PUBLIC DEBATE: WHAT OUR NEXT MP & OTHER CANDIDATES SAID

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TRANSCRIPTS AND LINKS TO FOOTAGE AND AUDIO FROM CANDIDATES FURTHER DOWN…

Quick summary: HOOF has four out of five candidates signed up to three pledges: to promote and support public ownership and community involvement; adequate public funding for the Forestry Commission; and special status for the Forest of Dean. The Conservative candidate, Mark Harper, is the only candidate not to have signed pledges, but is pledging to keep the Forest of Dean in public ownership.

But there is still lots to debate, and differing views, on issues such as current threats to public ownership from long-term leasings of public Forest land, the need for legislation to protect our Forest – to waterproof it against future privatisation – and a Parliamentary Charter with management  overseen and delivered by Foresters/ the Forest community and its diverse users… to ultimately strive for a Forest where nature, people and economy have equal weight, and none is at the expense of the other.

Over the course of three hustings events, we still haven’t managed to debate or discuss the future of public funding – which we see as a vital issue – nor what should be in the Charter, and lots of other things…

And  at our Our Forest My Vote general election hustings event on Wednesday April 22 at the Forest Theatre, Five Acres College, near Coleford, Bishop James travelled down from York to chair the event, but it took place with one empty seat. Mark Harper declined our invite on the grounds that he had decided not to attend any “single-issue” hustings events. The Conservative candidate’s letter of explanation is included at the bottom of this page.

Feedback we have received so far suggests people thought it a debate worth having, and the Rt Rev James Jones was an excellent debate chair.

Mark Harper has been emailed the questions that were asked and says he will look at them and respond if he finds time in his busy schedule. At the time of writing, two days before the polling stations opened, Mr Harper has not responded so regrettably we are obliged to reproduce the debate and key issues without this candidate’s input: including defining sustainable development, how guardians or community representatives might be selected or elected within any new public forest management structure, the thorny issue of Cinderford Northern Quarter, mess left in our Forest by private contractors and Forestry Commission lack of response to debris and damage, the prospect of nuclear waste dumping and the privatisation threat of the EU-US TTIP trade deal proposal.

Triangle Radio has done a fantastic job broadcasting the event and editing it into segments on its website. Listen here for the full quotes – much of it transcribed below.

The Cinderford Churches Hustings at St Stephen’s Church was the first event bringing all five candidates together on April 16 and here they gave their initial answers as to whether they would sign HOOF’s pledges. All parts of the debate which touched on HOOF from the Churches hustings have been transcribed (see quite a bit further below), while each question and answer can be heard on Triangle Radio’s Podcast page, below the Our Forest My Vote Q&A recordings.

BBC Radio Gloucestershire recorded as live a debate at Cinderford Miners’ Welfare Hall featuring all five candidates on April 28, which was broadcast on April 29 at noon. You can listen again here until the end of May.

For posterity HOOF has transcribed the 20-minute debate, which was excellently facilitated by the BBC’s David Smith. All the text is left up (colour-coded for party) for context (SEE BELOW THE ‘OUR FOREST MY VOTE’ QUOTES, ALSO COLOUR-CODED)

ON LACK OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND LACK OF PROTECTION FOR GREEN SPACES IN CINDERFORD NORTHERN QUARTER

0cnqSTEVE STANBURY: I’m not sure I understand every aspect of the question. We clearly have an acute housing shortage in this country. We, UKIP, have pledged to build 200,000 new homes a year and we want to see a brownfield revolution in this country, and use those sites in towns and near towns that are appropriate for housing. We believe, where appropriate, there should be local referendums. The reason we have such an acute shortage of housing is because of 13 years of unchecked immigration…

STEVE PARRY-HEARN: This has been a hugely divisive issue – not just between parties but within parties too. And I think it’s time we revisit this with all the public stakeholders involved – get it on the table again and discuss what can we do to develop the Northern Quarter in the most appropriate way possible. I don’t think the original plan is appropriate any longer, I don’t think it is fit for purpose any longer. I think it’s time for us to wipe the slate clean and revisit the plan and talk to all the groups, and take a sincere consultation on it and say, “right, what is it that we need, what do we have, what can we put right, and what can we protect?”.

JAMES GREENWOOD: It’s old thinking, it’s 1980s regeneration thinking, more houses, a hotel, and a college, and I think it’s been – as he said – extremely divisive and it’s been extremely wasteful of public resources, I think £14.7 million has been spent on not very much. So many people feel it’s the wrong development in the wrong place and we have been under an avalanche of planning applications across the Forest.

CHRIS COLEMAN: If there are housing difficulties in the Forest of Dean I don’t think that’s got anything to do with immigrants, and I’m afraid giving that answer just misses the point entirely. [STEVE STANBURY: 300,000 people per year come to our country, and not one of them needs a house?]... Time and time again, we will speak to people who say “where are my children going to live, where are my grandchildren going to live” and they’re people who have lived here for generations who want their children, their grandchildren, to have a future in the Forest of Dean. For that to happen, there does have to be new-build housing… In terms of the Cinderford Northern Quarter, the biggest issue I have with the “we need to go back to the drawing board and talk about it again” is when is this ever going to resolve itself in a decision? If we are going to be looking at developing brownfield sites, this part of Cinderford – which I think has been crying out for regeneration on behalf of local people – if a decision is not made and work isn’t started, it never will be. So that’s why I’m concerned that we can’t both say “there’s a real desperate need for jobs and housing in the Forest of Dean for Foresters” while saying “well this scheme can’t happen, let’s put it off for another five or 10 years”.

