March 2014 Update

National Forestry Forum Stakeholder Meeting

Save Sherwood Forest were invited to attend this Forum in London on 29 January alongside other Forest Campaign Network Community Groups. The purpose of the meeting was to review progress on developments since the government published its Policy Statement in January 2013.

The FCN Community Campaign Groups were given an opportunity of a private meeting with the new Forestry Minister, Dan Rogerson MP, before the Forum started.  They also had an afternoon meeting with Defra FC Team.

Dan Rogerson presented the Forum with the following statement:

‘We have reviewed our proposals in the light of the responses we received and have identified ten core principles underpinning our plans. These principles are that the new PFE management body should:

  1. Conserve and enhance the estate for the benefit of people, nature and the economy;
  2. be publicly-owned and operationally independent of government;
  3. be underpinned by statute and have a Charter;
  4. be managed by experts and have access to the best advice;
  5. have commercial freedoms but will be required to protect the estate;
  6. be able to buy and sell land, but any land sales must be for the benefit of the estate;
  7. be a pioneer in natural capital accounting and payment for ecosystem services;
  8. work closely with local communities, estate users and businesses. It will have consultation at its heart;
  9. be an exemplar of sustainable forest management;
  10. build on the strengths of Forest Enterprise England.

These principles are being used to inform the development of our legislative plans which include undertaking pre-legislative scrutiny.  This process provides stakeholders with an opportunity to comment on draft provisions and allows the relevant parliamentary select committee to take evidence from interested parties in preparing its report.  Government reviews the draft legislation in light of the committee’s report.’

This all sounds a bit like “Motherhood & Apple Pie” as our American cousins say:  there is nothing here that anyone will argue with.  It’s all positive stuff, but it is still only words.  The “Devil” will undoubtedly be in the detail and without sight of the draft bill we are still in the dark without the necessary detail to scrutinise.

However, there was also clarification on the timetable for the legislative process:

  1. The DEFRA/FC team expect to complete the drafting of their proposals by early March.
  2. These proposals will be ratified by the government’s legal experts and the Treasury.
  3. The proposals then go to Cabinet, who will decide if a Forestry Bill is to be included in the next Queen’s Speech in early June.

It is therefore by no means certain that we will have new Legislation during this Parliament and if it isn’t included government will once again have kicked the Forestry issue into the long grass.

If a new Bill is to be tabled in this Parliament it is likely to be published in June, following the Queen’s Speech to Parliament.  We will not get to see the detail contained in the Bill until then.  We understand that the Charter needs to be formally adopted by the new Public Body once it has been constituted.  However, it is thought that a Draft Charter will be subjected to public scrutiny before it is adopted.

Following the meetings, the FCN delegates discussed what had been said by the Minister and expanded subsequently at our meeting with the DEFRA/FC team.  We have continued to press for safeguards to ensure that :

  1. Government can never again try to dispose of our Public Forests;
  2. adequate government funding is committed.

If we can get such safeguards, the new status of a publicly owned body, operationally independent of government, should provide that security.  But, until that Bill is published, we will not know if such security has been achieved.

The current view of a number of Forest Campaign Network Community Groups is that we should support the introduction of the legislation as outlined by the “Core Principles” and press for the Bill to be included in the Queen’s Speech.

The Forum also received some news regarding Forest Services.  We have been concerned that the Forestry Commission would be absorbed into other agencies or into Defra.  We now understand that it will be continuing with most of the work it currently does to support and promote forestry.

On this point at least the government appears to have listened to representations: Forestry expertise will be retained within the Forestry Commission; the role of the Forestry Commissioners will be retained.  The new organisation that will manage the Public Forest Estate will therefore be able to work alongside the Forestry Commission and draw on their expertise.

Further details regarding the announcements that were presented to the Forum are contained in the full ‘One Year On’ report. This can be viewed at  http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-9frj9j 

Thanks to Margret Vince who attended the meeting for Save Sherwood Forest and Clive Coles from Save Sandlings Forest for his additional insights.

Your Views

If you have any comments or views on any of the above or would like to make an input into what we are doing please get in touch via this site’s contact form.

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