Appeals to halt forestry sell-off: Privatisation plans attacked after report claims safeguarding public access to woodlands would cost pounds 170m

THE GOVERNMENT'S plan to privatise woods and forests throughout Britain is in disarray because it is proving impossible to guarantee public access to woodland after it has been sold. MPs from all parties appealed yesterday for the sale of woods and forests to be halted, unless access can be ensured by legislation.

The Government's Forestry Review Group, which was considering how to privatise national forests, has now been told by consultants that the cost of guaranteeing public access through legislation would be pounds 170m, making privatisation prohibitively expensive. The consultants, Environmental Resources Management, were commissioned to review ownership and management options for Britain's forest estate.

The leaked consultants' report reveals the Forestry Review Group was considering options which included putting national woods and forests in the hands of a public company; a trade sell-off; a management buy-out; and an accelerated disposals programme. All would involve loss of access to woodlands, unless such rights were ensured by legislation.

Most of the pounds 170m cost of the privatisation plan would result from a fall in the price of woodland if it were sold with indissoluble guarantees of access attached. Under present law, it is impossible to prescribe that access, which is provided for in a deed of sale and passed on when the land is resold.

The consultants calculate that, in addition to the loss on sales, it would be necessary to spend more than pounds 30m a year in grants to owners to pay for the costs of providing and monitoring access. Privatisation would thus cost double the amount now spent providing the same benefits through Forest Enterprise, the executive arm of the Forestry Commission.

It now seems likely that this financial impasse, together with pressure from MPs and the public, will force a government U-turn on forestry privatisation.

In June 1989 and again in November 1990, Malcolm Rifkind, then Secretary of State for Scotland, made an implicit promise that public access to forests would be maintained. He referred to 'the Government's concern that the general public should continue to enjoy access to those forests to be disposed of by the Commission'. Since then it has become clear that the Government's attempt to secure access for woods and forests disposed of in the last three years have not been effective. A report placed in the House of Commons library last week notes that 544 woods and forests were excluded from arrangements intended to secure access, either because the sales were too far advanced when the arrangements were brought in, or because they were made special exceptions. An attempt was made to negotiate access arrangements with 299 local authorities, but these failed in all but 19 cases. Of the properties sold, 90 per cent were within two miles of some sort of settlement. A quarter of them had been assessed as having medium or high public access.

The report concludes that 'no amount of modification could make the arrangements provide consistently for public access'.

In 1981, the Forestry Commission owned some 2 million acres of woodland and moor. Since then, about 13 per cent of its estate has been sold under the Government's disposal policy. But the Scottish Office rejects the use of phrases such as 'forestry sell- off' and 'forestry privatisation' by the Ramblers' Association, which is opposed to the sales policy.

Describing these phrases as 'misleading and mischievous', the Scottish Office said: 'A review group has been set up by the Government to review the various grants and other mechanisms we have to encourage the planting of trees, and also to look at possible structures for ownership and management of forests for the future. Privatisation is only one option.'

The Ramblers' Association is campaigning against further sales of forests and has obtained a list of all the publicly-owned woods and forests in Britain, to be published shortly as a gazeeteer so that people may locate national woodlands near their home. The association claims to have the support of 174 local authorities.

Paddy Tipping, who launched the Ramblers' campaign yesterday, together with an all-party group of MPs, said: 'These woodlands have been ours for centuries. Robin Hood and his colleagues would rise from the grave if they knew what this wicked Government was doing.'

(Photograph omitted)

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week