RICH DANIELS: Steve [Parry-Hearn] is right, this is a very controversial subject. So much so that we took an early decision within HOOF that we would remain neutral on it, because potentially it could split the HOOF group. And that’s the truth. So we said we have to concentrate on protecting the Public Forest Estate in its whole and unfortunately we said other groups will have to put forward their opinion on the Cinderford Northern Quarter. So it would be remiss of me to actually comment on it, much as I’d like to! But just a reminder generally that we are talking about developments on the Public Forest Estate, so if anyone’s not clear about, that is what we’re talking about, this is public forest land that will go forward into this development.

JILL RAYMOND (AUDIENCE MEMBER ASKING QUESTION): One of the key problems is that it’s not been called a green field site when 30 years ago it was a grey site, but now it really isn’t. I was at the Dean Natural Alliance Annual Meeting last night where I learnt that the eviction of the newts and the invertebrates taking place this winter – over 10,000 newts have been gathered up, and there is nowhere to put them. They are not going to be allowed to be put in any other place in the Linear Park because that would totally disrupt the balance of the ecosystem, so they are applying for a licence, I believe, to chop down a load of trees so they create a new habitat for these 10,000 invertebrates to be put into…


NUCLEAR WASTE DUMPING (LAW WAS CHANGED ON LAST DAY OF PARLIAMENT WHICH MEANS HIGH-LEVEL NUCLEAR WASTE CAN BE DUMPED ANYWHERE WITHOUT PERMISSION REQUIRED)

0nuclearwasteSTEVE STANBURY: If our Forest was chosen as a nuclear waste disposal site, would I support that – absolutely not. That would be quite inappropriate and contrary to everything we stand for. Nuclear waste is of course a very important thing, and a very important issue… Clearly nuclear energy, which is a clean, good source of energy, should be part of that balanced mix. But of course it does need to be disposed of responsibly and safely… but is the Forest of Dean a suitable place, absolutely no. [BISHOP: If it’s got to be disposed of somewhere, then where?] Obviously there are sites that are appropriate, are suitable, that aren’t near centres of population and aren’t ancient, native protected forests. The people who are shouting “where?” I would say are advocates of disposing nuclear waste in the Forest. I am absolutely not. I believe there are places that are appropriate, where we can and do bury nuclear waste. That is not, and would not be, the Forest of Dean.

STEVE PARRY-HEARN: I am not pro-nuclear. I believe the way forward is renewables all the way. We do not dispose of nuclear waste in the Forest of Dean. It’s bad enough that it’s over in Oldbury. It’s going to be there for thousands of years because that’s how long it takes to deplete. It simply isn’t appropriate. It simply is terrifying to me… I would be sitting in front of the crane to stop them [dumping waste]. I am absolutely infuriated at the idea that anybody would bring any of that filth into the Forest of Dean… Over my dead body. [BISHOP: What renewables and where would you put them?] I had an idea about 10 years ago and that was to place vertical axis wind turbines within existing pylons. We can be innovative. Let’s use our imaginations – let’s think about what we can do to generate electricity. The industrial units and public buildings have big roofs – let’s put photovoltaic cells on those roofs. In South Korea I’ve seen the central reservation of a motorway is covered in solar panels. Let’s be innovative. I want the Forest of Dean to be a centre of excellence and centre of manufacturing of renewable technologies.

JAMES GREENWOOD: They tried to bribe Cumbria and it was thrown out by the council. So they’re trying a different tack which was to impose it on us. Luckily I think we’re ok in the Forest, I don’t think this is the place where they will try it. The amount of stuff knocking around is ridiculous and the cost of disposing of it – no one knows what it is. If elected I would do everything in my power to get that clause withdrawn from the Bill. Renewables are not regarded as being part of national infrastructure as nuclear is, and I think there is an issue with this because there has been a massive failing in investment in the grid, particularly by the privatised electric companies, which we have problems connecting sufficient renewables into the grid. [BISHOP: What renewables, where would those renewables go within the constituency?] There’s a very interesting report coming out tomorrow, being launched in Bristol – it’s applicable to the South West, but is going to say all our power could be produced by renewables. We have an abundance here – we have tidal lagoons, we have turbines, we have long rotational coppicing. We’re very clear in the Forest that it should be a working forest. That means we grow things and we use them, and part of that use would be in generating energy.

CHRIS COLEMAN: If I was the Member of Parliament I would oppose any suggestion the Forest of Dean be used for dumping. It would stick in my throat that the Secretary of State can impose his or her will without any right of appeal… In terms of nuclear, five years ago I was wholeheartedly opposed to nuclear. My view has changed somewhat. As concerned I am about nuclear, the cost and the risk, there is one thing that concerns me more, and that is the inability to generate our power given the uncertainty of the world in which we live in. So that is what changed my view somewhat that there may be a place for nuclear within the make-up of our energy production. That said, the starting point is being strongly in favour of renewable resources. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be building on the opportunities of tidal power, of solar, of wind. Wind turbines, some members of the public, would say look ugly. And I know in Mitcheldean there’s been a lot of disquiet about the application for the PV scheme on the industrial site. But if you’re going to say you’re in favour of renewables, they’ve got to go somewhere. So absolutely I’m in favour of using the tops of buildings for PV schemes. [BISHOP: Where would you see this nuclear energy being generated and the waste being buried?] I have significant concerns about Oldbury… as to where the waste goes at the end of its life, that is something I’m struggling with, I’m absolutely grappling with. I can’t provide you an answer on that aside from saying there are some current sites where it’s happening already and I guess the only thing is to ensure those sites are regulated properly. But apart from that, I can’t answer.

RICH DANIELS: HOOF doesn’t have a view on nuclear but… we had to fight really hard as HOOF to remove public forest land from the Infrastructure Bill… And I have to say as a freeminer I have a really big interest in whether nuclear waste is buried in the Forest of Dean because I’m going to be down there with it.


DEFINITIONS OF APPROPRIATE AND INAPPROPRIATE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT WITHIN OUR PUBLIC FOREST

STEVE PARRY-HEARN: What I would define sustainable development as is where the resources which you can use can be replaced, unsustainable development is where you use resources and then it is lost forever… We [Labour] are pushing for more and more rural development that is sustainable.

