted by a deeply flawed consultation document, HOOF believes its energy is better spent in fighting the Public Bodies Bill, the selling of our woodlands under our noses, and to secure the future of the Forestry Commission to manage our publicly owned woods.
Mr Harper's Farcical Meeting
On the 2nd February Mr Harper's office gave notice of a meeting on the Government's forestry proposals. It is a meeting he first promised back in December when his constituents expressed their grave concern at those proposals and, in particular, the effect they would have on the Forest of Dean.
His constituents first became aware of the proposals in late October 2010 and ever since Mr Harper has fended off questions by telling his constituents to "wait for the 'White Paper'". He declined to attend the public meeting in December and the HOOF rally in January but did promise to hold a public meeting when the 'White Paper' was published. Meanwhile, the Public Bodies Bill, intended to give statutory effect to the proposals, had had its first reading in the House of Lords on the 28th October.
Three thousand concerned people had attended the HOOF rally on the 3rd January, in the cold and the snow, an indication of the strength of feeling against the Government's proposals. Many thousands have signed petitions opposing them.
So when is the meeting called on the 2nd February to be held? On the 4th February; little more than 48 hours notice!
And the venue? The Main Place in Coleford which has a capacity of no more than 100!
And the duration of the meeting? Two hours!
Do these arrangements permit a proper discussion of the issues involved? They most certainly do not! Mr Harper is well aware of the concerns of his constituents and to promise them a public meeting and then to treat them so contemptuously is a disgrace and unworthy of a Member of Parliament.
What are his motives for avoiding a meaningful discussion with his constituents? It is little wonder that Foresters are suspicious of the Government's intentions when their Member of Parliament evades any proper scrutiny of its proposals.
Millions of trees will be threatened by disease under the Government's plan to cut Forestry Commission funding and privatise public woodland, according to an internal document leaked to The Times. Deer and other wildlife will be neglected and charging could be introduced for many recreational facilities to which the public now have free access, the report says.
The commission announced yesterday that it would cut more than 400 jobs, including 300 in England and more than 100 at its headquarters in Edinburgh, as the result of the Government's cutting its budget by 26 per cent over the next four years.
Speaking in the Commons, David Cameron promised to listen to public anger over the plan to sell, lease or give away all of England's 638,000 acres of publicly owned forests. He said: "Of course I am listening to all of the arguments that are being put in this case."
The leaked document, Shaping the Future of Forestry Commission England, sets out the commission's plan for coping with the cut and the Government's decision to sell 100,000 acres, or 15 per cent, of its land by April 2015.
The document identifies a number of "high level risks" from the changes, including leaving the commission with "no capacity to deal with costs of disease or other calamity". It identifies phytophthora, better known as sudden oak death, as an "unfunded pressure for 2011-12". The disease has recently been discovered in Wales, Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Northern Ireland.
During Wednesday's (2nd February) debate in the Commons on the Forest Sell-Off, Tory MPs reported that they were being bombarded with complaints from constituents.
Desmond Swayne, Mr Cameron's parliamentary aide and MP for New Forest West, wrote on his blog that the Government's plan "has unleashed a torrent of hostile e-mails".
Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East, questioned how charities would be able to take on the debts incurred by some forests. He told the Commons he was "fed up" defending new policies which were not in the Tory or Lib Dem manifesto and was concerned that the coalition would get the reputation of being "the party of nasty surprises".
Dr Lewis is one of 40 Tory and Liber¬al Democrat MPs who have more than 2,500 acres of Forestry Commission land in their constituencies and who are being targeted directly by Labour.
Mary Creagh, the Shadow Environ¬ment Secretary, has written to them saying that the Government had no mandate for the proposals.
HOOF REJECTS CHARITY HANDOVER PLAN AND INVITES OTHER FOREST CAMPAIGN GROUPS TO A NATIONAL PROTEST CONVENTION ON FEBRUARY 26
Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF), the campaign formed to keep our Forest of Dean publicly owned and run, is firmly opposing the Government’s plan to transfer our woodlands from being managed by the Forestry Commission to a charity.
We are resolute in our conviction that no one is better qualified to run our Forest, to protect our unique customs and achieve the balance between a working forest and public amenity, than the Forestry Commission. While all organisations, including the Forestry Commission, should be seeking improvement, we believe no trust, charity or other organisation, however benevolent, can guarantee the access and freedom of the woods we all enjoy today, nor safeguard the Forest for the future.
Contrary to some claims, we do not believe our battle has been won, as we do not have any guarantee that our Forest will not be sold.
At a meeting of the HOOF steering group yesterday (Monday January 31), it was decided unanimously to stick to our aim: ensuring the Forest of Dean is protected from any sale – whether by this Government or a future administration – with an exemption in the Public Bodies Bill. Clauses 17 and 18 in the Bill, which deal with public forestry, could be debated next week - depending on the progress of other business in the House of Lords.
Our Forest of Dean, owned by everyone in this country and managed on our behalf by the State via the Forestry Commission, was granted special protection from any sale in 1981. As we have precious few rights enshrined in law, but only customary privileges, this protection is uniquely essential to us.
At the same time, we are resisting the sell-off or transfer of any of England’s public forests and any reduction in the Forestry Commission’s current management role.
We have set a date for a campaign planning day – Saturday February 26 - at a venue to be confirmed in the Forest of Dean, and will invite delegates from forest campaign groups the length and breadth of England to share knowledge, tips and to form a united response to the Government plans.
HOOF was the first group to light the beacon of protest with our January 3 rally, and – aside from the national 38 Degrees – was the first campaign group to be established, in early November 2010. We stand in solidarity with all other campaigning groups across the country, and cheer their increasingly stronger efforts in fighting sell-offs to private concerns, or transfers to a community group or charity – depending on the fate the Government has proposed for their forests.
The Government’s public consultation document, The Future of the Public Forest Estate in England, has classed almost all of the Forest of Dean as “heritage forest”. It offers just one option for its defined “heritage forests” – to transfer them to a new or existing charity.
The Government says it will give our Forest free of charge to the winning charity, and will help with running costs… initially. It does not offer any financial figures, or any guarantees of what could happen should the charity face bankruptcy years down the line – HOOF believes if a charity fails the most likely scenario is that our Forest would be sold to the highest bidder. There are no guarantees our customary privileges will be protected, or how public liability insurance will be afforded.
Last year, the Forestry Commission cost each of us in England less than 30p. The Forestry Commission has broad support from local people and visitors and has almost a century of expertise to draw on. So why change it?
The Government offers no option in its consultation document to keep things as they are – we say, “it ain’t broke, so why fix it?”
People have until April 21 to respond to the consultation. HOOF is advising anyone unsure how to respond to either wait for detailed guidance yet to be drawn up and agreed by campaigners, or to bypass the questions and state their views; call for the Forestry Commission to remain in its current role, and for no change in ownership or management.
