We are hugely disappointed that Government has missed the opportunity to move on from the controversies of the 2011 by not choosing to include a Forestry Bill in today’s Queens Speech. This is the second legislative programme put forward since a promise was made in January 2013 to bring forward legislation. We are frankly perplexed why the Coalition didn’t choose to take what would have been seen as a very positive step by the many thousands of opponents to the proposed sell off of the Public Forest Estate.
This decision is also inconsistent with the claim by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in their joint statement that accompanied the Queen’s Speech “Four years on, our parties are still governing together and still taking bold steps” and that the programme “builds on the foundations we have laid in the past four years, will help us make progress and continue to take Britain forward to a brighter future”.
Taking a bold step for forestry would have given our public forest estate the bright future it deserves!
We are very grateful to our members and supporters, over 3,300 of you took action to highlight our call to your local members of Parliament. This reached a staggering 572 MPs – 90% of all the MPs in Parliament. Our call for a Forestry Bill has also united a broad range of groups. The Ramblers, ConFor, Wildlife Trusts, Save our Woods, 38Degrees, and members of the Forest Campaign Network all signed our open letter to the Prime Minister published by the Daily Telegraph.
Disappointedly leafing through those 11 Bills which made the cut today, I feel it does little to persuade us that the Government sees the natural environment as having a role to play in Britain’s brighter future. Starting with the positives, we are pleased that Government is planning to legislate for carrier bag charging in England, with the proceeds channelled back towards environmental causes. However, we share the disappointment of small retailers that they will be exempt from the regime. We are also keen to further explore how the proposed Garden Cities, which are supported by 85% of the population, could deliver environmental gain, and remain worthy of the name by being sited sensitively, respecting the existing natural environment, and ensuring their residents benefit from proximity to nature.
Of biggest concern to us is the Infrastructure Bill, a mammoth hotchpotch of legislation that brings together a range of controversial measures to rapidly boost infrastructure development, road building and fracking. The Bill will weaken the ability of local communities to use the planning system to protect their local environments, including ancient woodlands from unwanted developments. The Bill will also legislate for zero-carbon homes, although Government has decided to exempt small developments – a significant chunk of the house building market.
Ending on a brighter note, the one silver lining within the Infrastructure Bill is the inclusion of Species Control Orders to control invasive, non-native species. This is a measure we support as invasive species are a major threat to the health and biodiversity of our woods.
Returning to our campaign for forestry legislation, the Woodland Trust will continue to push both independently and in conjunction with others for a clear route map of pre-legislative scrutiny to prevent any further delay, as well as urging all political parties to make a manifesto commitment to legislate as soon as possible so that the future of our public forests is assured.
Please read and share our press release on the Queen’s Speech.
Steve Mulligan, Lead Government Affairs Officer