JAMES GREENWOOD: You’ve got to look at what is good for people, what is good for the environment and what is good for the economy in terms of development. You have to look at all that and decide, case by case, which developments do and don’t work. I think there are huge opportunities for the Forest in terms of timber production, rotational coppicing for heating etc, for the processing of wood. However I would like to say in terms of things like an expansion of the Dilke, although potentially at the cost of some of the acreage of the Public Forest Estate, would be very good for us in the Forest.

CHRIS COLEMAN: There are fantastic opportunities now to build eco-homes, houses that are really effective to be insulated, so they use less power, or indeed houses that come with solar panels pre-fitted.

STEVE STANBURY: My definition of sustainable is something that is in keeping with the ethos of the people around it and the public sentiment. In the Forest of Dean that means anything that is compatible with the public forest, that is an asset for not only those of us who live here, but for people who visit the Forest for tourism – and let’s not forget that over 50% of our local economy here in the Forest of Dean is tourism-dependent. Therefore that means nothing that is going to harm that industry, that resource, and that means the Forest itself. I believe that the proposed extension of the quarry here, the massive extension, is quite incompatible and I have put on record that I would be opposed to that. Some things in life, in society, are worth more than money, and other values and freedoms.

RICH DANIELS: This is something we really need to think very hard about. The Statutory Forest is only here now because we and other past generations, Verderers and other campaign groups, have fought for it. We must be very careful we don’t start to… the Statutory Forest is like the Forester’s Egg, and once they prick it they’ll start to suck out the middle, and we need to be very careful about that with developments around the edge of the Forest and to make sure that at least one oasis of green – the Forest of Dean – remains sacrosanct.

COLIN EVERS (AUDIENCE MEMBER WHO ASKED QUESTION): The modern definition of sustainable development is that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations.

RISKS OF THE EU-US TRADE DEAL TTIP (TRANSATLANTIC TRADE AND INVESTMENT PARTNERSHIP) IMPOSING PRIVATISATION

CHRIS COLEMAN: My response is against.

STEVE STANBURY: TTIP is one of those myriad pieces of legislation and treaties being dealt with by the European Parliament rather than our British Parliament… UKIP has led the way in being opposed to it. It would enforce privatisation in the Forest and in our NHS. We as a nation state should be allowed to pass and make our own laws.

JAMES GREENWOOD: We have been implacably opposed to TTIP right from the start. We have our excellent MEP Molly Scott-Cato who is working against it. The idea that the legislation we can make can be overturned by the lawyers of their corporate clients is to me an absolute disgrace, so we’re against it.

STEVE PARRY-HEARN: Completely against. I think it is a massive threat to the NHS and other organisations. I do not think it is appropriate that private companies can sue governments across the EU and across the Atlantic because that is effectively what it is. Our [Labour’s] own MEP Claire Moody is also fighting TTIP.


IMMEDIATE STOP OF SALES OF ALL PUBLIC FOREST LAND BEFORE NEW LEGISLATION IS WRITTEN AND INTRODUCED?

JAMES GREENWOOD: Absolutely there should be an immediate moratorium.

CHRIS COLEMAN: I would want to see further details of what is in the pipeline – the starting principle is being wholeheartedly against sales of public forest land, so instinctively I would be with you on that.

STEVE STANBURY: No Forest privatisation now, no Forest privatisation in the future.

STEVE PARRY-HEARN: Yes I would support your stand.

RICH DANIELS: I have learned in dealings with senior civil servants over the years, you have to be careful about what you say: the land isn’t being sold, it’s being leased. But if we’re concerned a 125-year lease is a disposal. But I’m just warning you have to be very careful how you phrase your words, because they’ll say “yes we agree with that” and then they’ll give somebody a 125-year lease.


HOW WOULD FUTURE MANAGEMENT STRUCTURE AND GUARDIANS WORK?

CHRIS COLEMAN: As a resident here I guess you’re looking for is some kind of community representation in the management, and that’s rooted in some kind of process that allows the community to choose the person or people involved, and much as you might say you don’t want politicians involved, we would hope there would be some means of you reporting back.

JAMES GREENWOOD: We in the Green Party were talking about guardians back in 1990, we actually called them co-ordinators. We would be extremely concerned if the minister responsible for the PFE was appointing the guardians him or herself because he or she would almost certainly appoint some senior forestry people which have a major role to play in management but not necessarily at guardian level and senior figures from NGOs who often have their own particular agenda when it comes to the PFE and we don’t trust to think holistically for the nation as a whole. So we are keen on guardians being community representatives. There are several groups around the country, much like in the Forest of Dean, who would have a good stock of candidates that could be brought forward, and we’d like to see them elected.

STEVE PARRY-HEARN: I can tell you who I think shouldn’t be involved and that would be your MP. My personal view is the guardians as is recommended, appointed, but the people who decide who would be the guardians would be HOOF. You’ve done all the legwork and you should be the people who you think should be the guardians. I think the Verderers is an absolute, and key members of the HOOF steering group could also be there, and members of the stakeholder groups, including the Forestry Commission. I don’t think it’s appropriate to include elected members of political parties because it needs to retain that independence and autonomy. When it comes to issues … and you can call upon your MP to yes attend a meeting of the guardians, and say these are the issues, this is what we’re concerned about, and then your MP takes those issues to Parliament. I don’t think it’s democratic enough if the minister of state appoints the guardians. It needs to be you the people of the Forest of Dean that elects the guardians, or selects those guardians, but I wouldn’t wish to be prescriptive as to how that is done. I think that is something that HOOF would do naturally.

