HANDS OFF OUR FOREST AND THE MAY 7, 2015 GENERAL AND COUNCIL ELECTIONS

HOOF is a grassroots mass movement and pressure group in the Forest of Dean which since late 2010 has fought off two attempts to change the law to allow privatisation and disposal, and we are fighting FOR new legislation and a charter to protect our Forest in Gloucestershire and the entire English Public Forest Estate.

HOOF is not a political party, nor is HOOF aiming for political power – HOOF’s role is more to guard our Forest from politicians who might collude in any sell-off or disposal attempt. HOOF is not FOR or AGAINST any political party – we envisage that we will need to be on our guard, and campaign when necessary, whichever party or coalition of parties is in Government, and the same goes for our local authorities (Forest of Dean District and Gloucestershire County councils).

Our experience since forming in October 2010 is that all too often politicians will not openly debate this cause, dear to every Forester’s (inhabitant and visitor) heart. Without political debate or drama, often the media will not cover the story… we have to make our protest as imaginative as possible to make the press, radio and TV sit up and take notice!

The lack of coverage in our mainstream media of HOOF issues, and also its self-imposed purdah during election campaigns, has spurred us on to create this special Election 2015 spin-off from the main HOOF website

Essentially HOOF is involved in two interlinked events:

1. Our Forest My Vote general election hustings event on Wednesday April 22 at the Forest Theatre, Five Acres College, near Coleford, from 6.30pm. There is no fixed entry charge, but please donate if you can to help cover the cost of the event and any future events (recommended £1 per person). Entry will be granted on a first-come basis (the venue holds 400 so we should be ok). Anyone who can’t get there will be able to listen online on Triangle Radio (details to follow).

The event will be chaired by the former Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones. Bishop James led the Independent Panel on Forestry, which visited the Forest of Dean in 2011 as its first port of call to gather evidence after being appointed by the Government to come up with recommendations for the future of public forests. Bishop James also led the Hillsborough Disaster inquiry.

Those confirmed for the panel (at time of writing and in alphabetical order):

Chris Coleman (Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate)
Rich Daniels (Hands Off Our Forest chairman)
James Greenwood (Green Party parliamentary candidate)
Steve Parry-Hearn (Labour Party parliamentary candidate)
Steve Stanbury (United Kingdom Independence Party parliamentary candidate)

The event starts at 6.30, when people are invited to submit questions for consideration. As we will be limited to time, we will select questions which are relevant to and cover the range of issues within that Big issue of the ‘Future of our Forest’.

One name is missing from that list – our current MP, Mark Harper (and Conservative Party parliamentary candidate). We are disappointed he has chosen not to attend and hope he will reconsider, as this is an important debate which all parties and candidates should be having.

Nevertheless, the show will go on with one regrettably empty chair, if we cannot persuade our MP to take part.

We hope Mr Harper and other candidates will consider participating in the second of HOOF’s Election 2015 initiatives…

2. Candidate pledges

More details here – responses will be published after April 20

HOOF is endeavouring to contact all candidates for parliamentary and district council election to ask if they will consider signing three pledges… that if elected they will back HOOF in campaigning for: a/ community representation in future forest management, a charter and new legislation to protect our Forest; b/ sufficient funding of the Forestry Commission; and c/ a special status for the Forest of Dean to protect its customary privileges, wildlife and landscapes.

[It should be stressed at this point that HOOF does not get involved in issues which are not pertinent to the actual Public Forest Estate areas of the Forest of Dean district (shaded in light green on OS maps).]

HOOF supports a public multipurpose forest that caters for all users and nature: a working forest that is also accessible to all.

HOOF welcomes debate and will answer any questions from candidates on our aims. We hope all will respond to our call for pledges, whether they agree with us or not. Those who have signed up will be publicised as HOOF Champions.

It is vital for us (HOOF and the people of the Forest of Dean) to have people fighting our corner in the House of Commons and council chamber. Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon has been brilliant in the House of Lords as a HOOF champion, and a few months ago we had confirmation that our Member of European Parliament, Molly Scott-Cato will support HOOF in Brussels.

Every piece of election material we have so far seen, from each party, promises to protect our Forest and not privatise it. This is of course welcome, but surely it is merely rhetoric if it is not backed up by open debate and engagement with the grassroots of the Forest? This is why we hope each candidate will engage with our pledges document, and explain to us their reasons why they will or won’t pledge to support our aims.

The responses from candidates we will make public record after April 20. If any candidate has not received the pledges document, please email info@handsoffourforest.org

The HOOF website now has a section where all the historical and recent documents between campaigners and Government are linked to, see here

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