Sticking solely to the facts, with as many sourced by links as possible, here HOOF attempts to answer the burning questions voters may have regarding each party’s conduct and that of individual politicians, local and national, including our district and parish councils, recently and during the past five years (and more).
1. In 2010/11, did the Government want to sell off the Forest of Dean?
The answer to this depends how precisely you define “sell off”. Although it might be said any transfer of ownership, whether to the private or charity sectors, by freehold or leasehold, has the same effect as a straight sale in stripping British citizens of their public ownership, the term used by the Government was “disposal”.
So did the Government want to “dispose” of the Forest of Dean? The answer is a definite YES: most of it to a charitable trust, with outlying woods to the west and north sold on the open market.
Woods such as Tidenham Chase, The Park, East Wood, Oakhill Wood, Ashwell Grove, Parson’s Allotment (in Tidenham area), Clanna (Alvington), Bearse, Slade (St Briavels), Coldwell and Common Grove (between Symonds Yat East and English Bicknor), Chase and Penyard woods (near Ross-on-Wye) were earmarked (in red, above) for sale on the open market as “small commercial woods”. These formed part of the 15% of public woodland in England that could, the Government believed, be sold between 2010-15 without the need to change the law. (HOOF and other forest campaigners eventually succeeded in getting all these sales cancelled).
The bulk of the Forest of Dean and Dymock Woods was designated “heritage forest” (in blue) by the Government. This meant they were destined to be taken over by an existing or new charitable organisation.
We wish to proceed with, to correctly use your word, very substantial disposal of public forest estate, which could go to the extent of all of it. As I said earlier, the precise detail of who it will go to and in what form is yet to be decided. ….
In order to have substantial disposal, we need to change the law. Our lawyers advise us that up to about 15% of the forest could be sold without risk of transgression of current legislation, which requires the Commission to own and manage the public estate. To get beyond that, we would need to change the law.
By this time, the Public Bodies Bill – which would allow Mr Paice or another minister to dispose of any or all of the English Public Forest Estate without consulting Parliament, and also repeal the Forestry Act 1967 (as amended in 1981) which protects the Forest of Dean from sale, had entered Parliament via the House of Lords, to be met with opposition led by Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon.
On 16/11/10, a meeting of the Environment, Forestry and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee confirmed the Public Bodies Bill would be a “once-and-for-all legislative permit, that you [Defra] will never again as a Department have to come back [to Parliament] for future sales of forestry or such”.
“We need to work through, in our forest consultation document, how to help civil society secure ownership of forestry that it desires to do.”
The committee chairman (Richard Drax) asked:
“How are they going to manage it as well as the Forestry Commission do now? In the sense that they’ve got their own lives to lead, they’re all busy people and suddenly they’ve got a great lump of forestry to maintain, which takes a lot of work.”
Mrs Spelman replied: “I imagine they would contract to do that.”
The Chair continued: “These local people, who are they and where will they get the money from?”
Senior Defra civil servant Peter Unwin replied: “We’ve had expressions of interest from environmental bodies, the Woodlands Trust and others who’d be interested in taking this on, on behalf of a local community. A local organisation could take it on with the community.”
2. Did the Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper vote for privatisation of the Forest of Dean?
The short answer is literally no, but effectively yes. There was no such vote in the House of Commons. The forestry elements of the Public Bodies Bill were withdrawn by the Government before the Bill reached the House of Commons.
However, while not speaking in a three-hour debate about Forestry in Parliament on 2/2/11, Harper voted AGAINST the Opposition’s motion calling on “the Government to rethink its decision on the sale of England’s public forest estate” (defeated by a majority of 50 MPs).
He then voted FOR an alternative Government statement which welcomed “the consultation proposals to guarantee the future protection of heritage forests by offering them charitable trust status”. This was carried by a majority of 48 MPs’ votes.
3. What did Mark Harper advocate?
Although there had been mention by the PM and Caroline Spelman that the National Trust or Woodland Trust might take over ‘heritage forests’, the Forest of Dean MP was attempting to persuade his electorate to consider the Forest of Dean to be sold or given to a local charitable trust yet to be formed.
Harper suggested during December 2010, in his column in The Forester newspaper and in leaflets distributed door-to-door in Coalway (see above), that the community should be given the opportunity “to own our Forest” by buying shares in a local charitable trust. The Forest Review newspaper quoted Alastair Fraser, then a Conservative district councillor, as saying he was prepared to run this trust. Existing Forestry Commission staff could be employed by the new trust, Fraser said.