STEVE STANBURY: The representation, the guardians or whatever we would call them, it’s so important that they would reflect all strands of the community here in the Forest of Dean so I actually have quite a strong issue with Steve [Parry-Hearn]. I don’t think HOOF, a good and useful organisation though it is, should have responsibility to appoint guardians. I think many other aspects, many other sections, of our pluralistic community should be involved. I think it is important that many small businesses, many traders, many people whose livelihoods depend on lur Forest should also be involved, that actually consumers and citizens and people who just use the Forest, enjoy walking in the Forest… I believe that in local politics, that to have a pluralistic, broad-based membership of that public body, is very important, and it shouldn’t be controlled by one particular organisation.

BISHOP JAMES: The panel seemed to be responding to your question with two horizons – one a national, one a local one, are you talking about local management or the national Public Forest Estate that would require primary legislation and a national management structure?

ROY BARDO (AUDIENCE MEMBER WHO ASKED THE QUESTION): I’m talking about the Forest first and foremost, but obviously to talk about the Forest you’ve got to talk about all the rest as well.

RICH DANIELS: This is something we’ve been debating with Defra, and ministers for the last four years. When we started our impression was that the guardians should be distanced from politics, because we’d seen the result of politics being involved in the PFE in 1981, the 1990s and 2010. So when we started talking to Defra they said “it’s very simple, it will be the public appointments process and we’ll give half a dozen names to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State can choose who’s on the panel”. And we said “that’s just rubbish”. We said: “We can’t have that. Use some imagination. We’ve just been through this great campaign and all you’re doing is reheating old stew from previous years. You’ve got to try harder.” They said, “ok, well there are regional FWACs [Forest and Woodland Advisory Committees], we’ll have them from that group then”. We said “no, that’s no good either, because that’s predominantly industry and the NGOs.” So they said “Well what would you do?” And we came up with some suggestions and the possibility of real, grassroots groups getting involved in being eligible to act as guardians and to sit on the board. Because the board is where the working business decisions take place on how the PFE is going to be run, and the guardians hold into account those business decisions. So we would like to see community representation on both of them. We’re working on an idea where the grassroots groups could work on a regional basis – there are six forestry regions in England, and our region stretches from Shropshire to Land’s End – and we could actually put forward people from grassroots groups to be nominated to come through to act as regional representation, so that would give us six community representations which could go forward into the board and on to the guardians. So we’re trying to think of much more innovative ways of getting grassroots representation because that is the only way we will protect the PFE in the future, is to have the people from the forests actually sitting up there when the decisions are made. And that’s the answer we’ve come forward with at the moment.

BISHOP JAMES: Asking each candidate for a one-word answer on Rich’s ideas for the management…

CHRIS COLEMAN: Yes

JAMES GREENWOOD: Yes

STEVE PARRY-HEARN: Yes

STEVE STANBURY: Unsure


DEBRIS LEFT AND DAMAGE TO FOREST FROM PRIVATE CONTRACTORS / FORESTRY COMMISSION

10904620_664101903700274_6527524675133092554_oSTEVE PARRY-HEARN: First thing I would do is phone the Secretary of State for the Environment and say “Look this is what the Forestry Commission has commissioned to carry out. I don’t believe that contractors should be leaving the Forest the mess it’s been left in. They should be in a contractual position to leave it in as neat and tidy state as they found it, and therefore they should be compelled to go back and reinstate the land rather than leaving it in an awful mess.” I think parliamentary means through Defra and compel the Forestry Commission to go and speak to their contractors, or indeed withdraw contracts if necessary, and certainly get the contractors on side to say “you’ve got to tidy up this mess.” And at the end of the day it should have been outlined in the contract in the first place, to carry out this work in as sensitive manner as is possible.

STEVE STANBURY: It is something that many people have raised with me around the Forest. Anybody who works in and shares the Forest has a responsibility to protect our natural environment and our heritage here – whether they are contractors, or people visiting or people who actually work in the Forest and have a business here. We need to make sure those contractors, and indeed the Forestry Commission, takes their stewardship… in the terms of the work done here, much-needed work, does not make a mess and they leave the Forest in a good condition.

CHRIS COLEMAN: I hope the district council support you in terms of empowerment and I agree with Steve it should be raised with the Secretary of State, because if you don’t have the power locally it needs to be dealt with on a national level.

JAMES GREENWOOD: The problem is symptomatic of something bigger, and that is the squeeze that has been applied to the Public Forest Estate in terms of the money that is being delivered from the Treasury. The Forestry Commission is losing people when the tenders are being squeezed to the margin. You’re going to get corners cut and you’re going to get a lack of oversight. What we have to be doing is pushing beyond that – saying we need the money, the Forestry Commission needs the money, we want to be paying the contractors the right price, and then we’ll be able to get on top of it.

BRUCE HOGAN (FROM THE AUDIENCE): They’re not paying contractors, they’re selling timber as standing timber, and the people who buy it go in and harvest it in the cheapest and most brutal way possible, and then bugger off and leave the mess.

JAMES GREENWOOD: That’s because they’re so short-staffed. I understand, Bruce.

LYNN STERRY (AUDIENCE MEMBER WHO ASKED QUESTION): Our council has always been supportive but they’ve got no power. The Forestry Commission is something that seems to be impervious to you and me… you can go and buy a Christmas tree off them, but that’s about all you get.

RICH DANIELS: I’ve taken this up personally because I have the advantage of going to various forums where I meet senior forestry people, and I’ve expressed the same view as you, that this is going to rise up and bite them in the bum if they’re not careful. They really need to get a grip on this and at the moment this is part of the issue with trying to pin down civil servants. I’ve raised this with them at a very senior level. Part of it is due to the cutbacks, part of it is the pressure which the contractors, which they’ve bought now, to get off as soon as possible, and to make as much money as they can. But I would suggest what we need to do is to talk to the Forestry Commission about the industrial methods of timber felling that are causing us concern, talk to them about the reinstatement [of timber] and to talk to them about contract control. For those three things, the key to it is evidence. I’ve talked to Kevin Stannard, the Deputy Surveyor here, and the key thing we need is evidence. So when you go for a walk with your dog and you see the ruts, you see the cans, you see the damage, take a photograph of it. And if we can collate that evidence we can get somewhere with Kevin [Stannard]. We can say “there’s irrefutable evidence there Kevin of the damage that’s being done. You have to do something about it.” And I think that’s the only way we can take it forward.


