THE GOVERNMENT was forced into a U-turn as it scrapped plans to privatise England’s public forests.
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman told MPs “I am sorry, we got this one wrong” as she abandoned plans to offload England’s public forest estate to companies, communities and charities.
The Commons was told she was halting the public consultation into the future of the 258,000-hectare estate, just 24 hours after David Cameron admitted he was unhappy with the plans at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Downing Street insisted Mr Cameron had full confidence in Ms Spelman, and she had not offered to resign over the issue. She told MPs she and the Prime Minister had made the decision together to abandon the plans.
Ms Spelman said she took full responsibility for the situation over the proposals, which prompted an outcry when they were published at the end of January.
She said she was removing powers that would have allowed the measures to go ahead from the Public Bodies Bill currently going through Parliament, and setting up an independent expert panel to look into future forestry policy.
The U-turn on the plans to dispose of England’s public forest estate, which is currently managed by the Forestry Commission, was hailed as a victory for “people power”, but campaigners warned the battle is not over.
The plans included a £250m sale of leaseholds for commercially valuable forests to timber companies, measures to allow communities, charities and even local authorities to buy or lease woods and plans to transfer well-known “heritage” woods such as the New Forest into the hands of charities.