Defra ditches forestry sell-off plans

The Government has dropped plans to sell-off 15 per cent of Forestry Commission land in England.

Defra secretary of state Caroline Spelman said it wanted to re-examine the criteria for selling the land off but other plans to have non-governmental bodies take on parts of the 258,000ha estate will go ahead.

But the Prospect union warned that only a complete U-turn on the sale of land would protect England's forests and the wider timber industry.

Prospect negotiator Malcolm Currie said: "We welcome the fact that the government is thinking again, in the light of the near-universal chorus of opposition to the plans from all sectors of the community.

"We trust that the review will lead to a concrete decision to cancel its plans and is not a cheap tactic to buy time by playing a long game and hoping the opposition will die down.

"Opponents of the sell-off need to stay on alert for any backsliding by the government or an announcement being slipped out in six months' time."

Currie added that the Public Bodies Bill enables the government to amend the Forestry Commission's statutory and wider functions at will. "While that is still on the cards, the dangers are still there, regardless of any review."

Pending this review, no individual woodland site will be put on the market.

Spelman said: "The revision of the timetable for this sales programme will ensure that the necessary protection for all public benefits of the public forest estate are in place.

"This will not affect the commitment to sell 15 per cent of the public forest estate over the next four years and has no impact on the ongoing consultation on the remaining 85 per cent of the public forest estate."

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