How ministers broke their promises to one of the most beautiful parts of Britain

THE Government is refusing to fulfil a firm election pledge to give special protection against quarrying and other harmful development in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.

The forest, lying between the valleys of the Wye and the Severn and the most ancient hunting forest in England, is facing the threat of giant limestone quarries which may have to be dug to meet the Government's massive target for crushed rock for the roads and construction industries.

The adjacent Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is also at risk.

The specific and unambiguous promise of special protection was given personally by the then shadow environment secretary, Frank Dobson, at a meeting in the forest one month before the election last year.

Mr Dobson's pledge was put out on an official Labour Party press release and featured prominently in the election literature of the Labour candidate for the Forest of Dean, Diana Organ.

Local campaigners feel it helped her capture, with a lower than average swing to Labour, what had been a Tory-held constituency (as Gloucestershire West) for 18 years.

However, Mr Dobson switched briefs to health after the election and at two meetings in the past six months the environment department's planning minister, Richard Caborn, has made it clear the Government has no intention of setting up the special protection regime Mr Dobson promised.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions said yesterday: "Richard Caborn has met Diana Organ and local delegations. There is no immediately available one-off solution for the forest."

Instead, campaigners against the quarrying threat are being told to work through the traditional planning process. Local people, who last month delivered 8,000 postcards to Downing Street asking Tony Blair when the promise was going to be kept, are now talking hotly of betrayal.

Bill Hobman, Labour chairman of the Forest of Dean district council, said: "I do have to say I am extremely disappointed that what was a categorical statement made without us asking, which I take to be an election pledge, is not being honoured by the minister."

Ken Secrett, a resident who founded Hewelsfield Against Quarrying, one of a number of pressure groups, said: "The Labour Party gave a simple straightforward promise of custom-built special planning status for the forest, which undoubtedly won many votes and influenced the election result in a marginal constituency. Now the Government seems determined to renege on its promise and I think it is a disgusting betrayal.

"It reinforces the cynicism in which politicians are held in this country."

The Forest of Dean, which was considered for designation as Britain's first national park in 1938 but was left for the Forestry Commission to protect, was once notable for coal mines and other industrial sites.

But tourism now underpins its economic future.

The threat to the forest and Wye valley comes from the Government's policy for minerals planning, still based on the outdated "predict and provide" approach - work out how much you think you will need and then try and provide it, whatever the consequences - which John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister, abandoned for housing policy earlier this year.

"Predict and provide" means the Government is chasing a target of 1.9 billion tons of crushed rock for the roads and construction industries by 2006 and Gloucestershire County Council has been told to find 22.4 million tons as its share by that date - which it cannot do at present extraction rates.

Six months before the election the county council selected several parts of the forest as areas of search for limestone quarries, sparking a protest from residents who feared not only massive new scars on the landscape but pressure from lorries on the forest's minor roads.

Mr Dobson responded at a public meeting at Clearwell Castle in the forest in April last year. Accompanied by Mrs Organ, he said: "Today the Forest of Dean is faced with proposals for mineral workings, in particular limestone quarrying on a scale which poses a major threat ... the time has come to offer special planning protection to the Forest of Dean. We don't propose simply to apply any of the existing special categories of protection. We propose instead to offer the Forest of Dean a new 'custom-built' special status appropriate to its unique status and character."

There were precedents for Mr Dobson's promise: such custom-built planning status has already been given to other areas, including the Norfolk Broads and the New Forest. Mr Caborn, however, has shown no interest. Mr Dobson also promised a sweeping consultation exercise about the plan after the election - which has not taken place either. Mrs Organ has led two delegations of local people to see Mr Caborn about Mr Dobson's promise and received, in effect, a dusty answer. She was not available for comment yesterday.

The Government is to publish a White Paper on the future of the countryside later in the year. Michael Meacher, the environment minister, said it will set out a "new vision" of rural life.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before