HOOF was anonymously given a list of those poised to run the Trust – they included several local millionaires, including developers, asset-strippers and opencast mining interests.
At his public meeting at the Main Place, Coleford on 4/2/11, Harper said the Government would be prepared to give the Forest of Dean to the charitable trust, possibly on a lease, rather than sell it.
4. What happened next?
On 16/2/11 when asked by Labour leader Ed Miliband if he was happy with “the Government’s flagship policy on forests”, the Prime Minister replied “no”.
On 17/2/11, Environment secretary Caroline Spelman told Parliament:
“First, I have taken a decision to end the consultation on the future of the Public Forest Estate and I take full responsibility for that. I am doing so because it is quite clear from the early responses to the consultation that the public and many MPs are not happy with the proposals we set out.
“Second, the Government will support the removal of the forestry clauses from the Public Bodies Bill, currently at committee stage in the House of Lords.
“And thirdly I would like to announce that I am establishing an independent Panel to consider forestry policy in England. It will report to me with its findings this autumn. The Panel will advise me on the future direction of forestry and woodland policy in England, on the role of the Forestry Commission, and on the role of the Public Forest Estate. The Panel will include representatives of key environmental and access organisations alongside representatives of the forestry industry. I will shortly publish its membership and terms of reference.
“If there is one clear message from this experience, it is that people cherish their forests and woodlands and the benefits they bring. My first priority throughout this period of debate has been securing a sustainable future for our woodlands and forests. On many occasions in the House last autumn, Ministers gave assurances that our aim in all of this has been to do more to maintain and enhance the public benefits delivered by forestry – from recreational access to wildlife protection; from tackling climate change to sustaining a wide range of small businesses. That is why my ambition to provide a better future for our forests is undiminished.
“We have already heard positive suggestions about how we can do this – for heritage forests and all other woodlands. We have spoken to the RSPB, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust, the Wildlife Trusts, the Ramblers and other groups. The Forestry Commission has itself acknowledged that change is needed and will of course be fully engaged in this process going forward, as I know they have many ideas to contribute.
“We have also been listening to MPs on all sides of the House many of whom have set up their own initiatives with local groups. We want to support them in this.
“Finally, I am sorry, we got this one wrong, but we have listened to people’s concerns. I would like to thank colleagues for their support through what has been a difficult time. I now want to move forward in step with the public. I hope that the measures I have announced today, signalling a fresh approach, demonstrate my intention to do the right thing for our forests and woodlands.”
5. What did the Independent Panel on Forestry, which the Government appointed, recommend?
In July 2012, the IPF published its final report, which stated (page 9):
“We propose that the public forest estate should remain in public ownership, and be defined in statute as land held in trust for the nation. A Charter should be created for the English public forest estate, to be renewed every ten years. The Charter should specify the public benefit mission and statutory duties, and should be delivered through a group of Guardians, or Trustees, who will be accountable to Parliament. The Guardians will oversee the new public forest management organisation [PFE MO] evolved from Forest Enterprise England [Forestry Commission’s operational arm].”
“Within the ten-year terms of its charter, the [PFE MO] will be run independently from Government. It will not be subject to Government direction except in matters where it delivers international obligations on behalf of Government, or in cases where Parliament feels the body is acting outside, or failing to deliver, its ‘mandate’… The Charter will need to be accompanied by a framework agreement to ensure clear accountabilities and responsibilities.”
The Panel also stated that around £20 million was required to fund the English public forest estate per year, and this represented very good value for money, as it delivered in excess of £400 million per year in accountable benefits.
6. What was HOOF’s response to the Forestry Panel report?
In August 2012, HOOF published its response: “We support the proposed governance model: the Charter and Trustees appear to be an effective way of distancing the management and ownership of the PFE from the vagaries of politics, as has been the case for the past 90 years of the existence of the Forestry Commission.
We also support the proposal that the new management body should become self sufficient over time if this ensures its continuing independence.
However, we are concerned that the Report makes no distinction between forests. The Forest of Dean is an ancient, historic forest gifted by King George V to the people of the nation, and has many unique traditions and customs… It is important that the legislation creating the Charter provide for, and that the Charter itself (together with the framework agreement) contain provision for the protection and safeguarding of the Forest’s natural and cultural heritage.”
7. What was the Government’s response to the Panel report?
The short answer is that while the Government claimed it was following the Panel recommendations, HOOF’s interpretation was that they were being turned on their head.
