First stage of forestry sell-off put on hold

But consultation will continue

Today's postponement only affects a small proportion of the forestry land that the Government hope to put up for sale, but could it be the first step towards a U-turn on the whole plan?

Part of the UK Government’s planned sell-off of Forestry Commission land is to be put on hold, Ministers announced today. But the move only affects the 15 percent of the forest estate that has already been earmarked for sale – the maximum allowed under current legislation.

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The consultation into the future of the other 85 percent of publicly owned woodland will continue. This land currently can’t be disposed of, but the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition hope to change the law so some of it can be sold to timber companies and charities to raise £100 million.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman today denied that public protests over the wider sell-off had prompted the decision to postpone the sale of the 15 percent. According to the Financial Times, she wants to re-examine the criteria for selling off the woodland, in particular the “inadequate measures” applied to sales under the previous Labour administration.

Mrs Spelman insisted the review would not affect the commitment to sell 15 percent of the forest estate over the next four years, and had no impact on the consultation into the remaining 85 percent. She also claimed the Government was committed to increasing protection for access and public benefit in public woodlands.

38 Degrees, a campaigning organisation who’ve set up an online petition in protest at the Government’s plans, told BikeRadar: “The Government is still going full steam ahead with changing the law to clear the way for a 100 percent sell-off. It looks like they hope the fuss will die down if they pause a few sales here and there – so they can press on with quietly scrapping legal protection for our public woodlands.

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“Our petition is now 490,000 strong. Let’s show the Government we’ll keep campaigning until English forests are safe, by making sure the petition passes half a million signatures today.” You can sign the petition here: www.38degrees.org.uk/save-our-forests, and you can take part in the official consultation here: www.surveymonkey.com.