He claimed the forest has already attracted nearly £1bn of inward investment, created many hundreds of jobs, stimulated house prices in the area and led directly to hundreds of new tourism, leisure and wood-based businesses starting up.
"It is one of the very few long-term projects for which a government had a vision and that successive ones have followed through and supported," he said.
"I do not understand why the idea is not used more. It's very hard to argue against it. It has cost just £2.5m a year and brings in so many benefits in health and economics. It shows that the principle of using the environment and trees to regenerate a place and stimulate growth can work anywhere."
So far around half of the proposed 17 million trees to create the "patchwork" forest spanning parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire have been planted. The aim is to raise the level of tree cover over the 500-km2 area to 33 per cent.