HOOF secretary Ian Standing said: “HOOF has asked repeatedly that the 1981 protection of Dean from sale will continue. That requires a specific amendment to the Public Bodies Bill. Until that is achieved, the Forest is not safe and discussion about anything else is a bit pointless.”
Hands Off Our Forest is a broad alliance of individuals and groups aiming to keep the Forest [of Dean] as it is – publicly owned and publicly run by the Forestry Commission. See www.handsoffourforest.org
See the Government’s public consultation document, issued on Thursday January 27, 2011: http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/forests/20110127-forestry-consult-doc.pdf
DEFRA minister Jim Paice told the House of Lords EU select committee on November 24, 2010: “Part of our policy is clearly established: we wish to proceed with, to correctly use your word, very substantial disposal of public forest estate, which could go to the extent of all of it… In order to have substantial disposal, we need to change the law. Our lawyers advise us that up to about 15% of the forest could be sold without risk of transgression of current legislation, which requires the [Forestry] Commission to own and manage the public estate. To get beyond that, we would need to change the law. That is the reason for [the Public Bodies Bill].” See http://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-committees/eu-sub-com-d/forestry/ucEUD241110ev1.pdf
Ex-Forestry Commission Chairman Lord Clark went on to say that the proposals were one-sided, giving no choice other than disposing of our forests, and were "economic madness"
In reply the DEFRA minister, Jim Paice, said that all rights of way would be preserved. But did not mention the fact, highlighted elsewhere on this website, that The Forest of Dean has virtually NO rights of way - leaving us totally at the mercy of any new owner.
Jonathon Porrit, Director of Forum for the Future, talking on Channel 4 News, said that whatever the document may say, the Public Bodies Bill going through Parliament soon would give future Ministers the right to turn leasehold land into freehold and dispose of any of it, heritage forests included, into private hands, all without further recourse to Parliament. He said that if the Government really cared about forests they would be taking more of it into public ownership as is happening in the rest of Europe.
A HOOF spokesman said that even if a charity such as the National Trust were to run the Forest on a lease, it could be returned to the state at any time and then , under the terms of the Public Bodies Bill, the minister could sell it off into private hands without recourse to parliament! This is a very real possibility, as after the first few years of government subsidies run out, any charity would be left to find the money itself and could find it had bitten off more than it can chew.
HOOF has looked at the online response form and the first thing that strikes you is that the status quo - keeping our forests in the hands of the state and run by the Forestry Commission - is not given as an option.
In fact there is only one option for each of the three classes of forest that DEFRA identifies:
- "Heritage" forests to be handed to charities
- Other forests to be sold to "The Community and Civil Society"
- "Commercial" Forests to be sold to big business.
See video of the event here
The Warren James Group held a walk on Sunday 30th January through recently sold Bircham Wood to assert their right to roam. They were joined by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, Labour leader in the House of Lords, and Councillor Bruce Hogan.
Ian Wright, a member of the Waren James group, said that the walk was a symbolic gesture to show the new owners that they believed access to the woods in the Forest of Dean was their right.
He said that until recently Bircham Wood was owned and managed by the Forestry Commission, but was sold to a private owner several weeks ago for approx £160,000. The new owner should have registered their new property with the land registry but has failed to do so. They will not have to pay inheritance tax, capital gains tax or income tax on this investment.
The government is going to lose millions of pounds in tax revenue as a result of any woodland sell off, he said, which over time could exceed the money gained from the woodland assets sold. The wood comes with full shooting rights. Roe and fallow deer are commonly found in the wood. Some of the wood is classified as ancient woodland.
Another member of the group, Dave Morris, said that they were there to have a mass trespass in support of all the forests in England in danger of being sold. He said there are no public rights of way in this part of the Forest and so, in theory, access could be stopped.
Baroness Royall addresses the walkers
Some of the male walkers were dressed as women and others wore animal masks or fancy dress. Dave Morris explained this was known as Skimmington dress after the Skimmington riots and rough music, a very ancient Europe wide tradition that went back to the 1600s but was particulary strong in the West Country. It was the idea of the world turned upside down, men dressed as women, day turns to night, and so on and was used to show disapproval of an individual or individuals' actions. It was mentioned in Hardy's novels and the last Skimmington was broken up by police in Dorset in 1917.
He went on to say that he was sure that originally the Government had plans to sell off all the English forests into private hands but that due to the levels of protest across the country, especially here in the Forest of Dean, they had been forced to back down to a certain extent. However, he warned, the plans to give the so called Heritage Forests to charities was fraught wih dangers, as the Public Bodies currently going through Parliament would give a minister the power to take the Heritage Forests back into state control and then dispose of them into the private sector.
A cycle rally organised in the Forest of Dean to protest at the Government’s proposed sell off of English forests attracted over 120 cyclists of all ages on Sunday.
The rally was organised by Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF) campaigner Barbara French who said, “It is so important we make the public aware of this very real threat to the Forest of Dean and indeed all of England’s forests, as cyclists and horse riders will be among the worst hit by any privatisation”.
Rich Daniels, Chairperson of HOOF, told the cyclists that the Public Bodies Bill, clauses 17 -19, currently going through parliament, would give future Government ministers - of whatever party - the power to sell off the forests to private developers.
Although the Forestry Minister, Jim Paice, has tried to reassure the public that rights of way would be protected, he had to admit recently in Parliament that any protection would only apply to walkers, not to cyclists and horse riders.
In any case, say local opponents of the Bill, even walkers in the Forest of Dean cannot be offered protection as virtually none of the paths in the Forest are covered by rights of way legislation but instead are permissions and privileges granted by the Forestry Commission. Under any Forest sell off the Forestry Commission would almost certainly disappear.
The rally began at 12 noon at Pedalabikeaway, who kindly gave permission to use the cycle centre. After a short cycle ride to Cannop the cyclists returned to the cycle centre where national BBC News cameras were waiting to interview some of those taking part. Councillor Bruce Hogan told BBC’s Jeremy Cook that the Forest of Dean is not owned by the Government and so is not theirs to sell - it belongs to the whole country.
The rally comes at the end of a week that sees the Government reeling from a sustained attack on its Bill from many quarters, including celebrities, environmentalists and senior lawyers and constitutionalists.
The House of Lords Constitution Committee recently declared that the Bill "strikes at the very heart of our constitutional system" and Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, said the Bill needs “very careful reconsideration".
