Dalby for sale. Flood scheme high and dry.

Does this sound a little sensational? If the government has its way, both could be a reality. They currently have a consultation process to gauge reaction to their plans for selling off publicly owned forestry, managed by the Forestry Commission (FC), which totals about 18% of forest and woodland nationally. Irrespective of our opinions, about 15% of the public forest will be sold off, with the consultation gauging reaction to selling off all the remainder. Details are suspiciously lacking and although the supporting information appears predictably plausible on the surface, there is rather too much ‘jam tomorrow’. How sensible is it to start disposing of these public assets before essential checks and balances come into force? Good intentions and vague promises don’t necessarily deliver.

In return for short term monetary gain, there could be a raft of serious drawbacks.  Don't be misled by media hype about serried ranks of ugly conifers - FC has moved on significantly in recent years.  After all the excellent work by FC in the last 15-20 years in opening up the forestry for leisure pursuits, there could be significant loss of access for cyclists and horse riders and even potentially for walkers.  I’m sure you will be aware how vital tourism is to our area.  What will the future hold for Dalby and what will the price of entry be?  Without the FC's guaranteed production levels, timber prices could spiral as private owners restrict supply.  What controls would there be for private owners to consider the landscape, biodiversity or even to plant naturally occurring tree species?  How robust would enforcement of any conditions be?  How long before subsidies paid back to well-heeled landowners outweigh the short-term gain?  What will be the future for the debris dams, tree planting and land management specifically aimed at slowing the flow of flood waters, which has taken several years of hard campaigning to bring to fruition?  Will private owners be maintaining or improving these provisions without hefty financial inducements?  How many more local unemployed?  It’s been suggested that local authorities or charities could buy the land to protect its future.  Where does the cash, manpower and management come from when we’re all suffering massive cutbacks?  The ‘Big Society’ is under big financial stress, none more so than rural communities.  Is it unreasonable for the FC to subsidise so much public and ecological benefit with commercial forestry operations?

The government are now desperately backpedalling by talking of not selling, but leasing and giving away land, just to shift administration to their ‘Big Society’.  This reminds me of the local government reorganisation in the 1970’s. Massive cost and ideological upheaval to ultimately achieve the same outcome.  Where’s the cost saving?

You could try responding to the consultation, but a raft of simple ‘agree or disagree’ answers will inevitably leave you frustrated and unable to express your true opinions. Will additional comments carry weight once you’ve ticked the ‘right box’?  Since when was any answer simply black or white? Go with the nearest response and you could unwittingly give government the justification to back their plans – perchance with just a little judicial ‘spin’ placed on the results.

If you feel strongly enough to oppose these plans, don’t just sit back and let it happen. Make your opinion known by lobbying your MP, writing letters, responding to the consultation or just signing the online petition.  Once our forests have been flogged off, they’re gone for good.

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