Independent panel rejects forests sell-off

England's publicly owned forests won't be sold off, after all
England's publicly owned forests won't be sold off, after all
Alex Stevenson By

An independent panel appointed by ministers following their forestry sell-off U-turn has told the government it was right to back down.

The final report from the group of experts, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, concluded that the coalition's plans to privatise England's publicly owned forests had been a mistake.

After 15 months of research the panel found that woodlands keep Brits healthy, sustain livelihoods, lock up carbon and provide wood - "a familiar material that it is easy to take for granted".

It found that investment in and management of forests required a long-term view as well as financial security.

A need to retain democratic accountability in managing so important an asset was also cited, as it explained why it opposed proposals to allow the private sector to take over part of the publicly owned estate.

"Taken together these factors mean that neither wholesale sell-off to the private sector, nor wholesale management by the charity sector, were attractive options," the report stated.

Environment secretary Caroline Spelman said the government would not sell off any of England's publicly owned forests. She could have pushed through the sale of 15% without the need for legislation.

"We'll be talking to all those who are passionate about our forests to decide how we will manage our forests for the future," Spelman added.

Over half a million people signed a petition opposing the move, leading to one of the coalition's first major policy U-turns in the spring of 2011.

Campaigners are angry that 500 Forestry Commission staff have already lost their jobs, meaning the debate over the future of England's forests is far from over.

"Our forests are a much loved part of our national natural heritage, and will play a pivotal role in the green economy and our low carbon future," shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said.

"We look forward to working on a cross-party basis to protect biodiversity, create more woodland and secure access for future generations to enjoy."


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