Govt cancels forests sell-off in dramatic U-turn

London's bid to sell-off English forests was doomed to failure
London's bid to sell-off English forests was doomed to failure

By Ian Dunt

The government has cancelled plans to sell off English forests following a successful and well-organised public campaign.

A rowdy Commons session saw Labour MPs mock the Conservatives for their "humiliating climbdown" as environment secretary Caroline Spelman issued a startling apology for the policy.

"I would first like to say that I take full responsibility for the situation that brings me before the House today," She told the Commons, in a startlingly frank statement.

"I'm sorry. We got this one wrong but we have listened to people's concerns.

"I would like to thank colleagues for their support through what has been a difficult time. I now want to move forward in step with the public.

"I hope that the measures I have announced today, signalling a fresh approach, demonstrate my intention to do the right thing for our forests and woodlands."

The consultation on the sell off, which would have seen 15% of England's forests sold off to private companies and possibly the voluntary sector, has been cancelled.

Clauses on forestry in the public bodies bill, which is currently in the Lords, have been removed.

An independent panel will be set up to consider forestry policy in England, featuring environmental and access representatives and officials from the forestry industry.

"The sorry saga of the forest sell-off demonstrates how incompetent and out of touch this Tory-led government is," Labour leader Ed Miliband said.

"Virtually every person in the country could see selling off our forests was a foolish and short-sighted policy but they went ahead regardless. Now they are panicked into a retreat hours after Mr Cameron said they would carry on with their consultation."

He added: "This is a chaotic and incompetent way to run government.

"But the very idea of the forest sell-off shows something else. This Conservative-led government doesn't seem to understand the things we value which we hold in common."

Ms Spelman has seen her reputation severely damaged by the row. David Cameron seemed irritated enough by the controversy to tacitly rebuke her during PMQs yesterday.

Asked by Mr Miliband if he was happy with how his forestry policy was going, the prime minister replied: "The short answer to that is no."

Today she insisted: "I made the decision together with the prime minister. We made this decision together."

The U-turn signals something of a trend in government, with analysts highlighting the susceptibility of the coalition to celebrity-led, well-publicised campaigns.

Plans to scrap free school milk, BookStart and school sport have also fallen following sustained campaigning.

Some 500,000 people signed an online petition demanding a U-turn on the forestry sell-off.


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