Initially, the Government applauded the Panel report and confirmed woodlands would remain in public ownership, but in June 2013 it published its proposals, which included:
* New legislation for a Public Forest Estate Management Organisation to not only manage public woodlands but also own them, as a public corporation. HOOF believed that, as since the 1980s, many public corporations, from British Rail to Royal Mail, had been privatised, this model did not offer future security for the Forest of Dean not to be privatised.
* A Charter would only be adopted by the management board members after the new PFE MO was established by law, and the Charter would not be legally binding.
* The management board would be appointed by the Environment Secretary and this minister would be the only person with a veto on proposed sales or acquisitions and major decisions.
* Guardians – themselves appointed by the Minister rather than being elected as HOOF wanted – would not be charged with delivering the terms of the Charter but be an advisory body with no legal powers, described as “the conscience of the Public Forest Estate”.
Despite having a series of meetings with senior Defra and Forestry Commission officials, HOOF was never shown a draft of the Charter, nor proposed legislation. HOOF opposed the Government proposals and asked that the Independent Panel on Forestry’s clear recommendations be implemented instead.
Bishop James Jones of Liverpool concurred – his secretary confirmed in an email to HOOF chairman Rich Daniels:
“As Bishop James said when he met with you he would not be content with any proposals about the future of forestry which contradicted the recommendations of the Independent Panel. In particular the Bishop would be unhappy if the Government abandoned the proposal to establish a Parliamentary Charter, if it marginalised the proposed Guardians to the point that they become ineffectual, if it failed to establish a distance between the Government and the management and development of the Public Forest Estate.These were all key elements of the Panel’s report and recommendations.
The Government would be unwise to provoke a public reaction by failing to follow through on the Panel’s recommendations.”
Almost two years later, no draft legislation or Charter has been introduced, nor have the Panel recommendations been implemented. Meanwhile, an interim new management board has been appointed by the Forestry Commission, without any consultation with HOOF or other grassroots community forest groups.
8. Did the Government make a second attempt to dispose of parts of the Forest of Dean and Public Forest Estate?
In short, the Government insisted the intention of the Infrastructure Bill (now an Act) was not to do so, but HOOF successfully argued that proposals to allow the Homes & Communities Agency to act as a land disposal agent, transferring public land to developers, would allow this to happen in the future, whether or not it was this Government’s intention to do so.
Initially, the Government (represented by Liberal Democrat minister Baroness Kramer) said HOOF’s call for an exemption for the entire English Public Forest Estate would be “resisted”, but on 5/11/14, as HOOF was staging a lantern procession around Mallards Pike, in the House of Lords, faced with opposition from peers from the Labour, Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and crossbenchers, Government minister Lord Ahmad confirmed an exemption would be granted. In a further House of Lords debate on 19/11/14, the Government confirmed the exemption also applied to so-called “forest waste” as well as wooded areas of the Public Forest Estate.
9. Has Mark Harper during the past few years “worked closely with HOOF to ensure that their concerns have been passed on to ministers”, as he states on his website?
While HOOF has had a number of meetings with our MP to express our concerns, and that he may well have privately passed on our concerns to ministers, we would dispute that he has “worked closely” with HOOF.
Rather, Mr Harper has repeatedly passed on Government statements to HOOF which were already in the public domain and never discussed any lobbying he was doing on HOOF’s behalf.
He has said that as a member of the Government, he has had to lobby behind closed doors, and only revealed he has done so on two occasions in election leaflets, after the Government ditched its consultation on disposal on 17/2/11 and after the Government agreed to exempt forests from land transfer proposals in the Infrastructure Bill on 5/11/14. These results were only achieved after mass protests, letter-writing campaigns and representations in the House of Lords, led by Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon and backed by crossbenchers, including Bishops and other Labour peers.
Any role by the Forest of Dean MP in achieving these HOOF successes cannot be verified by HOOF. Lord Ahmad confirmed in the House of Lords on 5/11/14 he had spoken to Mark Harper, and David Cameron said he was aware of correspondence HOOF has had with Mark Harper, in a letter to HOOF dated 31/3/14.
10. What is the Conservative Party’s current position and proposals for the Forest of Dean and other public forests?
David Cameron confirms in his letter to HOOF:
“We remain committed to establishing a new, operationally-independent body that will ensure the Public Forest Estate is held in trust for the nation and managed for the long-term benefit of future generations, nature and the economy… I can assure you we are continuing to develop our plans for this new body… I understand that, although there are a few remaining points of disagreement [see above], significant progress was made through the discussions [between HOOF and Defra]… We intend to respect the current legal arrangements relating to the Forest of Dean.”