Lord Woolf, a former Lord Chief Justice, said the Bill is “of grave concern to the judiciary" and "constitutionally wrong" and The Lords' Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee decided that “The Bill would give ministers unacceptable discretion to rewrite the statute book"
A letter to last Sunday’s Telegraph condemning the Public Bodies Bill was signed by over a hundred famous and influential people including The Archbishop of Canterbury, Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate; Dame Judi Dench, the Oscar-winning actress; and Bill Bryson, the author and president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Other signatories to the letter include Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the celebrity chef; Joanna Trollope, the author; Lady Helen Taylor, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Richard Briers the actor, Lord Rees, the astronomer royal, Tony Juniper who is special adviser to the Prince of Wales’s Rainforests Project, Annie Lennox, the pop singer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the explorer, and authors Michael Frayn and Julian Barnes.
And Save England’s Forests’ president Rachel Johnson, the writer and sister of London mayor Boris Johnson, said: “An extraordinary coalition of the Great and the Good has responded to the Government’s proposals to sell England’s forests”.
Despite all this nation-wide disquiet about the Bill and the threat to the Forest of Dean in particular, our MP Mark Harper still refuses to say when he will visit the Forest and face his constituents to explain his position and listen to their fears.
The cycle rally follows on from the very successful HOOF rally held at the beginning of January when over 3000 people braved the cold and snow to show their disgust at the proposed legislation. Visit www.handsoffourforest.org for more information.
Huge majority oppose England forest sell-off, poll finds YouGov poll finds 84% of British public agree that woods and forests should be kept in public ownership for future generations. Read the full article here
Every day the pressure mounts on David Cameron and his government to ditch the undemocratic and widely hated Public Bodies Bill. In the last few days a YouGov poll, numerous national press articles and letters signed by the powerful and famous all say the same thing - we want to keep our forests as they are! This is a fight we CAN win. But we must keep the pressure up. You can do your bit by going to our information section and seeing what YOU can do.
The following letter has been sent by The Wye Valley & Forest of Dean Tourism Association to the minister responsible for our forests:
The Public Bodies Bill currently being debated in the House of Lords will give the Government (and future governments) the power to sell the whole or parts of the Royal Forest of Dean: Clause 17.
Those of us who live in the Forest oppose the sale as a change of ownership will violate the traditions and privileges we and visitors to the Forest enjoy; it will destroy all that we hold dear about the Forest and will damage the local tourist industry and the local economy.
The Wye Valley & Forest of Dean Tourism Association has 300 members in and around the Forest of Dean and at a recent meeting we unanimously agreed to oppose the proposals affecting the Forest. Tourism is probably the most important industry in the area and the Forestry Commission does an excellent job in managing this unique and historic forest for the benefit of both visitors and residents.
We believe that you should exempt the Forest of Dean (together with those woods described by Lord Mansfield in 1981 as the contiguous woodlands commonly regarded as part of the Forest of Dean, namely, Highmeadow, Clearwell and Hope Woods) from the power of disposal contained in Clause 17 of the Public Bodies Bill.
John Bosley for Committee
Dozens of projects to restore ancient woodlands are likely to be abandoned under the Government’s plan to sell most of England’s state-owned forests, The Times has learnt.
The forests are expected to be privatised without any requirement to uphold the Forestry Commission's commitment to replace rows of foreign conifers with native broadleaf trees such as oak, beech, ash and lime.
The commission had planned to restore more than 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of ancient woodlands which were planted with pine, fir and spruce after the Second World War when timber stocks were low. Conifers create dense shade and inhibit the growth of bluebells, wood anemones and other wildlife found in deciduous woodland. Many of these plantations have reached maturity and are due to be harvested, creating the opportunity to replace them with native trees.
Wyre Forest in Worcestershire has 740ha of conifers which were due to be restored to native woodland. Other sites where restoration is now in jeopardy include Grizedale Forest in the Lake District, Savernake Forest near Marlborough, Wiltshire, Pencarrow Forest near Bodmin, Cornwall, Hempsted Forest in Kent and Mortimer Forest in the Marches.
But Defra is reluctant to reduce the sale value of the forests by adding conditions such as the type of tree that can be planted and whether they can be harvested. Conifers grow three times as fast as some native trees and are more attractive to companies likely to bid for the forests, including suppliers to new wood-burning power stations being built to meet Britain’s carbon reduction targets.
A Whitehall source said a consultation document on the sale, due to be published this month, would ignore the question of restoring ancient woodland. It would contain a commitment to preserve the “public benefits” of existing native woodland but be silent on the commission’s plans to expand them.
The Woodland Trust said the value of each hectare would be cut by a third if any future owner was required to plant native trees. The amount raised from selling the 30,000ha could fall by more than £100 million. But the trust said that the Government should consider the wider benefits of restoring ancient woodland and not just focus on maximising the proceeds.
Sue Holden, the trust’s chief executive, said: “If the Government is determined to be the greenest government ever then it has to find a way to secure the future of the ancient woodland sites planted up with conifers over the last 60 to 70 years, which it currently owns. Ancient woodland is our richest and most fragile habitat, our equivalent of the rainforest. [Selling the sites] with no means of securing their restoration would mean a massive opportunity would be lost, probably for ever.”
Environmental groups are also concerned that new owners might try to discourage people from visiting the forests. Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, there is a permanent right of access on foot to land owned by the commission. But that does not extend to horse riders and cyclists.
The commission is also concerned about the future of its visitor facilities, including 413 car parks, 28 visitor centres and 177 waymarked walks. It fears that future owners will close car parks and other facilities and let trails become overgrown.
“We’re a broad church of people who’ve come together to save our Forest.
“It’s our turn in history to pick up where others have left off to save our Forest.
"What we are not is a political group, and we would oppose any political party that was attempting to sell our Forest.
“The spirit of Warren James is alive and well and is in the Forest today".
Baroness Jan Royall:
“We are here to defend our ancient privileges and customs.
“We’re standing in the middle of a glorious forest that belongs to us. We cannot and must not allow our Forest to be sold.
“We are involved together because we love the Forest. The White Paper might be a very splendid document that contains many safeguards for the Forest of Dean – but it will be too late. Normally the Government publishes a Green Paper and invites consultation before publishing a White Paper. In this case we have a Bill going through Parliament and then a White Paper. I think I’d call this arse over tit. Where was the green paper and where was the consultation? What this topsy-turvy situation means is that no matter what the White Paper may say, the Public Bodies Bill means the Forest of Dean along with all the other forests may be sold – it’s there in black and white. I don’t want to be part of a social or community enterprise owning the Forest, because you and I already own it. I want to thank the 49 employees of the Forestry Commission in Coleford and say we want them to keep their jobs.
“The Countryside Rights of Way Act will not, for example, prevent any landowner from desecrating Dymock daffodils. While I grew up going there regularly, I didn’t realise they are of real significance, as are the oak trees growing there. They must be protected.