FROM THE BBC RADIO GLOUCESTERSHIRE HUSTINGS EVENT:

OWEN ADAMS: WHAT WOULD YOU DO, IF ANYTHING, TO HELP PREVENT LEASINGS OF PUBLIC FOREST LAND TO PRIVATE ENTERPRISE, OR PIECEMEAL PRIVATISATION OF PARTS OF OUR FOREST?

James Greenwood: There was a regrettable incident in the Forest of Dean recently whereby a holiday company has been given a lease of 125 years on a piece of ground. Now if you buy a house in London you get a lease of 125 years or less. This is effectively a sell-off. A 125-year lease is a sell off, and we have to see a moratorium on land disposed in the Forest – some of the outlying land being disposed of in the Forest and a stop to these long leases. A lease can be traded. A lease can be traded away of that length and therefore in my view that is a disposal.

Steve Stanbury: Well I would work very closely with the newly-elected UKIP district council to make sure that our leases were of an appropriate length. But what we’ve got to bear in mind is that the Forest of Dean actually represents 50% of the local economy and therefore I would want to make sure that in terms of our management of this precious resource that we really do work in partnership with all of the businesses, all of the small employers and enterprises that make this such an important part of our local economy.

Steve Parry-Hearn: I would argue that we could call for a moratorium that James suggested now as we’re in purdah. I think the transfer of this lease to this Forest Holidays company should not go ahead, it should be reversed if it’s going along at the moment in terms of conveyancing, it should be prevented and reversed until the result of the election has been announced. I would certainly be against it, as James has said, we would find ourselves in a position where – there it is, there’s privatisation of the Forest, because that lease can be sold on.

Mark Harper: I’ve been very clear when I said at an earlier meeting that the Prime Minister’s made it very clear we want to keep the Forest in public ownership, but I also think it’s very important to develop tourism. This is an area we saw when the Foot & Mouth crisis happened in 2001 and we lost a lot of tourism business, what a big impact it made. So actually developing some extra holiday accommodation and get more people to the Forest of Dean and spend money and develop local jobs I actually think is a very good thing and should be encouraged.

Chris Coleman: It’s some 12 years since I was first selected to be the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Forest of Dean and throughout that time, there has been a constant threat to the Forest. Constant threats of privatisation, selling off this public forest to others for profit, and time and again over those years campaign groups have had to be established to set out their message to try and fight this privatisation. I’ve been very clear with Owen and his colleagues from Hands Off Our Forest, I’ve signed the pledges from HOOF. I’m absolutely wholeheartedly against privatisation of the Forest and indeed that is mentioned in the Lib Dem manifesto. In terms of the leases, it’s absolutely right. When you’re talking about a 125-year lease, well that’s longer than anyone in this room or any of the listeners can ever imagine. That is a sell-off. Of course, I would be opposed to that.

David Smith (BBC): Let me just get you to discuss this leasing point a bit more. When it comes to tourism, it’s a vital part of the Forest of Dean economy. If leasing brings benefit, financial benefit, to the Forest of Dean, James, what’s wrong with it?

James Greenwood: It’s a disposal of this asset which belongs to us all, for 125 years, which then gets traded and never touches our hands, it never comes back into community control, into community decision-making as to what happens with it. It becomes traded away to people outside, even offshore, so…

BBC: What about a shorter lease?

James Greenwood: That would be fine. And there are plenty of models. In farming, you have farm business tenancies which can be 5, 10 years or so – that’s perfectly acceptable. But 125 years is too long. It’s taken away from us.

Steve Stanbury: Yes I would agree with that. What’s really important is that the management of our Forest is done in a balanced way and is genuinely representative of the whole community. I think there has been a danger in the past when only one section of the community has been an advocate for the Forest, and we need to make sure that the business community on which so many livelihoods depend is actually engaged and the Forest actually works for everybody.

BBC: Steve Parry-Hearn, do you think the private sector has some role to play here?

Steve Parry-Hearn: My main concern at the end of the day is that this Forest is protected in perpetuity for generations to come. Now this is a working forest, this isn’t a wonderful idyll as Steve Stanbury suggested in the past. People come here for holidays, people work in the Forest. It’s a working Forest. So there has to be a balance. But at the end of the day we cannot have this constant threat that we’ve had for the last five years with Mark and the Coalition pushing for privatisation of the Forest on a regular basis. It happened 20 years ago and we fought it then. It was curtailed at that point and now we come back to the same situation now with the Coalition Government trying three times to try to privatise our forests. It’s not going to happen if I get elected, I can promise you!

BBC: Mark Harper, I’ll let you come back on that… three times? Three times you’ve tried to privatise…?

Mark Harper: It’s simply not true what you just said. We had one period of the government, and I was very clear, I thought there was some merit in having something like a National Trust model where people locally would be members of it, and with more local control. It was very clear that people didn’t like that idea. We’ve accepted that. The Prime Minister’s made it very clear that, as have I, that the Forest of Dean is going to remain in public ownership, and it’s not right to say what you suggest is that we’re continuing to push for it. The Prime Minister has set this out clearly, and it’s in our manifesto, that we will keep it in public ownership. But I do think that developing more accommodation for holidayers and more tourists to come here to generate high quality jobs in the Forest of Dean is actually very sensible. From James’s answer all we saw was debate about the length of the lease. The principle of having holiday accommodation here, getting people to come here and spend their money and generate jobs is a very good one.