Mark Harper echoes Cameron’s statement, and pledges to:
“Retain the Public Forest Estate, including the Forest of Dean in public ownership.
The Forest of Dean-specific legislative provisions will remain in force under any new system, ensuring that the Forest of Dean’s special status is protected.
Continue to work on strengthening our tree health arrangements, bringing more woodland into active management, and continue to support thousands of acres of new tree planting.”
11. Do Harper’s pledges fulfil the three aims of HOOF, which all Parliamentary candidates except Harper have agreed to promote and support?
There is no mention of community representation, new legislation, future funding for the Forestry Commission and only a commitment to keep current legislation in force, including those governing freemining and the Forestry Act 1967/81.
12. Why is the current law not enough to protect the Forest of Dean?
The exemption made in 1981 for the Forest of Dean within the Forestry Act did not prevent the sell-off of Bircham Wood, near Coleford, in 2011, as the boundaries of the Dean were not defined within the law itself, and the Forestry Commission has stated (in emails to Dean Forest Voice) it is not legally obliged to swap any land it sells within the Statutory Forest of Dean for “land more suited to forestry purposes” but only may do so. This has enabled land unsuitable for forestry to be swapped in the Cinderford area.
And while freemining rights are protected by the Dean Forest (Mines) Act, there is no legal protection for commoning (the free grazing of animals), the Verderers, collection of firewood, and there are very few public rights of way registered within the Forest of Dean.
13. What was Labour’s record between 1997 to 2010 on forest sell-off?
The 1997 Labour Party manifesto stated it favoured “a moratorium on large-scale sales of Forestry Commission land”, and after the election increased the Forestry Commission budget to reduce the need to sell land. A new policy was introduced stating that the Forestry Commission could only sell land that was “surplus to requirements” and met various criteria.
No woodlands within the Forest of Dean were sold during the three Labour governments, but across England 12,120 hectares were sold and 5,400 hectares bought (a net loss of 6,720ha or 2.5% of the total, which is now in 2015 258,000ha).
A Labour government and council was in place when the South West Regional Development Agency proposed a “land swap” to allow part of the Statutory Forest of Dean between Steam Mills and the former Northern United colliery to be privatised and transferred to developers.
In 2006, the Forestry Commission also transferred 51% of the public ownership of its camping facilities (including the Christchurch, Woodlands and Bracelands campsites) to the Camping & Caravanning Club.
In 2008, the Labour Government launched an Operational Efficiency Programme, which would “consider, for a number of government assets, the potential for alternative business models, commercialisations, new market opportunities and, where appropriate, alternatives to public ownership.” But in response to press speculation that this might mean the sell-off of forests, the Government said that it remained “committed to a major public forest estate managed by the Forestry Commission in England. This is a key consideration and radical changes to this approach will not be considered. However some changes to the asset sale and re-investment programme will be investigated while remaining within this commitment”. This meant that there could be a move away from using the Public Forest Estate to grow timber.
In 2009, the Government carried out a review of the English Public Forest Estate and consultation. Only a draft report was published, because of the change in Government in May 2010. Its key findings were:
“The [Public Forest] Estate is seen to represent good value for money in providing multiple social and environmental benefits and there is a strong desire for the Estate to increase in size. In particular, expansion is sought to provide social benefits to urban populations and to protect areas with special characteristics.
Woodland creation and free public access remain top priorities. There is strong resistance to the Disposal Policy and concern over relinquishing
management to third parties, notably the private sector.
Public funding is seen as the basis for supporting the Estate. A diverse range of
commercial opportunities are supported, but with caveats centred on minimising the negative impacts of these on public benefits.”
14. What is the Labour Party’s current position and proposals for the Forest of Dean and other public forests?
Labour says it wants to expand the size of the English Public Forest Estate from 9.9% to 15% of woodland.
Party leader Ed Miliband confirmed in a letter to HOOF dated 30/3/15:
“The Labour Party is committed to keeping our forests in public ownership and putting in place safeguards to ensure that no one tries to sell it off again.”
