Forest sell-off plan abandoned

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The Government has abandoned controversial plans to sell off England's public forests

The Government has abandoned its controversial plans to privatise England’s public forests in the face of widespread criticism.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced to MPs in the Commons that “we got this one wrong”, as she said she was halting the public consultation into the proposals.

She also said she was removing the powers to push forward with the move from the Public Bodies Bill currently going through Parliament.

The proposals to offload the public forest estate to companies, communities and charities had met with protests and criticism from conservation groups and campaigners, who hailed the U-turn a victory for “people power”.

Ms Spelman told MPs she took full responsibility for the situation, which has seen protests in well-loved woods around the country and more than half a million people sign an online petition to “save our forests”, organised by campaign group 38 Degrees.

She said halting the public consultation into the measures and removing the forestry clauses from the Public Bodies Bill would allow for a “more measured and rational debate” about the future of England’s forests.

Ms Spelman also announced that an independent panel of experts would examine forestry policy in England and report back to her in the autumn.

Asked about the U-turn on public forests after a speech on the Welfare Bill in east London, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The key aim of the Government’s forestry policy is to open up the forests to access, to make sure we have good sustainable forestry, to make sure we increase available habitat.

“But yes, there is a role and quite rightly there is a role to try and make sure this area of policy is cost effective. I do think we have to look at the conflict of interest there is with the Forestry Commission as both the regulator and owner.

“There are quite a few costs in the system even though it is an enormous landowner. If you launch a policy consultation and you get a very strong and clear response, it is the right thing to do to be a listening government and respond to that.”

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