Forest Holidays – in case you missed it

Dormouse picDo you remember the case of Fineshade Wood (see here, here and here for example)? Back on 17 March Rupert de Mauley was answering questions in the House of Lords on the subject. Note the fact that Forest Holidays ‘is unlikely to be able to progress a site if it does not have the full support of the Forestry Commission‘.

Note also Lord Greaves’s view that the more he looked into it ‘the murkier the whole business seems‘.

 

 

Forest Holidays: Forestry Commission Stake

Question

Asked by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to protect the Forestry Commission’s stake in Forest Holidays and to ensure that in the event of a sale by the majority shareholder they would not lose all management control of any future development.

s216_LordDeMauley-1a The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley) (Con): My Lords, the control the Forestry Commission has over developments by Forest Holidays is exercised through the arrangements in the legal framework agreement between Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission, rather than through its shareholding in the business. Any change in ownership would not change the level of control exercised under the framework agreement and as landlord.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab): My Lords, concern about the future of our public forest estate continues, and the Answer of the Minister does nothing to assuage the fears that there are at the moment or the anxiety over the nature of the relationship between the Forestry Commission and Forest Holidays. What is the process for approving new and existing sites? Further to that, why does there not appear to have been any competitive tender process when Forest Holidays was restructured through a joint venture in 2012?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, the Forestry Commission has to approve of any new sites for this activity, such approval not to be unreasonably withheld, which is a reasonably common requirement. In practice, Forest Holidays is unlikely to be able to progress a site if it does not have the full support of the Forestry Commission. Forest Holidays also has its own site selection criteria, which exclude any site where there are significant environmental constraints.

I spoke to the chairman of the Forestry Commission today, and he confirmed that only a limited number of sites are available within the public forest estate.

Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab): I declare an interest as the chair of the Forestry Commission from 2001 to 2009. As the House may know, there have been two joint ventures with the Forestry Commission and Forest Holidays, one on my watch in 2006 and a later one in 2012. Will the Minister confirm that, on the first occasion, it followed full parliamentary procedure, had the approval of the Treasury and went out to full competitive tendering?

As regards the second venture, will the Minister assure the House that if the private sector investor decided to sell its share, the Forestry Commission would not be forced to sell the commensurate share at the same time?

Lord De Mauley: I can confirm most of what the noble Lord said. The terms under which the current joint venture operates are very much the same as for the original joint venture. If the controlling interest is sold, the Forestry Commission may be required to sell its interest in the company by the buyer, including the Forestry Commission’s stake in the business. The sale would not change the controls set out in the framework agreement and the site leases.

Lord Hylton (CB): My Lords, I declare my entry in the register of interests. Public access and amenity are obviously most important, but they are not the only consideration. When it comes to marketing, will the Government ensure that the Forestry Commission does not intentionally undercut private owners and producers?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, although that is slightly wide of the Question, I think I can none the less confirm what the noble Lord says.

Lord Greaves (LD): My Lords, when this Question was first put down, I had no idea what Forest Holidays was, but I have been looking into it, and the more I do so, the murkier the whole business seems. It appears that, since the framework agreement in 2012 and the new joint venture companies having been set up, pieces of the forestry estate have effectively been handed to venture capitalists to pursue log cabin developments. The questions that need to be asked are: first, are the public getting value for money for that through the forestry commissioners? There are arguments that they are not. Secondly, is it true that the forestry commissioners are not exercising their powers effectively over such developments? Thirdly, how far will this go? Is it the intention that Forest Holidays will expand substantially, using cheap Forestry Commission land and taking over some of the national forestry estate for its purposes?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, as I said, I discussed this matter this morning with the chairman of the Forestry Commission. As he said, the reality is that only a limited number of sites are available within the public forest estate, principally because much of the land is either ancient woodland or SSSI or protected in some other way.

Baroness Masham of Ilton (CB): My Lords, what can be done about the wild boar in the Forest of Dean eating lambs? Might this not be dangerous to people on holiday?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, that is an interesting question. It is important that we retain visibility of the trees as well as the forest. Primary responsibility for management of feral boar lies with local communities and individual landowners. This means that local land managers are free to control wild boar as they see fit, as long as that control is carried in a humane and legal manner.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the Forestry Commission in England is to be congratulated on the significant rise in the number of people visiting our public forest estates, not least as it is against the background of a recent report which suggests that the number of people visiting rural areas has slightly declined. It shows the huge value that our population puts on both the social and economic benefits of the forest, as well as on the environmental benefits because of carbon capture. Have Her Majesty’s Government made any assessment of the possibility of increasing the total amount of public forest estate to enhance those benefits even further?

Lord De Mauley: We have not given particular consideration to that, although the House will be aware of the background and the report of the Independent Panel on Forestry. It is important that we continue to increase the amount of woodland cover generally in the country. That is under way, principally funded through the rural development programme.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister answer the second part of the question asked by my noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere? If the private sector sells its share, does the Forestry Commission have to do likewise?

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I did actually answer that. There are circumstances in which the Forestry Commission’s share is sold with that of the majority shareholder.

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10 Replies to “Forest Holidays – in case you missed it”

  1. Perhaps the Forestry Commission could identify which parts of its (our) holdings it thinks are suited to Forest Holidays purposes? There could then be a useful external review of those sites and the selection criteria that might minimise the murk over future Fineshades.