While the Forest of Dean Labour candidate Steve Parry-Hearn has committed himself to supporting all of HOOF’s aims and stated he would be willing, if elected and if necessary, to rebel against his Party – and Baroness Royall has also promised to “be a complete pain to Ministers” if Labour is in Government after May 8, 2015, HOOF has a number of concerns raised by various meetings HOOF has had in the past year with Shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle, Shadow Forestry Minister Barry Gardiner (full summary here), and Shadow Defra Spokesman Huw Irranca-Davies. These include:
* No commitment to any funding for the Forestry Commission, but instead the establishment of an untried and untested new economic model based on Natural Capital Accounting.
* No commitment to a Charter, the establishment of Guardians and community representatives, nor new legislation as recommended by the Independent Panel on Forestry [see above]. Any new legislation would be unlikely to be introduced until the fourth year of Government, and the Minister wants to retain the sole decision-making responsibility over land sales, leases, acquisitions and future management.
* An indication the Public Forest Estate should move away from producing timber – with all felled conifer plantations replaced by native broadleaf species – and more towards nature and leisure. HOOF is concerned how this might effect the economy and forestry jobs long-term, as hardwood trees have a much longer life cycle. Britain already relies on 80% of its processed timber being imported.
The Forest of Dean Labour Party’s Local Manifesto, however, states:
“We pledge to safeguard our Forest for future generations in any way we are able…
Forest Labour respect HOOF’s determination to be non-party political, but this does not mean we are not committed at every level to achieve their aims. As Foresters’ and as Labour Party supporters of HOOF we will fight and win the protection of the Dean future generations deserve…
We – our prospective Forest Labour Parliamentary Candidate, Steve Parry-Hearn, Forest of Dean Constituency Labour Party as well as current and prospective District and County Councillors – pledge to support HOOF’s recommendations as declared in their 2011 ‘Submission to the Independent Panel on Forestry’…
Forest Labour will support and campaign for a permanent means of securing the public Forest.”
15. What about the Green Party?
On 14/12/10 the Green Party MP Caroline Lucas tabled an Early Day Motion:
“That this House is alarmed at the 25 per cent cut to the Forestry Commission announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review; opposes plans to sell off parts of the Public Forest Estate in England which could result in 30 million trees being cut down and job losses in England and Scotland; notes that the Forestry Commission in England manages 258,000 hectares of public forest, employing 856 people; further notes that the Commission manages the highest number of sites of special scientific interest, with 99 per cent. of these in favourable or recovering condition; regards forests as a priceless carbon storage resource and essential to the Government’s efforts to achieve climate change mitigation targets; is concerned that education courses and public health programmes would be inhibited by the sale of public forests; acknowledges that public rights of way are lost under private ownership of former Forestry Commission land; further notes that at 9 per cent. the level of forestation in England is one of the lowest in Europe and that 69 per cent. of forest is already privately-owned; further notes that hits on the Forestry Commission Trades Union’s website increased by 560 per cent. to 80,000 per month after this cut was announced; and calls on the Government to bring forward proposals to amend the Public Bodies Bill [Lords] to remove this threat to forests.”
And on 26.6.12, Lucas tabled another Early Day Motion on behalf of HOOF and other forest campaign groups:
“That this House notes that the Independent Panel on Forestry is due to publish its report and recommendations to Government on the future of our public woods in early July; believes that public ownership of the Public Forest Estate must be secured through new legislation; and further believes that the rich cultural, historical and natural diversity of our forests and woods, and full access to them, is best protected under the continued stewardship of the Forestry Commission, fully resourced to sustainably manage and expand our multi-purpose Public Forest Estate now and in the future.”
Neither EDM attracted enough support to be debated by Parliament.
The Green Party South West Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Molly Scott-Cato has visited the Forest of Dean twice to meet with HOOF, before and after she was elected (in 2014). She pledged to champion HOOF’s aims in the European Parliament.
James Greenwood, the Green Party’s Parliamentary candidate for the Forest of Dean has been a member of HOOF’s steering group since it was formed in November 2010 and has pledged to be a HOOF Champion, if elected. So have many of the Green council candidates.
“Demand implementation of the Independent Forestry Report recommendations and continue to support HOOF in any way we can to bring lasting protection to Dean.”
16. What about the Liberal Democrats?
HOOF and the Lib Dems, locally and nationally, have had a chequered relationship since late 2010.
The Liberal Democrat peer and Defra backbencher, Lord Greaves, has supported HOOF on several occasions. He agreed to when lobbied in Westminster by a HOOF-district council delegation, and helped arrange HOOF’s first meetings with senior Government officials, and also spoke in favour of an exemption for the Public Forest Estate in the Infrastructure Bill in November 2014.
