Last week the new UK government announced its plan to sell off English forests. The forests are state-owned and run by a government agency. It is proposing to sell them to charities and private companies.
Now a new government report says that it will cost more to sell off the forests than to keep them. Thousands have signed petitions and joined protests. This has turned into a huge embarrassment for the government, as it alienates its core supporters.
A government study has revealed that the sell-off will cost more than the profits to be gained from it. By the time the Forestry Commission loses its revenues from the timber sales and recreation licences, pays millions out in compensation for lost jobs, in addition to giving charities and other groups financial incentives to take over the woodlands, it is reckoned that it will cost £679m over 20 years, but the benefits will only be £655m.
According to the report, many of the forests will not be sold and are "unsellable at a political and practical level". There are other hidden costs such as the "favourable" contract terms now held with local timber processors which may not be extended and the lay-offs of local people in rural area. The Forestry Commission announced the loss of 400 jobs today in England and Scotland.
Another report, leaked to the Times, says that millions of trees will be threatened by disease and deer and other wildlife will be neglected. It also outlines plans to increase the number of forests charging entrance fees and removing more forests from public access.
Yesterday in the House of Commons, the Labour members had put forth a motion calling on the government to "rethink its decision on the sale of England's public forest estate." Debate was hot and heavy as opposition MP's argued against the sell-off, calling it "economic vandalism". The Prime Minister's private secretary has written that the plan had "unleashed a torrent of hostile emails. It is as if the government was planning to sell and fell every tree in the land in order to adulterate the people's strawberry jam with wooden pips."
The Prime Minister insisted that "this is worth looking at to see if we can produce a system that's actually better for access, better for habitat and better for the countryside that we love."
The motion was defeated by 310 votes to 260, a majority of 50. This won't be the end of the fight, but is a disappointment to all who are involved and concerned.
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