This note sets out information on the sale of public forests managed by the Forestry Commission
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Following criticism of the Government’s aborted plans to sell parts of the Public Forest Estate, in January 2013 it signalled its intention to establish a new public body to manage the forestry estate in its Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement. Due to constraints in the parliamentary timetable no legislation to establish this body has yet been made.
In July and October 2014, environmental groups raised concerns that the Infrastructure Bill could be used to sell-off public forest land, despite government reassurances to the contrary. In November 2014, the Government moved amendments to the Bill ensuring that the Bill could not be used sell off the public forest estate.
Proposed sale of the Public Forest Estate, 2010
The Public Forest Estate in England provides multiple social and environmental public benefits valued at around £600 million per year, although it costs some £15 million per year to operate. Governments have been able to sell parts of the Public Forest Estate since 1981. In the eighties thousands of hectares were sold. There was a change in policy following the 1997 general election when the sale of such land was restricted.
On 29 October 2010, the Government signalled its intention to sell a significant proportion of the Public Forest Estate. Powers to enable the sale were included in the Public Bodies Bill 2010. A public consultation was launched on 27 January 2011.
Independent Forestry Panel
Following criticism of the proposals the Government halted the public consultation and stopped the sale of land removing the relevant clauses from the Public Bodies Bill. In March 2011, the Minister set up an Independent Panel on Forestry to advise the Government 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 issued its final report on 4 July 2012. It recommended that the public forest estate “should remain in public ownership”, and it made a number of suggestions for the reform of forest management in England.
Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement
The Government issued a full response in its Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement in January 2013 which confirmed that the Public Forest Estate would remain in public ownership. It also set out plans to establish, via primary legislation, a new public forest estate body. Constraints in the parliamentary timetable mean that no legislation has yet been made.
Infrastructure Bill – forest sell-off concerns
There was no Forestry Bill announced as part of the Queen’s Speech in June 2014. However, the Government did include the Infrastructure Bill, which makes provision to fund, plan, manage and maintain the UK’s national infrastructure. Environmental groups raised concerns that this Bill could be used to sell-off public forest land, despite government reassurances to the contrary. In November 2014, to reassure parliament and the public, the Local Government Minister announced that it he would table an amendment to the Bill which would ensure the Bill could not be used sell off the public forest estate.