Official: England's forest sell-off will cost more than it saves

A A A

Selling off England's public forests could cost the nation more than it would save, according to an official government document that emerged last night.

The Coalition Government's own impact assessment cast doubt over claims by ministers that the controversial sale would raise between £140m and £250m, helping the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) meet its spending cuts target.

Labour, which has called a Commons debate on the issue today, claimed the document should force ministers to think again. Mary Creagh, the shadow Environment Secretary, said: "The devil is in the detail of these proposals. Defra's own impact assessment reveals that every option for selling the forests costs the taxpayer more than keeping them in public ownership. This shows that the Government's proposals are economic as well as environmental madness."

According to the Defra report, the proposal to transfer heritage forests – including the New Forest in Hampshire and the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire – to a conservation charity would cost £507.9m but yield benefits of only £495.9m. Although the value of these woodlands on the open market is estimated at £220m, the report describes them as "unsellable at a political and practical level" and says the option is therefore "unviable".

Selling or leasing the large-scale commercial woodlands would cost between £579.1m and £748.7m but yield benefits of between £573.1m and £737.8m, the document says. Selling the other "community woodlands", valued at £50m, would involve costs of £234.1m and bring in benefits amounting to only £231.9m.

Ministers confirmed the raw figures but disputed Labour's interpretation of them. They said the cost-benefit analysis included short-term transitional costs of transferring forests but could not at this stage estimate long-term benefits such as private-sector operators running them more efficiently than the Forestry Commission.

A Whitehall source said last night: "This is another example of Labour deliberately putting misinformation out there. The impact assessment has always been freely available alongside our consultation.

"It is simply not true to say costs outweigh benefit – as an explanation of the up-front transitional costs involved and additional economic benefits down the line makes clear."

According to online campaign group 38 Degrees, more than 367,000 people have signed a petition to save the forests, with more than 51,000 writing to their MP demanding woodlands remain in public ownership.

Ms Creagh appealed to the 37 Tory and five Liberal Democrat MPs with more than 1,000 hectares of public forest in their constituency to listen to public opinion by voting with Labour at the close of today's debate. She told them: "The wholesale sell-off of England's forests now proposed by your Government was not mentioned in either your general election manifesto, or the Coalition Agreement. There is no political mandate for such a sale."

In Wales, Elin Jones, the Rural Affairs minister, has asked the Forestry Commission to adopt a "more commercial" approach but ruled out a widespread sell-off. She plans to "compensate" the public by buying new land for planting or management if any forest is sold off.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Extras
indybest

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Network Engineer - CCNP, Hedge Fund, London

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer - CCNP, Hedge Fu...

Senior Network Engineer-CCIE, Multicast, Low Latency

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-CCIE, Mul...

Network Infrastructure Engineer

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Infrastructure Engineer (...

Network Engineer (CCNP, BGP, Multicast)

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, BGP, Mult...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition