Lack of a Forestry Bill – a HUGE Disappointment.
We were extremely disappointed that after a concerted attempt to lobby the Prime Minister, members of the Cabinet and key MPs there was no mention of a Forestry Bill in the Queen’s Speech. Our disappointment was matched by our surprise that this Government missed an opportunity to do something green for a change – something that, based on the outcry in 2010 and the amount of public support for the PFE, would have been a very popular action. This sentiment was widespread through the Forest Campaigns Network, many of whom campaigned as hard as we did in the run up to 4 June.
The press release can be found here. There was little take up by local print media, but we did manage to get a piece on BBC Radio Nottingham.
We have spoken with personnel from the Forestry Commission (FC) and DEFRA who insist that government is still committed to legislation that will protect the PFE from privatisation and provide it with a basis of proper financial support. Both FC and DEFRA think that the lobbying has had a positive impact and they are keen to keep this issue high on the agenda so that the next administration will take it up in 2015.
However, at the end of the Queen’s Speech she says that other measures, not mentioned in the speech, may be put before parliament and there has been talk within the Forest Campaign Network of making a push to get legislation brought forward later this year. There has also been discussion about using the opportunity of a Private Members Bill to promote a Forestry Bill. On the face of it this seems quite attractive, but it might not be such a wise move. If we’re successful and Government do take it up later in the year and the Bill falters, through lack of time, before the end of this Parliament it may be seen as a less attractive proposition for the new government post the general election: a new government may see it as the previous administration’s business and not want to take it up to completion.
Perhaps a better move will be to try to influence all the major parties to include the promise of a Forestry Bill in their General Election Manifesto and for it to be included in their first Queen’s Speech and business session.
This issue has been raised by Hands Off Our Forest (HOOF – Forest of Dean). It is going through Parliament at the moment and could be one of the reasons why there was no Forestry Bill in the Queen’s Speech. This may be a tad cynical, but HOOF write:
‘…the Bill proposes that the Secretary of State can hand over any amount of public land to the arms-length, non-departmental government body, the Homes & Communities Agency. This agency can then dispose of it to developers. There will be no need to go through local authority planning processes – the Secretary of State can give the green light without any local politicians or planners’ involvement, just by consulting a panel of two people. As for public rights of way, the proposed law allows any of them to be extinguished. There is no need for permission for easements (i.e. roads, power-lines, railways. drilling, tunnels, etc). And any existing laws that protect land and prevent it being built on, appear to be overridden by one simple enabling clause.’
The Crown Estates are the biggest landowner and they apparently have been put outside the scope of the Bill. However, there is no such protection for the second biggest holder of public land – yes, you guessed it – The Public Forest Estate.
A petition has been started by a HOOF supporter on 38 Degrees. If it gets enough signatures, the team at 38 Degrees may take it up and spread it around more: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/infrastructure-bill-allows-ministers-to-sell-off-public-land.
Please support this initiative and spread the word. It would be really good to know if you have.
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