Here are just three reasons why the Government should forget its proposal to sell off our forests and woodlands:
- It wasn't in either the Conservative or Liberal election manifesto, or the coalition agreement, so they have no political mandate for it.
- It won't save the taxpayer any money in the long run. As reported in The Independent, according to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) impact assessment, the proposal to transfer heritage forests – including the New Forest in Hampshire and the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire – to a conservation charity would cost £507.9m but yield benefits of only £495.9m. Although the value of these woodlands on the open market is estimated at £220m, the report describes them as "unsellable at a political and practical level" and says the option is therefore "unviable". Selling or leasing the large-scale commercial woodlands would cost between £579.1m and £748.7m but yield benefits of between £573.1m and £737.8m, the document says. Selling the other "community woodlands", valued at £50m, would involve costs of £234.1m and bring in benefits amounting to only £231.9m. Ministers confirmed the raw figures but they assume there will be savings later because the private sector will be more 'efficient'. (Never mind that those savings won't accrue to the taxpayer but to the private sector.)
- Everyone seems to be against the idea, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and 452,120 people who have signed the 38 Degrees campaign petition. The chairman of the BBC's 'Gardener's Question Time', Eric Robson, is against it too and that ought to be enough for anyone.
There's only one real reason why Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State at DEFRA, wants to sell the forests off and that is because it would provide a short-term boost to her department's finances and enable her to achieve the spending targets set by the Treasury, so that the Government can claim at the next general election that they have tackled the structural deficit. All the justifications put forward by her and Cameron are just a load of old baloney, steeped in half-baked free market doctrine.