AN MP says he has changed his mind and is now in support of the sell-off of state-owned forests – as long as public access is guaranteed.
Huge swathes of woodland across Fareham, Havant, Waterlooville and East Hampshire, along with scores of others across the country, are at risk as the government looks to sell land currently run by the Forestry Commission in a bid to save money.
Meon Valley MP George Hollingbery previously spoke to The News of his fears about the plans following concern from constituents. But he now says he cautiously welcomes the plans to unburden the government of the 18 per cent of England’s woodlands that it owns. ‘Having looked at the consultation it is now indeed clear there will be guarantees about the rights of residents to use the land’, said Mr Hollingbery, pictured.
‘I was always happy with the transfer of such assets as long as certain rights were set in stone and I now fully support the plan, especially as it gives the chance for local groups to take over.
‘In the Meon Valley this has been very successful with Park Wood in Cowplain, a real local asset successfully run by volunteers.
‘The plans could now allow another piece of woodland, Queen’s Inclosure, just over the road from Park Wood, to be run by local people.’
But Hampshire Friends of the Earth co-ordinator Ray Cobbett, is not convinced. He fears that parts of Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Havant Thicket, Queens Inclosure and Hundred Acre Woods, could be lost to the public forever.
He said: ‘It’s all very well the government saying they would be happy for woodland to be run by the public as part of the Big Society in action, but who on earth has the money these days to pay for it? Community groups can’t go to local authorities for financial help because they simply don’t have any money.
‘And there would be huge costs involved in maintaining forests.
‘The only organisations who could afford the forests are private companies who want to exploit the timber.’
Mr Cobbett is urging people to take part in the 12-week consultation launched by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to gauge people’s opinions on the sell-off and to let their MP know their feelings. Go to defra.gov.uk to take part.