    Given the SSSI-designation constipation over at Natural England, lack of SSSI status shouldn't necessarily be taken as any definite point in favour. Then again, Natural England tends to refrain from comment on proposals that don't affect SSSI (or above) designated land or protected species.

    And I wonder which already lodged forest will be the destination for the holder of the relevant Easter raffle ticket?

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  2. & when they (NE) do make comment on potential impact upon SSSIs / SPAs / SACs it's generally, at least in this neck of the woods, been on the back of prior bought & paid for Discretionary Advice Service, so no problem then?

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  3. I think Lord Hylton's question is very interesting and shows exactly what the problem is. Commercial interests are maybe more important than the public interest.

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  4. As Lord Greaves says "a very murky business" indeed. To my knowledge this whole business of effectively selling off some of our national woodland for commercial development has not been made public until the Fineshades Wood episode and no public consultation on the matter has been held prior to the implementation of the process. The whole matter seems to me a disgrace and typical of politicians trying to slip things through "on the side". (One can see why they can't be trusted.) This whole process should be stopped immediately and proper controls put in place to protect our forests even from the Forestry Commission (FC) themselves. The FC have a singularly poor record on nature and wildlife conservation and it should not be solely down to them, if at all, to designate forests for commercial development. At the very least the public is entitled to know the current forests the Forestry Commission have designated.
    No, the matter is very "smelly" indeed and needs to be halted and completely reassessed in the public domain with proper protection measures put in place.

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  5. The Forestry Commission did identify a further 20 sites that it thinks are suited to Forest Holidays purposes back in 2012. 19 of these were listed in the Exclusivity List which formed part of the 2012 Framework Agreement (to which Lord De Mauley referred in his answers). The 20th was the Christchurch campsite in the Forest of Dean.

    As well as Delamere Forest, Thorpe Woodlands (former campsite), Houghton Forest and Fineshade Wood, all of which have had planning applications, there are 5 other English sites named on the list.

    They are Matlock Moor (Derbyshire), Hamsterley (Durham), Kielder Forest (Northumberland), Coombs Wood (aka Coombes Wood, Cumbria) and Grizedale (Lake District). With virgin sites attracting so much local opposition, the Forestry Commission's low facility campsite at Tackeroo, Cannock Chase is another candidate, although not actually on the Exclusivity List.

    Welsh sites on the list are Garwnant (Brecon Beacons), Pembrey (Llanelli) and Beddgelert (the only Welsh campsite). Scottish sites listed are Glentress, Leanachan Forest, Galloway Forest Park, Moray Firth, St Andrew's, Royal Deeside and Loch Ness.

    In June 2014 the Forestry Commission England National Committee was told that, in addition to Delamere, Houghton Forest and Fineshade Wood, there were 3 more English sites in the pipeline for the coming year. With more non English sites to follow.

    I asked the Forestry Commission for the postcodes for these sites but was told that they do not hold this information. There are, however, clues that might identify the 3 new English sites currently being worked on.

    Clue 1 – Is there a visitor centre?
    Clue 2 – Has there been recent thinning i.e. tree felling?
    Clue 3 - Do the trees have painted red rings or metal disks on them? Red rings indicate that the tree will be felled. Metal disks indicate a tree survey has been done; this forms part of the planning application.
    Clue 4 – Are there little painted posts in the ground? These indicate building plots and services.

    Pictures and which sites I think are likely to be at immediate risk (and why) can be found on our Save Thorpe Campsite BLOG of 10 March entitled Forest Holidays - Coming to a forest near you? (It's not the most recent BLOG on our site so you will have to scroll down to find it.)

    http://www.savethorpecampsite.co.uk/blog.html

    We lost the battle at Thorpe but I kept on asking questions and I am pleased our research might now be helping others. BTW SSSI designation is no protection as was seen at the Thorpe site.

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  6. Dear Shirley,

    Thank you for that decidedly useful sharing of information. Given the readership of this blog, I trust that it will indeed alert people to be on the look out for less than appropriate development in their local FC sites.

    Perhaps the Lord Greaves will look further into the murk.

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  7. Forest Holidays are back in Fineshade Woods this morning carrying out a bird survey. This appears to be in much of the same area as before and also taking in additional parts of the wood. As they are behind in their business plan to have more villages open last year, Delamere and Fineshade should have been up and running, the pressure must be on to push things through.

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  8. Thank you, Shenagh.

    Clearly, they were there because...

    "The forest is teeming with wildlife; from native British woodland mammals, to birds and butterflies and rare and beautiful plants and flowers."

    Or so Forest Holidays' website says. But don't worry, they'll soon put a stop to that.

    Or perhaps that's unfair. Surely Forest Holidays have a representative who can inform us about all of the positive benefits for wildlife and for people that have resulted from their earlier successful applications and all those that are planned, so that local people can be ready to welcome them accordingly...

    (While you still have the chance to.... "Feel the solid earth beneath your feet, enjoy the shelter of the tree canopy above your head and reconnect with this natural world." )

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  9. Forest Holidays are about to put in a planning application for a site in Mortimer Forest in Herefordshire. There is a group forming to oppose the development. Any support would be gratefully required.
    www.save-mortimer-forest.co.uk

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