Page last updated at 14:22 GMT, Thursday, 17 February 2011

Government performs u-turn on forest sell off

The government has abandoned its plans to privatise England's public forest estate.

In a statement to the Commons on 17 February 2011, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, who oversaw the controversial proposals, announced the u-turn, saying: "I am sorry, we got this one wrong."

She said she took "full responsibility" for the climb-down, which was required after it became clear "the public and many MPs are not happy with the proposals".

"If there is one clear message it is that people cherish their forests and woodlands and the benefits that they bring," she told the House.

The government's plan to sell off or lease 258,000 hectares of England's public forests, managed by the Forestry Commission, was intended to give the private sector, community and charitable groups greater involvement in woodlands by encouraging a "mixed model" of ownership.

But the proposals attracted cross-party criticism and a public outcry.

Ms Spelman said the public consultation would be scrapped and the relevant forestry clauses in the Public Bodies Bill, which is currently in committee stage in the Lords, removed.

In its place, a new independent panel will be established to consider forestry policy in England, comprised of representatives from key environment organisations and the forestry industry, and will report back in the autumn.

"I hope that the measures I have announced today, signalling a fresh approach, demonstrate my intention to do the right thing for our forests and woodlands."

'Out of touch'

Mary Creagh, Labour's shadow environment secretary, welcomed the announcement.

"Today the air is filled with the sound of chickens coming home to roost," she said.

"The secretary of state has discovered that her first priority - delivering the 30% cut which she inflicted on her department - has a hefty political price attached to it."

And she claimed the u-turn highlighted how "out of touch" the government was with what people care about.

"She cannot ride roughshod over the people on a policy where she has no mandate," she said.


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