Other Liberal Democrat peers, including Dame Shirley Williams and Baron Phillips of Sudbury, also supported Baroness Royall and HOOF in the same House of Lords debate on 5.11.14.
In 2013, the Lib Dem Forestry minister David Heath (pictured, above), on a visit to the Forest of Dean, promised HOOF he would do all he could to protect our Forest. However, he was shortly afterwards replaced as minister by fellow Lib Dem, Dan Rogerson (left), who has not visited the Forest of Dean and has made no commitments.
The Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate, Chris Coleman, has signed HOOF’s three pledges to be a HOOF Champion, if elected.
At the time of writing, however, no Liberal Democrat district council candidate has signed HOOF pledges or responded to our call for pledges. Sue Henchley, candidate for Mitcheldean and Drybrook, told HOOF at the Mitcheldean Annual Parish Meeting on 21.4.15 that she and her colleagues had not responded or signed because they believed that HOOF was against tree-felling. She was assured HOOF is not, and has never been, opposed to tree felling.
17. And UKIP?
UKIP’s Forest of Dean parliamentary candidate Steve Stanbury has signed HOOF’s pledges and so have many of its candidates for Forest of Dean District Council.
In one leaflet, Forest of Dean UKIP declared itself “100% behind HOOF”. A letter from Nigel Farage’s office said that in the event of UKIP joining any Government, the Party would be prepared to “negotiate” with HOOF.
There is no obvious reference to the HOOF cause in UKIP’s local manifesto, but Awre council candidate Roger Wilkinson has written a blog about his support for HOOF.
18. So with all political parties declaring they will keep forests in public ownership, is the charitable trust model now dead in the water?
It seems not. In 2012 British Waterways was converted into the Canal & River Trust, and English Heritage relaunched as a charity on April 1, 2015.
HOOF has been told by both Liberal Democrat Forestry Minister Dan Rogerson and Labour’s Huw Irranca-Davies that they considered charitable trusts a good future model worth considering for forests. The Coalition government’s Defra officials have also suggested a charitable trust model for forests to HOOF and other forest campaigners in meetings as recently as 2015.
At this stage we should make it clear – HOOF remains as implacably opposed to charitable trust ownership or management as we were in 2011. Ask yourself… after paying your entrance fee to National Trust properties, for example, do you feel as if it genuinely belongs to you and the NT is just the custodian rather than a powerful corporate entity? HOOF would view any move to a charitable trust, however much it was said to be acting on behalf of the nation, as alienation from public ownership.
And is the Forest of Dean still at risk of disposal or privatisation?
Yes. Despite claims to the contrary by the Coalition Government, this is already under way.
For full details of this backdoor move towards privatisation, see this comprehensive document assembled by Essex campaigner Shirley Martin, who doggedly pursued Freedom of Information requests in search of the inside story… see the summary right near the end of the document for a quick peek at just how bad a deal this is, for the people AND the Forestry Commission.
In 2012, Forest Holidays split into two. One half, Camping In The Forest, focused on tents and caravan holidays, remained a partnership of 51% Caravan & Camping Club and 49% Forestry Commission. The remainder of Forest Holidays, now exclusively involved in building luxury log cabins, now 80 per cent belongs to Lloyds Development Capital (LDC), a private equity subsidiary of Lloyds Banking Group, with the Forestry Commission only holding on to 20%. The Christchurch site closed for tents and caravans (now confined only to Bracelands) and LDC was granted a 125-year lease to develop log cabin accommodation at Christchurch. On 17.3.15, following a question by Baroness Royall, the Government’s Lord de Mauley confirmed that LDC could sell on its leasehold to any other private company, and the Forestry Commission as a minority partner, lose its shares. It would thus be wholly privatised.
There may be other leaseholds mooted.
Every leasehold granted by the Forestry Commission is a piecemeal disposal of our public Forest land
19. Has Forest of Dean District Council supported HOOF?
Only at the start.
FODDC voted to support HOOF in December 2010. In 2011, it chose Andrew Gardiner (Independent, Lydbrook & Ruardean) to be its Forest Champion, but stripped him of the title in 2012 when he continued to oppose the Cinderford Northern Quarter development. The Standards Committee proceeded to strip him of all his committee roles in 2014 for continuing to oppose the CNQ and councillors even reported him to the police for allegedly interfering with newt traps (he was cleared by police of any wrongdoing, but will not be apparently by the council).