Steve Parry-Hearn: But that letter from the Prime Minister does not protect the Forest. We have to get legal protection for the Forest, and it’s in our manifesto that we will fight to get that legislation on the table so our generations to come can benefit from enjoying our Forest.

BBC: Steve Stanbury wants to make a point…

Steve Stanbury: I think it’s strange to be criticised for calling the Forest wonderful but I think the real problem is that the Labour Party here, as they have done on other issues, such as our National Health Service, seems to politicise something that affects the whole community, indeed deliberately set about trying to own an issue, to politicise an issue, that actually everyone has a legitimate voice and a legitimate concern about.

Steve Parry-Hearn: Well the NHS has been politicised for the last 65 years as I remember. Would it not for, 65 years ago, when Nye Bevan stood up and said “we’ll create a National Health Service where to each according to their need, from each according to their means…

Steve Stanbury:… and been undermined by PFI [inaudible] by Tories and Labour.

BBC: We’re here to talk about the Forest, we’re not talking about the NHS on this occasion… we’re talking about the Forest. Let’s move on, James Greenwood: Mark Harper makes an interesting point, the Government consulted, they held their hands up, they said “we’re sorry, we got it wrong, we’ve listened to people’s concerns”…

James Greenwood:… And done absolutely nothing about it. This is the frustration, I think, to many of us in the Forest. The Independent Panel was commissioned, they reported, they came out with 32 recommendations, a great deal of sense and absolutely nothing has been done, and I think I know why. That is because the Panel absolutely exposed the Coalition for their short-term thinking. The thinking they had was of a FTSE100 shareholder, whose CEO has to report to his shareholder every three months. They don’t understand that a forest is for generations.

BBC: Alright. I just finally need to bring Chris Coleman in. That’s a criticism of your party as much as anybody else Chris, the Coalition?

Chris Coleman: I’ve been very clear about my party’s view and my view personally. We’re against privatisation and certainly I’m very much in favour of protection of the Forest of Dean. I’ve been very, very clear about that from the moment I was selected and throughout the course of this campaign. It is about the decisions we take today, making sure we don’t ruin this place for tomorrow and generations to come. So to answer the question you did pose originally, I have no difficulty with tourism, I have no difficulty with industry that brings jobs and brings investment into this community, no difficulty with me at all. But if there’s to be leases, they can’t be 125 years, that’s crazy. They’ve got to be shorter, they’ve got to have appropriate controls within them, and there have got to be clauses so whoever has possession of that lease, if they ruin it they’re kicked out.

BBC: So if I said to you – 10 years, 15 years, 20 years – you would find that more palatable, would you?

Chris Coleman: In terms of a shorter lease, yes, of course I would.

BBC: So you would be in favour then?

Chris Coleman: With appropriate controls, with appropriate protection, of course.

BBC: James, very quickly if you would…

James Greenwood: And that was what was suggested in the Panel report, that we have a system whereby you can have oversight and you can have control, so then you have local people who can make decisions over whether it’s 5, 10 or 20 years.

BBC: Thank you very much, we need to move on, Question 2…

HOOF EXPLANATION ON ISSUES DEBATED AT THE BBC EVENT:

See about two-thirds of the way down this page for some context on the issue of Forest Holidays. HOOF was made aware of the full details of the backdoor deal by Essex campaigner Shirley Martin, who doggedly pursued Freedom of Information requests to produce this history/briefing.

As to whether this Government has tried to privatise the Forest three times, as Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn claimed and Mark Harper denied, this is arguable (!)…

Certainly a privatisation attempt was made between October 2010 and February 17, 2011. Following this, HOOF had concerns from 2013-14 that proposals to transfer the ownership of Forest land to a public corporation, the mooted new Public Forest Estate Management Body (PFE MO), could have been a future road to privatisation. And from June-November 2014 that clauses within the Infrastructure Bill would allow parts of the Public Forest Estate to be transferred to developers. The Government said privatisation was not its intention regarding both the two later episodes. HOOF’s argument was that whatever the intention, these proposals could open the door to privatisation in the future. The result was that Forest land was excluded from the resulting Infrastructure Act 2015, while legislation was not introduced for a new PFE MO.

*************************

Here is actual film footage of what happened when we asked all candidates if they would sign the HOOF pledges at the Cinderford Churches hustings on April 16… for the record, 4 out of 5 parliamentary candidates now have signed.

And here’s a transcript:

Rev Mike Barnsley: OWEN ADAMS (HOOF SECRETARY) ASKED: WILL YOU SIGN THE THREE HOOF PLEDGES AND BE A HOOF CHAMPION?

Mark Harper: Owen, thank you for the question. I wrote recently to Rich Daniels, who’s the chairman of HOOF, with a copy of a letter from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Conservative Party to make it very clear that the Conservative Party, if re-elected, will keep the Public Forest Estate in England and including the Forest of Dean, in public ownership. We will also make sure that all of the laws that are very specific to the Forest of Dean, like the Dean Forest (Mines) Act for instance, will be kept in place, and the final pledge was that we will make sure that the Forestry Commission continued investing in the disease management issues to deal with some of the diseases that are affecting the forest. So it’s very clear commitments from the leader of my party and Prime Minister which I was able to send to Rich Daniels very recently. I hope that’s very clear.

Owen Adams: So you’re not prepared to sign the pledges to be a HOOF champion?

Mark Harper: No I’ve made my position very clear, I’ve written to Richard with the commitments that the Prime Minister has made and they’re very clear – they’re about keeping the Forest in public ownership, and we’ve been very clear about that…

Owen Adams: Just answer the question – is it yes or no?

