Forest sales delayed amid review
11 February 2011 12:17pm The Government has put the sale of 40,000 hectares of publicly owned forests on hold amid growing anger over plans to dispose of all of England's public forests.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said sales of 15% of public forests announced in last year's spending review will not go ahead until a review aimed at "significantly" strengthening the protections given to the woodlands is completed.
The announcement follows widespread criticism of proposals by ministers to offload the remaining 85% of England's public forests to timber companies, charities and local communities.
The already-announced sale of 15% of the estate - the maximum the Government can sell under current legislation - aimed to raise £100 million towards the Environment Department's budget.
But Ms Spelman said the Government is committed to increasing protection for access and public benefit in woodlands, and that the "inadequate measures" applied to sales under the previous administration will be reviewed.
However she said the review will not affect the commitment to sell 15% of the forest estate over the next four years, and has no impact on the continuing consultation into the remaining 85% of the public forests.
Mary Creagh, shadow environment secretary, said the "partial U-turn" would not be enough to silence the protests against the plans to sell off public woods.
And Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: "It's clear that the Government is now on the back foot as a result of the public campaign against their ill-judged proposals.
"But we still have a fight on our hands to resist the legislative changes that would make the forest sell-off a reality - which is why I will be seeking to amend the Public Bodies Bill in the Commons."
Unions also warned that the Public Bodies Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, would enable the Government to amend the Forestry Commission's statutory and wider functions at will and pave the way for a sell-off.