Comment on Forests Votes yesterday
In the end I did not support the government in the vote although I did oppose the Labour Party.
I opposed the Labour Party because in power they sold 25,000 acres of forest land without any protection for public access. The first time people realised that Labour had sold the forest was when padlocks were placed upon access routes and traditional permissive paths shut off to the public without warning. Labour’s record on defending our forests is poor, hence I could not support Labour's proposals.
I did, however, rebel on the government vote and did not support the government. I do think government policy is an improvement on the existing policy left by Labour. Forests were already being sold under the previous Labour government, the government is improving existing law by proposing to change the law to ensure that if any commercial land is leased off then rights of access are maintained.
At the same time the government is proposing to treat the important (Heritage) forests differently and to ensure that they never end up in commercial hands. I, however, believe that the government needs to go further in protecting the forests. As well as meeting Caroline Spelman I have also written to her suggesting that the model for maintaining the Heritage Forests is improved so that charities can manage the forests on a lease with a peppercorn rent. This is the model that is used for the Westley Vale Millennium Green. It allows the government to stand behind the charitable trusts to ensure that our forests remain for the public benefit and actually keeps ownership of all nationally owned forests in public hands.
Personally I think the idea of organisations such as the RSPB and National Trust being more involved in managing forests is a good idea. The RSPB, for example, have a lot of experience in managing land for the benefit of biodiversity. However, I think the government should strengthen this part of their policy which is why I rebelled on this occasion and will lobby them to strengthen this policy.