Controversial plans to sell off large chunks of England’s publicly-owned forests look set to be axed after prime minister David Cameron admitted he wasn’t happy with the policy.
Proposals to sell off 15 percent of Forestry Commission land within the next four years were put on hold last week following a public outcry, and now it looks like the remaining 85 percent will also be given a reprieve.
At yesterday’s Prime Minster’s Questions, Labour leader Ed Miliband asked: “Can the Prime Minister tell us whether he is happy with his flagship policy on forestry?” “The short answer to that is, no,” Mr Cameron told a surprised Commons, before bursting into laughter. According to Sky News, Labour backbenchers responded with shouts of “timber!”.
Mr Miliband continued: “Even he must appreciate the irony – the guy who made the tree the symbol of the Conservative Party flogging them off up and down this country.” “I think, once again, he wrote the questions before he listened to the answers,” countered Mr Cameron.
The sell-off plan is expected to be formally dropped tomorrow. According to Sky, a panel of experts will be set up to look at public access and biodiversity within the publicly-owned woodland.
The U-turn comes after more than 500,000 people signed an online petition against the proposals, which would have seen 258,000 hectares of woodland sold to timber companies, charities and local communities over the next 10 years to raise £250 million to help Britain’s struggling economy. Mountain bikers feared they would be denied access to many of their favourite trails.
Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh told the Guardian newspaper: “Half a million people have marched, mountain biked and petitioned against [environment secretary Caroline Spelman’s] sale of the century. They objected to the once-in-a-lifetime offer to buy something that they already collectively own.”