"Our Forest is unique, it’s a special case. The canopy of this Forest allows unique ecosystems to flourish and if it were sold and managed in a different way the balance of those fragile ecosystems would be changed to the detriment of the whole. Our Forest is an economic asset, not only in terms of timber but to our local economy. Don’t wait for the consultation that’s promised: act now! We have fantastic support but we need more. I hope our MP Mark Harper will be able to persuade the Government to accept our amendment that I am tabling with the Bishop of Gloucester and Baroness Fritchie, and if he doesn’t I have to ensure the Coalition carries that amendment – that’s why your letters are so important. So get writing to our MP and especially those councillors who didn’t have the balls to sign up to that resolution from Andrew Gardiner, which was adopted at the last council meeting. I need to be able to demonstrate to the Government that the campaign to keep the Forest in public ownership is serious and got massive public support, as we can see today. Go for it, and campaign, and we will win”.
“I feel honoured to be invited here to support the Forest and to ensure the Government’s irresponsible, insane plans do not go ahead.
"Do not be seduced by the siren words of Mark Harper, the forestry minister, or anyone else in this Government when they tell you everything will be alright once you get to see the White Paper. That is just a whole farrago of lies, lies and lies.
"We know what the intention of this Government is – they’ve made it very clear. They would like to see as much of the public forests estate as possible sold off into private hands as fast as possible, with as speedy a receipt coming back to the Treasury as possible.
"Every time they talk about forestry they mention the civil society and Big Society in the same breath. We know that this idea of selling off little packets of land to voluntary and community groups makes no sense whatsoever. The Forest of Dean is a whole, an entity in itself, a living, breathing organism which you can’t just parcel off into little bits and expect that those in charge of managing those little bits will understand the value of the whole. It is extraordinary that we have a Government that still doesn’t understand the basics of land management at that very fundamental level.
"We don’t have any basis on which to trust anything we hear from this Government at the moment. This kind of rally and expression of public anger is a way of showing Mark Harper and his Government that they shall not move forward with this proposal.
"The fuel protests of 2000 serious destabilised the Labour Government at that time – I didn’t support those protests but that was a defining moment. Maybe this is a defining moment: the point at which people say this is not right, this is not the way to proceed
"If this campaign in the Forest of Dean becomes the symbol of rethinking what we want from our Government, it’ll be a great deal more powerful than what Mark Harper and his colleagues currently believe
"I just feel very empowered to be part of this. I’ve spent 35 years of my life campaigning for one cause or another, some unwinnable and some winnable. All I know is this is a campaign that has at its heart the integrity and spirit of a massively powerful group of people which will undoubtedly win the day. All power to all of our elbows!”
“Our elected representative in London is our elected representative. Foresters are decent, kindly and generous but they have one fault: they do bear grudges, and Mark Harper had better bear that in mind.”
Ian Waddell, Unite's national rural officer:
“The 49 Forestry Commission workers have had a very uncertain and difficult time over Christmas and New Year.
"It’s quite clear that the clauses in the Public Bodies Bill are about selling the whole of the public forestry estate. The Forestry Commission doesn’t need to be sold off, it needs to be strengthened and expanded.
"The Government must be held to account. One thing is clear, we need to turn our anger and outrage into action.
"The Government is vulnerable: we want Mark Harper to be the first MP to be recalled when the recall law is passed. The Government is weak, and this campaign is about hanging on to the Forest for our children and our children’s children. we can win – we will win".
Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Reverend Christopher Hill, who has lived in Ruardean for four years:
"All the arguments used by Lord McNair in the 1981 debate are still relevant today. The Government of the day changed its mind and said the Forest of Dean is unique and should not be sold, and that’s why I will be supporting Baroness Royall’s amendment.
"The Forest of Dean has had its ups and downs. At least twice in the past 400 years the Forest has almost been destroyed because of individualistic, uncontrolled economic forces. The likelihood of individual parcels of the Forest being sold off is very high if the Public Bodies Bill goes through unamended. We need to support this campaign so the Forest can go on for another 400 years and more.”
Eric Morris, Freeminers' Association:
“The representative in Parliament we have now doesn’t respect freeminers. If you want to keep freemining and any other custom, go against this sell-off.”
Henry Mills, Commoners' Association:
"I'm very pleased to see so many people here supporting this campaign."
Below we reproduce the press release that Mark Harper has just released together with angry reaction from Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, Nigel Costley of HOOF and Owen Adams, journalist.
Mark Harper, MP for the Forest of Dean, speaking ahead of a planned HOOF rally in the Forest of Dean on 3rd January said:
“Early in the New Year the Government will publish its plans for the public forest estate including the Forest of Dean. I have discussed this issue with the Forestry Minister and he is very clear about the importance of protecting the Forest of Dean. Neither I, nor the Government, have any intention of doing anything that would damage our Forest. I am confident that the plans set out in the White Paper will properly protect the Forest of Dean.
However, I am not surprised that the political opponents of me, my party and the coalition Government refuse to accept or believe the clear assurances that I have given on the contents of the White Paper and the Government’s plans for the Forest of Dean.
Much of the speculation in the media is simply not true. For example, there are not and never have been any plans to sell off the Forest of Dean to developers who would cut down the Forest to replace it with recreation parks. All that has ever been proposed is whether a local not for profit organisation, a charitable trust say, might be able to involve local people more closely in the ownership or management of the Forest of Dean. I think that is at least worth looking at.”
In reply, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, Labour leader of the House of Lords, writes:
Both Mark and the Minister might be clear about their plans for the Forest but (a) they have not told us, (b) they have not consulted on them and (c) this is not what is said in the Public Bodies Bill which will enable the selling off of the Forest of Dean.
They should have published the White Paper and had a consultation BEFORE legislation was introduced to Parliament. Everything the Minister has said about forestry points to the fact that he wants to sell them off.
Notwithstanding this statement, we have to seek amendment to the Public Bodies Bill in order to ensure the protection of our Forest. If Mark is sensible, he will ensure that the Government accepts the amendments that I am tabling together with the Bishop and Rennie Fritchie. He could then take some credit for having persuaded the Governmentt of our case.
The key point is that proposals in a White Paper are not law: the Public Bodies Bill will be the law when it gets Royal assent.
Owen Adams writes:
Mark Harper deliberately misses the whole point. I don't recall the media (well us in the Forest anyway) have ever speculated the Forest would be cut down to make way for recreation parks. And as we can see from the leaked draft consultation document, a not-for-profit company is NOT all that's been proposed - there are five options...
Finally, he seems to be ignoring that out of the thousands of people who are supporting our campaign, some of them voted for him...
Nigel Costley, Regional Secretary, South West TUC and HOOF officer writes:
Mark Harper and the local Conservatives ask that we ignore the clear statements of intent by ministers to sell-off the forest and to trust that it will be alright in the end! Diana Edwards, Tory Deputy Leader of the Forest of Dean Council seems hardly convinced herself when she says: “If it is the case that it won’t be protected, Foresters can rest assured we will do everything we can to take action. But we have had the assurance of our MP Mark Harper and I’m sure he knows what he is talking about.
