When you read this short but important statement issued by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra I must admit, I worry, once I understand the context:-
“We are committed to shifting the balance of power from big government to big society by giving individuals, businesses, civil society organisations and local authorities a much bigger role in enhancing the natural environment”
So, with horror, I have read about the UK Government’s stated policy to sell some of our ancient woodlands in a bid to reduce the deficit (here we go again) by some £700 million, a pretty small sum all things considered – think the cost of Wembley Stadium. This includes land in The New Forest, The Forest of Dean and Sherwood Forest as well as much more.
Government ministers want to transfer power and ownership from the nation via the Forestry Commission, which owns 18% of woodlands to private business and ‘the big society’, claiming that this move will giver greater public control. Quite what the logic of this is actually beyond me? I suppose when the land is sold off, then more people may be in control than currently, ie the civil servants, but that is a completely bogus argument. Apparently a public consultation will begin next week and a bill to enable the sale is due to go before the House of Lords soon after. Let’s hope the Lords, famed for their independence and propensity to check recklessness by Government, calls this policy into question.
The pressure group 38 Degrees carried out a poll via YouGov and found that 75% of the 2,000 people it polled were against the plans and 84% agreed that that forests should stay publically owned. So far some according to Channel 4 News tonight 130,000 people have signed the petition run by 38 Degrees, it will be interesting to see if this number will rise substantially as the media begins to focus on the issue. For once, this feels like an open vote issue, many traditional left, right and centre voters being united that they want forests to stay free and hold back the small band of private property owners who wish to put their profit, not the environment, first.
Look what happened when the railways, energy companies and airports were sold off in the 80’s. We have ended up with a ludicrously expensive and disjointed railway system, our energy prices are sky high and under foreign ownership and Heathrow, owned by a massively over leveraged (ie skint) Spanish company, can’t get rid of snow and ice as quickly as they should. I am neither pro or anti private ownership of national institutions, but I would like us to weigh up the consequences. For a paltry £700 million do we really think this is the righ thing to do?
Since I watched Channel 4 News, the number of people who have signed the petition has risen to 178,350. If you fancy signing, here’s the link. This is a very sad state of affairs.