'KEEP OWNERSHIP OF FOREST, URGES MP'

By Chris Yandell

Southern Daily Echo – 1 August 2011

One of Hampshire’s top politicians has urged the Government to retain ownership of the New Forest to stop it being ruined. Dr Julian Lewis, Tory MP for New Forest East, says any new owner would be forced to take drastic action to fund the area’s annual deficit of almost £3m.

Dr Lewis makes his comments in a submission to the body set up to advise ministers on the future of Britain’s forests. Earlier this year the Government sparked fury by devising plans to sell, lease or give away land currently managed by the Forestry Commission.

Ministers were forced to drop the idea after campaigners warned that public access to Britain’s ancient woodland could be restricted. The Government later established an independent panel to advise it on the best way forward and invited interested parties to submit their views.

In his submission, Dr Lewis refers to plans put forward five months ago during a Parliamentary debate on the future of UK forests. He says a proposal to place the New Forest in the hands of a charity would almost certainly have resulted in the Government ceasing to fund the area’s deficit. Sooner or later the charity would have had to commercialise the Forest "in a most destructive way".

Dr Lewis adds:

"Although the country is under extreme economic pressure at present, the answer is not to make changes in the ownership of the Forest which would prevent the state being able to support it more generously in the future, when the economy eventually revives.

Transferring ownership of the New Forest to another body, whether charitable or not, would inevitably result in its irretrievable commercialisation and degradation. Preserving the New Forest is a national responsibility. I trust the panel will agree that it must not be handed over to organisations which cannot possibly pay the price of protecting it."

[For Julian’s speech in the Debate on 2 February 2011, when he was one of just 3 Conservative MPs to vote against plans to privatise the UK’s forest estate before the policy was abandoned, click here.]