” Oh well, that’s ok then!
Faith in the local Conservatives was hardly bolstered when their local leader, Peter Amos said: “It doesn’t matter who owns it as long as it stays in public ownership.”
With the Public Bodies Bill going through Parliament now, we are asked to trust in a White Paper that will set out a range of options for the future of the Forest. None of them will adequately safeguard the Forest of Dean as it is now. All of them signal the end of publicly owned and managed forests.
It will be 50 ways to leave your lover when we haven’t even fallen out! ‘None of the above’ will not be on the list and such an option will only be achieved by amending the Public Bodies Bill now.
The Government’s approach is based upon the premise that public ownership of our woodlands is bad – despite all the evidence to the contrary. So how can we trust our local MP who has so far handled this issue so badly.
It remains unclear how the government will determine which options for which forests will be applied. The break-up of the national estate will mean that the more profitable forests will be sold leaving the rest even more dependent upon subsidy or even more at risk from measures to cut costs.
Even Mark Harper realises that talking about privatising the Forest is political suicide so instead we are presented with the option of a transfer to a community interest body or a ‘not-for-profit’ business. But these will still have to cover their costs. Not-for-profit is also Not-for-loss. The only way to balance the books will be more commercial activities, big hikes in fees and charges alongside cuts in woodland management.
I am a keen supporter of social enterprise and mutual alternatives to private business. But under the Conservatives, there has been a cynical distortion of their values to privatise public services. Once transferred out of public ownership there is no way back. As we are witnessing in the NHS, many of these bodies seem almost set-up to fail. When they do, the next inevitable step is into corporate ownership.
If Mark Harper thinks we are going to see his promised White Paper and wonder what all the fuss was about he is mistaken. If he thinks the Forest community are going to trust some vague assurances wrapped up in the twisted use of language he does not understand the voters of the Forest of Dean.
Hands off our Forest. It must remain in public ownership and management.
The five artists pictured are playing the January 3 rally and all are contributing tracks for a HOOF fundraising CD.
Mike Edwards, who is co-ordinating the album of protest songs said:
"I see the HOOF campaign as a pivotal point in the Forest’s long and chequered history.
If we, the musicians, artists and ordinary people of the Forest can make politicians and big business sit up and take notice of our collective opinion, then we’re actually being what the Coalition Government wants us to be – A Big Society, not scared to voice our views and have a say in the issues of our time.
The CD album will be varied in musical styles, but it will carry an important message – that we cannot afford to lose the land in which we live to commercial exploitation, at the cost of our quality of life.
I sincerely hope that Mark Harper buys a copy and listens carefully to every word and note on it."
Anyone who claims there is no proof of sell-off plans and we should relax, sit back and "wait and see" only needs to be referred to the evidence given by Minister Jim Paice... here are some excerpts from Hansard (with the particularly pertinent bits - in my view - in bold):
The Select Committee on Select Committee on the European Union
Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment Sub-Committee
Evidence Session No. 1. Heard in Public. Questions 1 - 33
WEDNESDAY 24 NOVEMBER 2010
Witnesses: Mr Jim Paice, Mr David Howat and Mr Robin Mortimer
JIM PAICE: The Forestry Commission is in the Public Bodies Bill to provide us with the opportunities for changes which, I am more than happy to admit, are not fully formed in our minds. But this is the opportunity to get the legislation because the Forestry Acts are very restrictive. For a start, they require the Forestry Commission to own and manage the public forest estate…
… while we are working on the thought processes as to how to reform the Commission and its landholdings, it is in the Bill as an opportunity to provide the legislative base to make those changes, whatever they may, or may not, be…
On the impact on the Commission, it is clearly a matter for the Commission to adjust its staffing levels, and so on. I need to make it clear that we are not proposing to abolish the Forestry Commission or anything like that. Clearly, however, if we go down the road of significant disposals, that will have an impact in its establishment and how it goes about its work…
… we need to focus the Commission much more on an enabling role and move it away from managing a significant part of the forest estate in England.
We do not have any hard and fast proposals about disposals at this stage. We will be publishing a consultation document in the early part of the new year, when we intend to lay out a range of options. We will by then probably have it down to one or two favoured options, but there will be a range. Obviously, the extremes are, at one end, the total sale of the Commission list as private forestry estate to some other body such as a charitable trust, or whatever. The other extreme is a piecemeal sale over a period of time to the highest bidder of individual parcels of woodland or forest. I do not particularly want to be drawn on the rights and wrongs of any of those options at this stage, because, frankly, we are not at that stage yet.
Lord Cameron of Dillington: As you know, Minister, the Public Bodies Bill is going through this House at the moment. Most of us are slightly mystified by Clauses 17 and 18 on the Forestry Commission. Reading between the lines of what you say, your present intention is to have a disposal of a part, or a considerable part, of the Forestry Commission lands. I would personally not disagree with that. I think a lot of that land would probably be better managed in private hands than public hands. However, you seem to be saying to us legislators, “We are not quite sure what we want to do with the Forestry Commission, but we want you to give us permission to do it anyway”. I find that quite strange. I wonder if you have slightly firmer views as to where you are going here.
Mr Jim Paice MP: Yes, indeed. Part of our policy is clearly established: we wish to proceed with, to correctly use your word, very substantial disposal of public forest estate, which could go to the extent of all of it. As I said earlier, the precise detail of who it will go to and in what form is yet to be decided. However, we are committed to the principle that protecting the range of public benefits–biodiversity, access, carbon fixation–and to achieve the increasing tree cover that I seek does not necessarily require the state to own the forestry. I take this opportunity to emphasise that we have absolutely no intention of reducing any of the protections that exist. Indeed, part of the consultation will be on whether other protections will be necessary. Felling licences will still be in place. All this nonsense we have read about golf courses and holiday camps on the forest is all complete and utter bunkum. It just will not happen.
In order to have substantial disposal, we need to change the law. Our lawyers advise us that up to about 15% of the forest could be sold without risk of transgression of current
legislation, which requires the Commission to own and manage the public estate. To get beyond that, we would need to change the law. That is the reason for it [the Public Bodies Bill].
The Earl of Arran: Following on from Lord Cameron’s question, in the event of the disposal of some of the Forestry Commission land, do you have any worry about foreign purchases?
Mr Jim Paice MP: I have worries about two or three potential aspects of disposal, which we are looking at very carefully. Foreign purchases are one, although I not think that they are automatically necessarily bad. Indeed, we could not prevent them under EU law. I am much more concerned about the possibility of established forest being bought by energy companies who would proceed to chip it all for energy recovery. That is not, in my view, a very good use of prime timber. We will need to look at how we prevent that.
