After the news that the Government intended to sell off a massive amount of Forestry Commission land in England into private ownership, which we detailed in our Access All Areas piece, it was almost universally welcomed that the Government had climbed down from their stance. However, all isn’t peachy as the CTC, the UK’s national cyclists’ organisation, points out that since there are still plans to sell 15% of that forestry, the campaign is on to defend access by bike.
The CTC had been working behind the scenes to secure an acceptable outcome for cyclists, whatever the results of the Government’s consultation. In the run up to today’s announcement, Colin Palmer, CTC’s off-road advisor, met MPs, Peers and other potential allies, while CTC’s Chief Executive was due to speak to Environment Minister Richard Benyon MP this week. Benyon cancelled their meeting the day before Mr Cameron announced the end of the consultation.
Mr Cameron signalled the Government’s U-turn during Prime Minister’s questions last week. When asked whether he was happy with the Government’s “flagship policy” of forest sell-offs, the Prime Minister said: “The short answer to that is – no”.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman MP has announced that she will delete the clauses in the Public Bodies Bill that would have enabled the sale of one half of all Forestry Commission land. As a result, the Government will now abandon plans to facilitate the sale of this English Forestry Commission Estate. Instead it will set up a panel to advise on biodiversity and forest access.
Despite the Government’s U-turn, it still intends to sell 40,000 hectares, equivalent to 15% of the Forestry Commission estate – although these sales will not be implemented until the criteria are reassessed. The CTC will campaign to retain cycle access in these forests.
Reflecting on the campaign so far, Colin Palmer said: “CTC has said all along that we’d prefer to see England’s forests remain in public ownership and we are now very pleased that the Government now seems to be accepting this principle. However, we need to ensure that cycle access is not lost in the future. We hope that Ministers now understand the importance to cycling of the forestry estate, and will look for ways to meet the increasing demand from families and mountainbikers for traffic-free cycling opportunities in the forest.”
As well as last issue’s interview with Ian Warby of the CTC, we’ve got an interview with the CTC’s very same off road advisor Colin Palmer in issue 64 as part of our continued Access All Areas campaign. We’re also going to have some more features soon to show what you can do to get involved to defend and improve access for cyclists. Keep your eyes peeled…