Mark Harper: Well I’ve answered the question in my own way, that is my answer – I’ve been very clear about keeping it in public ownership, protecting these Forest of Dean laws that are still in place and continuing to do the work to prevent the diseases that are affecting the Forest of Dean and the Public Forest Estate. That’s a commitment from both myself and the leader of my party and the Prime Minister, and I think that’s very clear.

Steve Parry-Hearn: I’d like to refer the honourable gentleman to an answer I gave moments ago, and in short I’d like to say this quite emphatically. In answer to your questions Owen, the answers are yes, yes and yes. Thank you.

Steve Stanbury: My answer, our answer from UKIP is absolutely the same [as Steve Parry-Hearn’s] – it is yes, yes and yes to the three questions, to the pledge protecting our Forest. We actually have a clear plan in our local manifesto which we will launching next week. We think the area should actually become an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well, and also we absolutely support that. Tourism lies at the heart of our community now and we have to do all we can to protect this precious resource that we all enjoy. Also we want to reopen the Tourist Information Offices that closed and that we think is a very important thing as well. So in short, yes for us – it’s a very, very important issue and we emphatically support it.

Chris Coleman: Back in 2003, which was when I first got selected to be the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Forest of Dean, and I first became aware of these sorts of issues, and campaign groups approaching me saying “we need special protection for the Forest of Dean. We need people to stand up for this area because there isn’t that protection.” And I have to say, it took me by surprise. Why on earth is it, in this day and age, in an area as beautiful as this, this sort of protection doesn’t exist? It’s extraordinary. It was extraordinary back in 2003, when I first heard about it, and it remains extraordinary to me now. So in answer to your question, absolutely, of course I will sign the pledges – I’ll do it tonight before I leave if you have a copy. And just in terms of a Party position as well as a personal one: it is in the Liberal Democrats party manifesto to ensure, whether it’s this Forest or any other across the UK, isn’t sold off. We’re completely committed to protecting them. And the final thing I will say: it must be an absolute privilege to be a Member of Parliament for this constituency. It’s the jewel in the crown for this county, this country, and I would very much hope, if I was elected to represent this constituency, I would absolutely be a champion for the Forest.

James Greenwood: Yes I will also be signing the three pledges. I’ve had the extraordinary honour and privilege of being a very junior member of the HOOF Steering Group over the last few years, and I think one of the things about it is actually that day back in 2011, in a snowstorm, brought Foresters of all political hues out to Speech House – including some of Mark’s own local councillors going against their party’s thinking on the forestry. And that has been for me one of the exciting things, about the fact we have stood together as a community, and now look at all of us: all parties are saying “of course the Forest should be kept in public ownership”. That is the exciting thing: it’s the strength of people coming together and showing the Government what they want.

PRIORITIES IF ELECTED

Similar questions were asked of the candidates at both hustings in Cinderford. Here are the answers given that are relevant to HOOF. For the BBC hustings…

DAVID SMITH: IF YOU WERE ELECTED TO SERVE THE FOREST OF DEAN CONSTITUENCY, WHAT WOULD BE YOUR FIRST PRIORITY?

James Greenwood: My first priority would be to oil up my bicycle – I said if I was elected I would cycle up to Westminster. And when I got there, I would look to coalesce support to table a forestry protection Bill. I think here in the Forest of Dean we are fed up. It’s been 67, 81 and now 2010 that constantly we are faced with the threat of a sell-off of the Forest of Dean. I think this needs to be sorted out, once and for all.

Steve Parry-Hearn: The first thing I would do is to meet with Maria Eagle, who will by then the Secretary of State for the Environment, to start the ball rolling in getting a protection of the forest Bill on the statute book as soon as we possibly can.

And at the Churches hustings, Rev Mike Barnsley asked a question on behalf of…

CHRIS WITHAM: WHAT WOULD BE YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT FOR THE FOREST OF DEAN FIVE YEARS ON, IF ELECTED?

Chris Coleman: I guess there’s a couple. I guess, I think, I’m just returning to that issue that I dealt with some time ago, in terms of my horror that back in 2003 there had to be campaign groups set up to protect the Forest of Dean, and still there needs to be campaign groups set up to protect the Forest of Dean. So I would hope in the five-year term as Member of Parliament that we could put that right, and come 2020 residents of this fantastic place wouldn’t have such grave uncertainty about the area they live in and that they love. So that’s number one… So absolutely if elected as your local MP I would want to champion those things and come back to you five years later with some successes.

James Greenwood: Also I would be extremely proud if we’d seen a forest protection Bill enacted and that question, that insecurity about the Forest, off the table for ever, and not coming round every ten years, every ten years, every ten years. Settled once and for all…

Steve Parry-Hearn: I’d like to reflect again on what I said earlier: that if elected in three weeks’ time and we come back here in five years’ time, and the question is “what are you most proud of, Steve?” it will have to be that we have a forest protection Act – an Act of Parliament that protects forests across the country, especially the Forest of Dean, with additional significant statuses whether it’s UNESCO World Heritage or special status forests designation. That would be the proudest moment – I can’t say of my life – but of my political career…

And there were a couple of other HOOF-related mentions to a couple of other questions asked on April 16 at St Stephens Church, Cinderford by members of the audience (with Rev Mike Barnsley as conduit)

IS THERE A PARTY POLICY YOU DISAGREE WITH AS AN INDIVIDUAL AND WOULD STAND UP AND VOTE AGAINST THE PARTY WHIP?

Mark Harper: Yes, there may well be in theory. I’ve not had one yet. One of the challenges that you have as a Minister is that sometimes you have to do your lobbying privately. And as I’ve said when I’ve met with HOOF before I’ve discussed the issue of forestry on a number of occasions with the Prime Minister, and sometimes you have to do that lobbying in private which is uncomfortable, but I think ultimately can be more effective. But I have campaigned on a number of issues in the Forest of Dean. I’ve lived here for 15 years now, more than half of my adult lifetime, and if I thought there was a conflict between something my party was proposing, I would first of all try and change my party’s view but ultimately I am elected to represent the Forest of Dean, and that comes first.