The other aspect that concerns me is the point made by the British processing sector, mainly the saw mills, whereby, although the Forestry Commission has only 18% of English forest land, it comprises the vast bulk of their raw material. They have long-term contracts of supply, and it enables them to continue to process in good times and bad, when, perhaps, the private sector might stop felling when prices are low. I am very conscious that there are issues in our proposals that we are looking to address
The Earl of Dundee: The drift of my question was rather more that, given that there are targets, let us assume that, as custodians, the private sector will deliver and meet them. In the first place, which range of incentives do you think might work best to encourage the private sector to take on Forestry Commission land?
Mr Jim Paice MP: First, all the inquiries I have made suggest that there is ample interest in the private sector to take it on. For a long while, I laboured under the impression that, like the previous Government’s gold sales, if you unloaded them all at once you would end up with a seriously devalued price. I have been disabused of that by a number of different forestry investment operations. They think that it would be possible, if we chose to go down that route, to dispose of the whole thing at a sensible market price. But, as I said, we have not necessarily chosen that route.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: Following up something you said earlier on this which I do not have clear in my mind, you mentioned a number of issues that were of concern to you; for example, energy companies buying large parts of forests and chipping in order to gain energy. There were one or two other issues that you were passionately concerned about. If there is a lot of interest, are you sure that you will able to avoid those kinds of traps and difficulties to those who are going to buy, particularly in the light of your wish to reduce regulation?
Mr Jim Paice MP: It would be a brave politician who guaranteed anything, but we are determined to do our very best to retain that protection. The chipping issue, which I genuinely feel is a concern, can be addressed.
The Earl of Dundee: If I might just pick up on Lord Carter’s point, if we go along with Sir David Read, who recommended trying to achieve 16% of forestry, let us begin with identifying best practice for incentives for the private sector to afforest, to plant new trees. Then, with the new plan to enable the Forestry Commission to sell off its assets, it follows that the energies of the Forestry Commission can be directed towards afforestation to a far greater extent. If you take these two things, a new vigour in our public body and identifying what works best for our European partners to activate the private sector, perhaps we then have quite a good model for best practice.
Mr Jim Paice MP: I entirely agree with you. I said at the beginning that I see the Forestry Commission becoming much more an enabling body, an exhorting body, if you like, spreading good practice and being much more involved in promoting new planting once it can divest itself of spending too much time managing what it has got.
Lord Lewis of Newnham: Can I ask a final question? You refer to the fact that you are at the moment selling off land to allow for the deficiencies in your budget. When you have sold off all the land, what are you going to do?
Mr Jim Paice MP: The problem is that the Forestry Commission operates in such a way that it either loses or marginally makes profit on its commercial, pure forestry activities, give or take £1 million. When you add in all the other things that it is currently doing–leisure and other things, for example–it ends up with a significant deficit. It has been selling land partially to fund that deficit; some of it has been funded by taxpayers, some from sales. That is not a sustainable approach. We think, and this is one of our objectives in disposal, that there are ways of improving commercial returns and generating more returns from leisure and other, currently unprofitable, activities.
On Friday the 10th December a packed Miners Welfare in Ciderford heard passionate speeches condemning the coalition Government's forest privatisation bill from Baroness Jan Royall, labour leader in the House of Lords, Rich Daniels, Chair of HOOF and many members of the audience.
Mark Harper, our MP, who is trying to push through the bill, was conspicuous by his absence, although invited to put his side of things some weeks ago. He pleaded a prior engagement, but he won no friends by absenting himself from this important meeting about the future of our Forest.
Time and again the speakers made the point that the Government's plans to allow local people and organisations to buy and run the Forest themselves was both impractical and an affront - we own the Forest already!
Baroness Jan Royall, who has lived in the Forest nearly all her life, said that the Forestry Commission in the Forest of Dean is based locally in Coleford and is always responsive to the wishes of local people. And while not always agreeing with everything it does, it has served our community very well in recent times, creating and maintaining access for all.
She also made the point that at the moment it costs the British public only 30p per person per year to run our forests and that it was hard to see how better value for money could be obtained in any other way.
In answer to a question about why HOOF were pressing for an exception to be made of the Forest of Dean rather than trying to overturn the bill in its entirety, Baroness Royall said that the Forest of Dean was different to other forests in that, for historical reasons, it had very few actual rights of way but instead had privileges. This made it much more vulnerable to having the footpaths and bridal paths that we all enjoy now, closed down.
LINKS TO VIDEO OF THE EVENING - COURTESY OF MICHAEL THOMAS
Parts 1-2 The Forest of Dean sell off
Parts 3-5 The Cinderford library sell off
http://bristolindymedia.blip.tv/file/4507659/ Part 3
http://bristolindymedia.blip.tv/file/4507858/ Part 4
http://bristolindymedia.blip.tv/file/4508370/ Part 5
A link to a radio broadcast on The Forest of Dean's own Triangle FM radio station
A link to a podcast by Jason Griffiths of audio interviews with people at the Miners Hall meeting. Visit http://www.forestofdeanpodcast.com/ and click HOOF
I have been poring over this Act (Google it and you should find it), and also looking at http://saveourforests.co.uk to look at its loopholes and limitations...
In summary: while we MAY be able to walk within the woods (or MAY NOT, see points 4 and 5):
1. we may be obliged to keep dogs on short leads of no more than two metres in length
2. we may find paths blocked and any visitor amenities, such as toilets, car parks, picnic sites and disabled/wheelchair access, no longer maintained - the landowner is under no obligation to keep our currently permissive routes, and unless we are on the Gloucestershire or Wysis Ways which traverse the Forest, the vast majority of other paths and tracks are not public rights of way
3. we will not necessarily be allowed to cycle or ride horses in the woods, let alone drive down Forestry tracks or get to picnicking/walking spots
4. any land can be closed to the public for 28 days of the year
5. we can be prevented from walking near any buildings, any new planting/felling areas, or areas where quarrying or mining activities taking place. Re planting, we have just heard that on public Forestry land recently sold in the Mendips, Somerset, that the public have been told they can't enter for another 30 or 40 years until the new crop matures.
One response to anyone who says 'wait for the White Paper'... where's the green paper from which consultation traditionally helps to form the white paper?
HOOF wins backing of Council who will send delegation to Parliament
HOOF has wons the backing of Forest of Dean District Council.
The Council is to send a delegation to Parliament to put pressure on the Prime Minister, MPs and Lords against any sell-off.
The council has clarified that public ownership means a public body under the control of a democratically elected government.
Andrew Gardiner's motion was also passed.
The full motion that was passed:
Councillor Andrew Gardiner moved the following amended Motion.
