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£250m forest sell-off plan outlined

Plans for a £250 million sell-off of England's public forests have been announced, but the Government insisted it would allow communities continued access and greater involvement in their woodlands.

Under proposals put out for consultation, commercially valuable forests would be leased under 150-year leases, allowing the Government to impose conditions on timber companies to protect public access and maintain management standards.

It is expected the leasehold sales of up to half the public estate could raise between £140 and £250 million.

The proposals for the future of the 18% of England's woodlands currently in public ownership also include plans to give communities, civil society and even local authorities the right to buy or lease forests.

And heritage woodlands, such as the Forest of Dean and the New Forest, would be transferred into the ownership of a new charity or existing charities, which would receive funding from the Government, to be managed in the interests of the nation.

News of the plans to dispose of up to 100% of the publicly owned forest in England had caused widespread consternation, with fears rife that well-loved woodlands would come under threat from developers or be cut down for timber and that the public will lose access to forests.

But Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said she hoped the publication of the details of the public consultation would prove many people's fears unfounded.

"State control of forests dates back to the First World War, when needs were very different," she said.

"There's no reason for the Government to be in the business of timber production and forest management.

"It's time for the Government to step back and allow those who are most involved with England's woodlands to play a much greater role in their future."

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