Steve Parry-Hearn: There aren’t any I can think of if I’m perfectly honest, apart from possibly the energy mix. However, I remember meeting with Maria Eagle, the Shadow Secretary of the Environment in relation to the sell off of the Forest problem, and she spoke to me after the meeting and said “what is your private opinion?” I said, “Maria, with due respect, if the Labour Party ever did want to privatise the forests, you would have a rebel to fight in me.” I’m absolutely passionate that we must protect the forests across the board. One of the first things I would want to do is to form a cross-party group of MPs that represent public forest areas across the Public Forest Estate, so we can lobby to get primary legislation on the statute books so that we can get that protection that we need. So that’s the only thing I can think of off the top of my head that I’d rebel over.

Steve Stanbury: There isn’t anything in our manifesto or anything in UKIP’s national policies that I’m against or disagree with. But one thing I do have to say very clearly, is that if I am elected in three weeks’ time, and what an honour and a privilege that’d be, my duty, my first responsibility would be an active representative of everyone in the community here, in the interests of the Forest of Dean nationally in Westminster, and speaking of representing everyone in the entire community. And if that did mean going against the party line or a national position that my party had, I absolutely would do that, because as I said, the first duty, the responsibility of an MP, certainly for me, would be to champion, a true and honest representative, of local people here.

IF YOU COULDN’T VOTE FOR YOURSELF, WHO WOULD YOU VOTE FOR TACTICALLY?

James Greenwood: I find, I have to say, I think Mark’s mistake with the forestry was unforgivable. I don’t think that you can really represent the Forest of Dean if you don’t understand quite how important the Forest is to the Forest of Dean. It is absolutely… absolutely part of us, and we will of course be discussing it next week on Wednesday when the HOOF hustings are held at Five Acres college. [Audience member: will you all be there?] Well, some of us will. [Will Mark be there?]… I think that Steve has gone out on a limb in terms of opposing the nuclear power station at Oldbury so he will probably get my vote…

* * * * * * * *

Below is the letter HOOF received from Mark Harper declining our invitation to attend the Our Forest My Vote hustings on April 22 (which can be heard here and on Triangle Radio on Sunday).

HOOF_letters_from_Harper_Page_1_-_800 HOOF_letters_from_Harper_Page_2_-_800

11/4/15: The HOOF steering group has produced an open letter urging Mr Harper to reconsider and attend Our Forest, My Vote. If anyone wants to contact Mr Harper themselves, details are here:

HOOF is hoping for a robust, lively and stimulating debate between the electorate and our Parliamentary candidates at the Forest Theatre, Five Acres, on April 22.

The chair of the Independent Panel on Forestry, the Rt Rev James Jones, who will be chairing the event, Our Forest My Vote, has told us he is looking forward to the event. It starts at 6.30pm with time for the audience to submit questions. We have programmes and posters ready and, thanks to donations from HOOF supporters, we have been able to hire the venue at no small cost and arrange refreshments and pay other expenses.

We are pleased that the Green, Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP candidates have confirmed they will join HOOF chairman Rich Daniels on the stage.

However there is one empty chair which we hope will be filled.

This chair is designated for the MP for the Forest of Dean since 2005 and Conservative Party candidate for this election, Mark Harper.

HOOF met with Mr Harper about a month ago with full details of the event, including programme and explanation. Mr Harper finally wrote to us one week ago to decline our invitation to take part in a Question Time-style debate on the future of our Forest.

We urge Mr Harper to reconsider for the following reasons:

* There will be insufficient time to discuss his views on the future of the Forest at the only hustings he is confirmed to attend, at St Stephen’s Hall in Cinderford on April 16.

* Mr Harper has yet to make his current position clear – in 2011, he was advocating the Forest of Dean should be owned and run by a charitable trust, and he voted for the Government’s sell-off plan. Is that still his position? Then, in 2013 he told the Review that he disagreed with the Forestry Panel and HOOF’s concept of guardians, or community representatives, being able to oversee public forests. Again we do not know if this is still his view, or what his current view is.

* In Mr Harper’s election leaflets he notes that the Conservative Party has promised forests won’t be privatised, nationally and locally. However, on March 17 in the House of Lords, the Conservative minister Lord De Maulay confirmed Forest Holidays sites (including Christchurch) could be wholly sold on as a private concern, following the handover of 80 per cent of their ownership to Lloyds Development Capital in 2012. What would Mr Harper do to help prevent piecemeal privatisation such as this from happening? We won’t know and be able to make an informed decision on where he stands on such issues, unless he is willing to debate this in public.

* Mr Harper writes in his letter to HOOF that the future of our Forest is a key issue. It is indeed fundamental to the people who live and vote in and around the Forest of Dean. He is depriving his electorate of the democratic right to be able to put questions to all candidates about the issue. He has turned the debate down on the grounds of being “single issue”, yet the issue will fundamentally affect any of his electorate who live in and use public forests, from Tidenham Chase to Dymock Woods.

All candidates for council and general elections, including Mr Harper, have been asked if they will engage with a HOOF pledges document, which asks all candidates their views and will be made a matter of public record after April 20. While we don’t expect everyone to agree with us – this is the essence of democratic debate – for those who fail to respond, their silence will speak volumes to the thousands of HOOF supporters.

Once again, HOOF respectfully calls for Mr Harper to reconsider and take part in this democratic forum.

HOOF has started an Election 2015 blog website, which will keep everyone updated with how our election candidates respond to the big question of whether they will be HOOF champions if elected, and their views on this vital issue. See https://hoofelection2015.wordpress.com/ and the usual website www.handsoffourforest.org for all information.

Yours Sincerely
Hands Off Our Forest Steering Group

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