To avoid attempts which could lead to Privatisation of the Royal Forest of Dean - this Council should do everything in its power to consolidate and enhance the exemptions from sale pertaining to the Statutory Forest of Dean and the protected contiguous woodlands (of Highmeadow, Clearwell and Hope ).
Furthermore because an enabling bill would empower ministers to act unilaterally and remove effective parliamentary scrutiny, this Council should seek enhanced protective designations in accordance with the protection afforded by Section 39(2A) of the Forestry Act 1967.
Therefore this Council to ;
1) write to Mark Harper M.P, Prime Minister David Cameron M.P, and electronically copy to the Secretary of State, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon , All Members of Parliament , House of Lords and Local Authorities – requesting their urgent action to exempt the Royal Forest of Dean from Clause 17 of the Public Bodies Bill.
2) for a deputation of Member’s representatives from All Groups and an Officer/s and co-opted expert/s to visit and meet with those engaged in the Public Bodies Bill passing through the Lords and Commons.
3) For the Solicitor of the Council to coordinate matters included in bullet point 2.
Leader of the council's Labour group Bruce Hogan's motion, with the last paragraph an added amendment by leader of the council's Independent group Norman Stephens' amendment (agreed to by Coun Hogan):
This council believes that the publicly owned woodlands currently managed by the Forestry Commission are a precious national asset.
This council aligns itself with the local campaign to prevent the sale or transfer of ownership of the Forest of Dean, (Hands Off Our Forest), and invites our Member of Parliament to a meeting with all elected members so that there can be a full and frank exchange of views.
Furthermore, this council makes clear in its stated opposition to any public owned Forestry land in the Forest of Dean being sold off that privatisation means the transfer of ownership of Forestry land to any body or organisation other than a local body under the control of a democratically elected government in the United Kingdom.
Dear Councillor Amos
The Public Bodies Bill - The Forest of Dean
I attended the Council meeting last Thursday and was alarmed by the misinformation that pervaded the chamber and the lack of appreciation of the issues relating to this matter, a matter of immense importance to the people of the Forest of Dean. I trust therefore that you will not object to me addressing the matter by way of an open letter, it is too important to deal with in any other way.
At the meeting a member observed: “We are discussing legal points which we haven’t really grasped”. Another suggested an adjournment to clarify the legal position. Does this not suggest that the Council should have had an item placed on the agenda to discuss the issue with the benefit of an officers’ report explaining the law and the intricacies involved? Was it not seen to be of sufficient significance to warrant that?
In the absence of a report the quality of the debate and, as I will show later in this letter, the resolution cobbled together at the last moment were poorer than then this issue and the people of the Forest of Dean deserve.
It was said at the meeting that no proposal had as yet been received from the Government. But, as you will know, the Public Bodies Bill, was introduced in the House of Lords over a month ago and on any reading of it it will have a profound effect on the Forest if it passes unamended into statute. To your credit you had familiarised yourself with the Bill and were in a position to debate the Government's proposals. You referred to the “rights” and “freedoms” mentioned in the Bill and, I believe, did so to persuade the meeting that the "rights" to the Forest we enjoy are not threatened by the Bill. In this you reflected Defra’s promise that “Full measures will remain in place to preserve the public benefits of woods and forests under any new ownership arrangements. … public rights of way and access will be unaffected … “
You referred to either Clause 8 or sub-clause (8), I am uncertain which. But, if I understood you correctly, you said words to the effect that the Secretary of State’s power to make an order under the Bill was qualified, that he could do so only if he considers that the order “does not prevent any person from continuing to exercise any right or freedom which that person might reasonably expect to continue to exercise”.
Since the meeting I have looked again at the Bill. Clause 8 contains the qualification but that clause is concerned with the abolition and merging of offices and bodies, the modifying of constitutional and funding arrangements, the transfer of functions and delegation and was not relevant to the motion before the Council.
Clause 13 also has the qualification but it is concerned exclusively with the powers of Welsh ministers.
I conclude that you must have been referring to Clause 18, the only remaining clause containing the qualification, at sub-clause (8). Clause 18 falls within that part of the Bill relating to forestry and deals with the powers of the Secretary of State to modify the constitutional arrangements and functions of the Forestry Commissioners, and to the transfer of their functions to another person.
Clause 18 is of concern but it was not that to which the motion referred. Councillor Winship addressed her motion specifically to the sale of forestry land and it is to Clause 17 that we must refer. Sub-clause (1) of Clause 17 states:
“This section applies to the functions of the Secretary of State under the following provisions of the Forestry Act 1967 -
(a) Section 39(2) (disposal).“
The exercise of the Clause 17 functions are not qualified in the way you suggested, it makes no reference to rights and freedoms. The provision you cited is therefore entirely misleading.
Even if the qualification applied to disposals it would not help the Forest. Rights and freedoms are capable of enforcement at law but our use and enjoyment of the Forest arises from historic privileges, not rights and freedoms.
You will know from the Hansard reports of the 1981 debates I copied to you on the 4th December that “The Forest of Dean is wholly different (from other woodlands). It is an historic Crown forest in which an entire community has developed, using and enjoying the land in many ways which are not protected by legal rights. ... It is those privileges which can be wholly lost if this land is sold to private persons.” The words of Lord Bledisloe QC who (I remind you in view of the nature of Thursday’s debate) clearly loved the Forest. His family has lived on the very edge of the Forest for more than 250 years and his father and grandfather and, he believed, more remote ancestors had all been verderers of the Forest.
As Lord Kilmarnock said in the 1981 debates “The Dean is in fact the only state forest where the local people have no rights whatsoever”.
And to quote Lord McNeil: “...the people who live in the Forest of Dean are uniquely disadvantaged and therefore uniquely endangered by the (1981) Bill as it stands (i.e. before the amendment exempting the Forest from the power of disposal), because for various historical reasons they have no legal rights of common or of access. Instead they have customary privileges, which are fully recognised by the Forestry Commission, and it is difficult to see how these de facto privileges could possibly be safeguarded if any part of the Forest of Dean were to pass into private hands.”
Thursday's debate demonstrated a failure on the part of some to appreciate the distinction between rights and privileges and that failure jeopardises all that was achieved in 1981: the exemption of the Forest from the power of disposal and the preservation of its customs and traditions. Does it not occur to members that if those customs and privileges are lost, if the character of the Forest changes (as it inevitably must if it is sold off) tourism in the area will plummet with dire consequences for the local economy and employment?
There are other matters raised at the meeting with which I take issue.
It was said that there have been wholesale sales of Forest land and that excluding the Forest from the power of disposal would not achieve anything as the Forestry Commission has been selling off land and will continue to do so. Do Councillors really believe this? To throw this into the debate without identifying the land in question and its status is entirely unhelpful and should not have gone unchallenged.
