Concern at ministers' plan to sell off forests

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ONE of Hampshire's most-treasured green spaces could be sold under government cuts.

Queens Inclosure, in Havant, is a natural beauty spot that is used by members of the public every day.

But the forest, along with scores of others across the country, could be put on the market in a bid to save money.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will be launching a public consultation at the end of this month to gage people's opinions on the ownership of state-run woodlands.

The Conservative MP for Meon Valley, George Hollingbery, has said concerned residents have approached him, worried over the proposals.

He said: 'I have received letters of concern from residents, because some of these spaces have been enjoyed by the public for many years and they do not want to lose them.

'I know people have flagged up the Havant Thicket and Queens Inclosure.

'I understand people hugely value their woodlands and they are concerned at the idea of them being sold.

'I'm not against the idea of selling woods if they are commercial assets that can be run better by people outside government, but the problem comes with the idea of selling public woodlands valued by communities.

'The government must ensure very clear safeguards about public access and maintenance are applied to any land sold.'

The Forestry Commission, an agency for Defra, maintains 18 per cent of the country's woodlands, while about 69 per cent is owned by the private sector and 13 per cent by other public sector bodies.

Havant Councillor Paul Buckley, who is also chairman of the Friends of Park Wood group, said: 'It (Queens Inclosure) is a natural green space, but the question at the moment is if it does go up for sale then who will buy and what will they do with it.

A Defra spokesman said: 'No decisions have been taken on any particular sites.

'We will not compromise the protection of our most valuable and biodiverse forests.'

The consultation will be launched at the end of this month and is likely to run for 12 weeks.