From the TUC

Lords challenged to block forests sell off

05 Nov 2014, by in Environment

Forests clause152,000 people have already signed a 38 degrees petition to “exempt public forests from the sell-off” of public land proposed in the Infrastructure Bill. Such is the level of distrust that petitioners clearly do accept written Ministerial assurances that “this minor adjustment” to the Government’s existing powers doesn’t threaten to the future of the nation’s publicly-owned forests. Petitioners want the public forest estate named as exempt in this Bill, just as the government has already done for Crown Estate Land – as our graphic shows, above.

Clause 21 of the Infrastructure Bill now in the Lords “simplifies” the process of public land transfer and sale.

Currently, land held by Government’s existing arm’s length bodies cannot transfer directly to the Homes and Communities Agency for sale, and instead must transfer first to the parent department (in the case of Forests, Defra) before it can then transfer to the Agency.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, said in a statement that the new clause will “simplify this process and reduce bureaucracy so that land owned by arm’s length bodies can be transferred directly to the Homes and Communities Agency without having to go through the parent Department. The bodies that will be able to transfer land to the Agency are to be named in regulations.”

“The intention behind the clause is not to sell off socially or environmentally important publicly-owned land such as the nation’s forests.”

But from the perspective of those opposed to the sale of our forests, “the legislation is seen as allowing any public land to be transferred by a Government agency, all rights of way extinguished, to private developers.”

Forestry Commission Trade Unions have restated their call for “No privatisation of any Forestry Commission (FC) functions.” The unions’ greenprint calls for for a fully integrated and adequately resourced  Commission which:

  • retains a governance role as an overarching environmental/land management directorate covering England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (which complements devolved functions);
  • retains existing functions and include those emerging from the Independent Panel Review;
  • is answerable to Parliament via sponsoring department such as DEFRA; to the Secretary of State; and
  • all employees of FC and subsidiary bodies retain civil service status.

The Independent Panel on Forestry should have resulted in legislation to protect our forests permanently – but that never happened.

The explicit exemption of our forests from the Infrastructure Bill should also, in the words of the Minister, “simplify this process and reduce bureaucracy,” so that there can be no doubt as to this government’s “intentions.”