As you know land within the Forest may be sold “if it is not needed, or ought not to be used, for the purpose of afforestation or any purpose connected with forestry”. So woodlands used for afforestation are protected; other Forestry Commission land may be sold. If members know of the disposal of protected woodlands why has the Council not acted to protect the Forest?
Similarly, for reference to be made to “brownfield sites” as though that status has any bearing on what may or may not be sold under the Forestry Act is entirely misleading and demonstrates a poor understanding of the issues involved.
Thursday night's resolution
I have read the resolution passed at Thursday's meeting and wonder what interpretation the Secretary of State will put on it, it is sufficiently vague to be capable of more than one meaning. Instead of "This council is opposed to any selling off of forest land that would compromise the protection of our most valuable and bio diverse forest and lead to greater commercial exploitation and possibly reduced access" could your amendment not simply have said "This Council is opposed to the disposal of any land within the Forest of Dean which is needed or is used for the purpose of afforestation or any purpose connected with forestry"? (I have borrowed the words of the Forestry Act 1967 as amended by the 1981 Act).
What is meant by "possibly" reduced access? Does the Council doubt that access will be curtailed in the event of privatisation? The 1981 Hansard Reports indicate unequivocally that it will be.
The first and last parts of the resolution are mutually contradictory: the first allows sales (if the forest is not compromised in the way suggested), the last seeks to prevent all privatisation.
When does the Council anticipate consultation will take place? By not specifying this the Council invites delay. I believe Councillor Winship's motion sought consultation before the Bill is introduced into the House of Commons. Why was this unacceptable to the Council?
The Council will defend our historic rights, traditions and privileges. To what historic rights does the resolution refer?
What "possible action" to prevent privatisation is envisaged? Will the Council seek an injunction if the privatisation of any publicly owned forestry land in the Forest of Dean is proposed? Should regard not be had to what the law allows? There surely should be no objection to the privatisation of publicly owned forestry land in accordance with the Forestry Act 1967 as amended by the 1981 Act, i.e. land within the Forest which "is not needed, or ought not to be used, for the purpose of afforestation or any purpose connected with forestry". The legislation permits the Forestry Commission to sell it. So for the Council to resolve to take every possible action to prevent the privatisation of land which the statute says may be sold reflects a misunderstanding of the position and of the Council's powers.
The adjourned meeting next Wednesday affords the Council an opportunity to reconsider its position and ensure a coherent resolution. Is not the most straight forward way of preserving the Forest to ask Parliament to exempt the Forest (and the contiguous woodlands like Highmeadow, Clearwell and Hope) from the effects of the Bill in the same way that the Forest was recognised as unique and treated as a special case in 1981 and exempted from the power of disposal in Section 2 of the Forestry Act 1967 as amended?
It was said on all sides of the chamber on Thursday evening that members love the Forest, that they want to keep it as it is. If they are sincere in that they need to be reminded of what Lord McNeil said when he introduced his amendment to the Forestry Bill in 1981: “I want to emphasise that there is no party politics at all in this amendment. The friend who first alerted me to the danger is a Liberal; the chairman of the district council who came to London last Wednesday to plead with the Ministers to accept the amendment is a Labour councillor; and we have the wholehearted support of the Member of Parliament concerned for West Gloucestershire who is, of course, a Conservative. I am hopeful, too, that support may come from all points of the compass in this Chamber. So let us forget party politics—as we often do, I think, when we are at our best—and discuss this very important matter entirely on its merits.”
On behalf of all those who live in and who visit the Forest and those who strove so successfully to protect the Forest in 1981 and 1994, and the generations to come, may I plead with the Council to be at its best, to forget party politics and discuss this matter next Wednesday entirely on its merits (members having taken the trouble to make themselves fully conversant with the issues involved beforehand).
The councillors debated a motion by Coun Marion Winship (non-political group, former Conservative leader) which called for:
Full public consultation before the Public Rights Bill reaches the House of Commons and for a letter to be sent to Defra secretary that the council is against any privatisation of the Forest of Dean
The debate lasted about three hours. About 40 people - most of them Hoof campaigners - sat in the public gallery, and acted with decorum throughout, merely applauding several speeches. In particular, Marion Winship's eloquent and passionate speech introducing her motion was applauded by Labour councillors as well as some Independents and the public.
Coun Marion Winship's motion (strengthened and changed from the one published in the agenda) was challenged by an amendment from the Conservative leader Peter Amos . The amendment, in the opinion of many councillors, and as far as one could tell most of the public present, significantly watered down the motion, but it was eventually passed.
The motion that was finally passed was:
This council is opposed to any selling off of forest land that would compromise the protection of our most valuable and bio-diverse forest and lead to greater commercial exploitation and possibly reduced access
1. This council will write to Secretary of State for the Environment expressing sentiments above and asking for assurances that a full and complete public consultation will take place within this district and be heeded
2. This Council will support and defend the historic rights, traditions and privileges of the public within the Forest of Dean.
Furthermore, this council will take every possible action to prevent the privatisation of any publicly owned forestry land in the Forest of Dean.
Another amendment from Liberal councillor Sue Henchley, which called for the customary privileges and permissive routes to be protected in perpetuity was defeated. All the Conservatives present voted as one to reject the original motion and Sue Henchley's 2nd amendment, and to support Peter Amos's amendment.
Mark Harper MP tries to sell idea of local ownership of Forest but runs into opposition on the doorstep. "How on earth can the community run it?" resident tells him, while Forest Chief confirms that Forest is already run locally.
RESIDENTS in Coalway have been canvassed by their MP on `an opportunity to own our Forest'.
Mark Harper approached villagers and delivered pamphlets which stated: "Instead of bureaucrats based in London telling us how to run the Forest, the Government's plans open the door for local people to take charge of our Forest and decide how it's managed... I think the opportunity to own and control our Forest locally is not one we should give up lightly and I'd like your opinion on this'.
Resident Siamak Alimi told the MP he opposed any sell-off: "Mark and his entourage looked rattled by the strength of feeling from local people. He called our reaction `hysterical' and invited me to wait for the White Paper before jumping to conclusions."
Felicity Greenman, also from Coalway, said: "I spent 10 minutes telling him how vehemently I oppose any sell-off, and how on earth can the community run it?"
The Dean's Forestry chief, deputy surveyor Kevin Stannard, confirmed that - although he follows Government guidelines, "within that framework, the local interpretation and implementation of that guidance is very much down to me and my team". This includes "what works for the people, wildlife and trees that make up the Dean".
After every council meeting, the minutes are published on the Forest of Dean Council web site www.fdean.gov.uk
It can take up to a week after the meeting before they appear.
The minutes contain full information on how each councillor voted in each motion debated.
Alternatively you can phone the Democratic Services department of the council and ask how individual councillors voted. 01594 810 000
You can find out who your councillors are by using this link .www.writetothem.com