How much of our Forests are being sold exactly?


5:31 pm - February 3rd 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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Some say that the Conservative-led government only want to sell off around 40,000 hectares (around 100,000 acres) of forest in England.

This equates to some 15% of the total. It would have been more but Wales, Scotland and N Ireland don’t want to participate.

Is that where their plans stop, as some say? Absolutely not.

The government has already admitted it is just a starting point; they just need the law changed so in future they can sell them off quietly and without debate.

Defra minister Jim Paice MP told a House of Lords Committee last November:

We wish to proceed with… very substantial disposal of the public forest estate, which could go to the extent of all of it.

But…

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.

More on the law change required in this exchange (via Stanley Johnson)

The Chair of the Committee: “That’s a once and for all legislative permit, that you will never again as a Department have to come back for future sales of forestry or such?”

Defra civil servant: “That is the intention.”

Secretary of State, Mrs Spelman: “The Public Bodies Bill is an enabling Bill on the reform of a wide range of arm’s-length bodies.”

Chair: “So you will never, ever again have to come and ask permission?”

Secretary of State, Mrs Spelman: “We should not have to, no.”

Chair: “So this is our one and only chance?”

Defra civil servant: “Yes.”

But the rot (excuse the pun) has already started. It is likely this will be used as an excuse to push the plans forward.

The Times reported today:

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

We reported on the job cuts here yesterday.

This is perhaps the best example of how Conservatives plans are much more driven by free market ideology than necessity.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


And 2011 is the “International Year of the Forest”.

It speaks of incredible arrogance. It’s hugely unpopular, it’s (I assume) irreversible, it’s pointless, neither party in the Coalition mentioned it in their manifesto or referred to it during the election campaign – and the SoS, Spelman, blusters and bullshits dreadfully on the Today programme. It took a few years – indeed, terms – before New Labour was showing anything approaching this kind of arrogance in power (and they did have a majority). The fact that the Tories are doing this in only their first year is very, very alarming. Plus it will be, quite simply, tragic if England’s forests are flogged off.

Silly article. What is the intention of the buyers? As far as I understand, there will be strict rules as to what they can do/not do with the forests. In fact, isn’t it Labour who started the sell-off without putting in place restrictions on the use and making sure right to roam for ramblers, etc. wasn’t protected?

Are you ignoring that?

That may be the end of free access to places like Delamere Forest, then:

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/delamere

It would seem that “forestry investment” is an established inheritance tax avoidance loophole

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/investing/2814623/Invest-in-a-forest.html

@5

it was the exposure of these tax avoidance exercise that lead to the break of the Nature Conservancy Council by Nicholas Ridley in the 1980’s into the various National quangos (sorry, Arms Length Bodies). Essentially the NCC were punished for exposing the damage done to the Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland.

Interestingly the Economic Impact Assessment has acknowledged it has not assessed how much of the commercial sales that would arrive from the proposed policy would end up being used for inheritance tax avoidance.

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/ImpactAssessment.pdf/$file/ImpactAssessment.pdf
– page 24

Sunny Hundal – your figures on the sell off are out of date. The 40 000ha have already been agreed, and will be sold by 2015.

The public consultation is for the whole of the Public Forest Estate to be on the market. Key conservation assets (which therefore cost) it is proposed would be “transferred” to a charity or charities. However “Multipurpose” sites, “Large Commercial” – solely Kielder Forest – and “Small Commercial” woods are all having mechanisms set up whereby their sale can be arranged.

The consultation document estimates between 153 000 and 236 000 hectares of land being sold over a 10 year period (of which between 90 – 130 000 ha will go to commercial operators). They estimate a residual 20-25 000 ha remain in hand – these will generally be where the terms of the lease do not permit or make sense any sale.

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/website/pdf.nsf/pdf/PFE_Consultation_WEB.pdf/$FILE/PFE_Consultation_WEB.pdf

There’s something more than “free market ideology” at work here. DEFRA’s own study recently reported that the privatisation is expected to make a loss. So why go ahead? The coalition’s attempt to suggest that the sale will improve protection isn’t fooling anyone: it’s a mass ruling class land grab, nothing less. Even if the forests aren’t devastated by leisure, logging or energy companies, benefits for wealthy new owners will include the tax loophole mentioned above and guaranteed state subsidies for maintenance that will cost the taxpayer considerably more than the Forestry Commission does.

It’s very important to start building awareness of the Public Bodies Bill now too, which will affect far more than the Forestry Commission and the land it looks after. This Telegraph article on its implications makes for deeply unsettling reading.

@ 8 Matthew – really interesting Telegraph article. Made doubly disconcerting by the discussion from readers who seemed to be knitting in front of the Guillotine, without any grasp of what this Law of Proclamation would do. Maybe the idea of the FC sale is to distract us into complaining about that, so that when they back down, we won’t notice the nasty bits in the bill that are still there.

@9 Yes, David, I have no doubt that’s at play. The PBB and its wrenching of power away from our current (so-called) democratic process needs to be looked at very closely — there’s been astonishingly few reports about it in the media (or on sites like this) so far. If the coalition is hoping the forest sell-off will serve as a distraction, it’s working extremely well, and will continue to do so if we don’t start shouting it down asap.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  2. TeresaMary

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  3. Martin

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  4. Soho Politico

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  5. Stefanie Wood

    How much of our Forests are being sold exactly? http://bit.ly/dHR9Eq / @chunkylimey @libcon

  6. Paul Wood

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  7. macdermott

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  8. sunny hundal

    How much of our Forests are being sold exactly? http://bit.ly/dHR9Eq

  9. chickpea jones

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  10. Disagreeable Weasel

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  11. celesliverpool

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  12. Liam Barrington-Bush

    RT @sunny_hundal: How much of our Forests are being sold exactly? http://bit.ly/dHR9Eq [nothing is sacred but the market. Vile stuff.]

  13. ZeroHuts

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  14. Karl Lingiah

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  15. Gavin Saunders

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  16. Pucci Dellanno

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  17. geof lane

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  18. Rosemary Whitmore

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  19. Nell Epona Bridges

    How much of our Forests are being sold exactly? | Liberal Conspiracy: http://bit.ly/e4cIVc

  20. Miller Cahokia

    How much of our Forests are being sold exactly? | Liberal Conspiracy: The public consultation is for the whole o… http://bit.ly/h9nP5s

  21. Seeing the Wood for the Trees – before they’re flogged off « The middle of the line

    […] before they’re flogged off February 4, 2011 — Danivon A recent article on the proposed sale of Forestry Commission land on LibCon seems to have revealed a far more far-reaching attack on Parliamentary democracy by the […]

  22. Carol Ann

    How much of our Forests are being sold exactly? | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/gRQibiM via @libcon

  23. che1970

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  24. Forests To Be Sold Off By Government « THE RANK NEWS: spoof news and satire

    […] How much of our Forests are being sold exactly? (liberalconspiracy.org) […]





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