In 2014, HOOF only received a handful of responses after appealing to all councillors to back our fight for an exemption in the Infrastructure Bill. A motion calling for the council’s support against the land transfer proposals involving the Homes & Communities Agency tabled by HOOF steering group member and councillor Jackie Fraser (Labour, Mitcheldean & Drybrook) was withdrawn (see Item 8.1) after she failed to get any support from her Party in bringing it forward, meaning there was no debate permitted in the council chamber.
In December 2010, however, the Government proposals to dispose of the Forest of Dean were debated to the extent that the full council had to meet twice on various motions.
The first motion, debated on 2.12.10, was from then-Independent councillor Marion Winship (now Conservative, Alvington, Aylburton & West Lydney), seconded by Philip Burford (Independent, Hartpury):
‘This council is very concerned by the Government’s stated intention of selling off up to 50 per cent of publicly owned forest land, currently run by Forest Enterprise, which is likely to lead to greater commercial exploitation and possibly reduced access. In view of this,
1) This Council will write to both DEFRA and the Secretary of State for the Environment expressing our grave concern at the proposed sale and asking for assurances that a full and complete public consultation will take place within this District and be heeded before the Public Bodies Bill is introduced in the House of Commons.
2) This council will support and defend the historic rights, traditions and privileges of the public within the Forest of Dean.
3) Furthermore, this council will take every possible action to prevent the privatisation of any publicly owned forestry land in the Forest of Dean’.
[It should be noted that neither councillors Winship or Burford have signed the HOOF pledges to date to Champion HOOF if re-elected, nor have responded, nor did they respond to HOOF in 2014].
The then-council leader Peter Amos (Conservative, Awre – but now no longer a councillor), seconded by Len Lawton (Conservative, Newent Central) proposed a watered-down amendment to Winship’s motion:
“This council is opposed to any selling off of forest land that would compromise the protection of our most valuable and biodiverse forest and lead to greater commercial exploitation and possibly reduced access
1) This council will write to Secretary of State for the Environment expressing the sentiments above and asking for assurances that a full and complete public consultation take place within this District and be heeded…”
[It should be noted that Lawton has not responded to HOOF letters in 2014 or 2015].
Amos’s amended motion won by 23 to 21.
The following candidates standing in this election (in brackets the party and ward they are standing for on May 7) ultimately supported Amos’s substantive motion, which did not oppose the Government’s forests sell-off plan:
Carole Allaway Martin (Conservative, Coleford Central)
Grace Bensted (Conservative, Cinderford East)
James Bevan (Conservative, Lydney East)
Philip Burford (Independent, Hartpury)
David Easton (Conservative, Coleford East)
Diana Edwards (Conservative, Pillowell)
Frankie Evans (Conservative, Alvington, Aylburton & West Lydney)
Terry Hale (Conservative, Newland & St Briavels)
Jane Horne (Conservative, Tibberton)
Len Lawton (Conservative, Newent Central)
Patrick Molyneux (Conservative, Hewelsfield & Woolaston)
Alan Preest (UKIP, Lydney North – then an Independent councillor)
Brian Robinson (Conservative, Mitcheldean & Drybrook)
Marrilyn Smart OBE (Conservative, Christchurch & English Bicknor)
Roger Yeates (Conservative, Bromsberrow & Dymock)
HOOF received no responses from any of the above to its email appealing for support in 2014. In April 2015, HOOF has received responses (but not HOOF pledges) from Molyneux, Robinson and Horne, while Alan Preest has signed up to be a HOOF champion (he was not contacted in 2014, as he was not then a district councillor).
An amendment by Sue Henchley (Liberal Democrat, Mitcheldean & Drybrook), seconded by Heather Dalziel (Liberal Democrat, Mitcheldean & Drybrook) which stated, was defeated by the same councillors (minus Burford and Preest):
“The Forest of Dean District Council write to the Secretary of State for the Environment and state that,
‘In view of the fact that the rights held by the people of the Forest of Dean District are not legal, but are customary privileges recognised by the Forestry Commission, it would be impossible to protect these rights in perpetuity. The Forest of Dean District Council therefore calls on the Minister to recognise the unique situation of the Forest of Dean and exclude its sale from the Public Bodies Bill’.”
Horne withdrew her tabled motion:
“That this council does everything in its power to resist any sell off or encroachments of any part of our Forest ‘The Forest of Dean’.”
