This is entry No.23, first published on 27 January 2011, of a blog on public bodies reform. Click here to view the whole blog.

Defra today issued its consultation (see here) with responses due by 21 April. As part of the consultation process, the Forestry Commission (England) will host a number of local stakeholder workshops as well as one national stakeholder event. The Government expects to publish its response to this consultation in the summer of 2011.

Criteria to select woodlands for sale in 2011/12 have already been approved (see here) and will be used to determine the sales programme for 2011/12. Sales criteria for 2012/13 and beyond will be determined following the public consultation on the Public Forest Estate in England as now launched.

The consultation paper proposes in particular:

  • Inviting new or existing charitable organisations, to take on ownership or management of the heritage forests to secure their public benefits for the long-term future;
  • Creating opportunities for community and civil society groups to buy or lease forests that they wish to own or manage;  
  • Finding commercial operators to take on long-term leases for the large-scale commercially valuable forests. By leasing rather than selling, the consultation paper says that it will be possible to make sure that these forests continue to deliver public benefits through lease conditions.  

It will no doubter be a little while before the principal stakeholder interests' considered views on the Government's detailed proposals become clear but, given the hostility expressed in advance of the consultation, wide-ranging concerns are likely to remain, particularly as respects the financial viability of possible transfers to community interests and the preservation of public access in all its forms (not just rights of way). The National Trust published its views, including 27 principles which it says should be followed, on the eve of the consultation (see here).

For the background to the proposals more generally, see blog entry No.21.

At the time of writing, there is still no news as to when the deferred 7th sitting of the Lords' committee stage on the Public Bodies Bill is to take place. However, a further amendment has now been tabled by Lord Greaves precluding clauses 17 and 18 applying to the New Forest, Sherwood Forest, the Forest of Dean and Kielder Forest.