Sales of 15% of England’s publicly-owned forests are to be put on hold while the criteria for selling them off are re-examined, the Government said.
The move follows widespread criticism of proposals by ministers to offload the remaining 85% of England’s public forest estate to timber companies, charities and local communities.
The proposed sales of 15% of the forests announced in last year’s spending review will not go ahead until a review aimed at “significantly” strengthening the protections given to the woodlands is completed, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said.
The sale of 15% of the forest estate – the maximum the Government can sell under current legislation – aimed to raise £100 million towards the Environment Department’s budget.
But Ms Spelman said the Government was committed to increasing protection for access and public benefit in public woodlands, and that the “inadequate measures” applied to sales under the previous administration would be reviewed.
She said the review would not affect the commitment to sell 15% of the forest estate over the next four years, and had no impact on the continuing consultation into the remaining 85% of the public forests.
The Government’s consultation, which provoked a storm of protest when it was published last month, outlines plans to offload England’s 258,000-hectare public forest estate, currently managed by the Forestry Commission, over the next 10 years.
The proposals include a £250 million sale of leaseholds for commercially valuable forests to timber companies, measures to allow communities, charities and even local authorities to buy or lease woods, and plans to transfer well-known “heritage” woods such as the New Forest into the hands of charities.
The statement relates only to the 15% of English publicly-owned woodlands already earmarked for sale.
Ms Spelman said: “In light of the Government commitment to increase protection for access and public benefit in our woodlands, the criteria for these sales will be reviewed so that protections are significantly strengthened following the inadequate measures that were applied to sales under the previous administration. Pending this review, no individual woodland site will be put on the market.”