On 8.12.10 the full council reconvened to consider two motions.
“To avoid attempts which could lead to Privatisation of the Royal Forest of Dean – this Council should do everything in its power to consolidate and enhance the exemption from sale pertaining to the Statutory Forest of Dean and the protected contiguous woodlands of Highmeadow, Clearwell and Hope. Furthermore, because an enabling bill would empower ministers to act unilaterally and remove effective parliamentary scrutiny, this Council should seek to extend and consolidate the protective designation of the Forest, afforded by Section 39 (2A) of the Forestry Act 1967.
Therefore this Council to;
Write to Mark Harper MP and Prime Minister David Cameron MP, and electronically copy; the Secretary of State, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon; Members of Parliament; Member of the House of Lords and all local authorities, requesting their urgent action and support to exempt the Royal Forest of Dean from Clause 17 of the Public Bodies Bill, and,
For a deputation of Member’s representatives from All Groups and Officer/s and co-opted expert/s to visit and meet with those engaged in the Public Bodies Bill passing through the Lords and Commons, namely to include Lord Taylor and the Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman before the Bill is introduced in the House of Commons.
For the Solicitor of the Council to coordinate matters included in bullet point 2 and the Head of Paid Services to co-ordinate matters included in bullet point 1.”
Gardiner’s motion for a deputation was eventually carried by 21 to 20, with all the candidates listed above voting against it except Preest, Burford and Hale who voted for it. Gardiner also responded to HOOF’s appeal for help in 2014, and has signed the HOOF pledges in April 2015.
Bruce Hogan (Labour, Lydbrook & Ruardean), seconded by Di Martin (Labour, Cinderford West) tabled a motion for the council to support HOOF:
“This council believes that the publicly owned woodlands currently managed by the Forestry Commission are a precious national asset
This council aligns itself with the local campaign to prevent the sale or transfer of ownership of the Forest of Dean, (Hands Off Our Forest), and invites our Member of Parliament to a meeting with all elected members so that there can be a full and frank exchange of views.”
Stephens proposed, and Gardiner seconded, a “friendly amendment”, agreed to by Hogan and Martin, that:
“Furthermore this council makes clear that in its stated opposition to privatisation of any publicly owned forest land in the Forest of Dean, privatisation means the transfer of the ownership of forest land to any body or organisation other than a public body under the control of a democratically elected government of the United Kingdom.”
They and all candidates/councillors listed above on the first vote voted for the removal of these words defining public ownership, except Preest and Burford. Lawton and Bensted’s amendment was lost by 19 to 21.
The only candidate standing in this election to ultimately vote against the Hogan/Martin/Stephens/Gardiner motion was Hale. The result was 26 for and 6 against supporting HOOF and the definition of privatisation.
Councillors Allaway Martin and Grace Bensted abstained from the vote.
[It should be noted that Di Martin but not Hogan responded to HOOF’s call for help in 2014, but both candidates signed HOOF pledges in April 2015].
20. Which parish councils in the Forest of Dean district declared full support for HOOF in 2014?
HOOF is happy to visit any parish councils in the Forest of Dean district if invited to present the latest information from our campaign, and happy to update levels of support if contacted by a parish clerk to confirm full support or a change in position, after May 8.
There are parish and town council elections taking place on May 7 in several towns and parishes, but most are uncontested.
None of the councils visited by representatives from HOOF expressed opposition, and 12 declared their full support for HOOF and our campaign aims. Eight councils also offered financial and/or lobbying assistance.
HOOF’s presentations changed after June following the introduction of the Infrastructure Bill to Parliament and the failure of Government to introduce draft forestry legislation in the June 4 Queen’s Speech. Between March and end of May, our presentations focused on our call for new legislation based on the Independent Panel for Forestry’s recommendations, to protect forests.
* denotes annual town/parish meetings, where members of the public were also present
Newent – March 17*
Cinderford – April 8
Mitcheldean – April 8*
Lydney – April 14
English Bicknor – May 12*
Lydbrook – May 12
West Dean – May 21*
Drybrook – June 17
Coleford – June 24
Ruardean – June 24
Soudley and Ruspidge – July 8
Kempley – July 10
Littledean – July 14
Newland – July 29
Meetings not attended:
Westbury-on-Severn – full support (confirmed in email)
Tidenham – declined presentation
Dymock – no response to emails
Newnham-on-Severn – no response to emails
Full support confirmed for HOOF:
Financial and/or lobbying assistance offered/ given: