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Forestry Commission

Volume 547: debated on Thursday 5 July 2012

2. Under what circumstances the Forestry Commission may decline to comment on proposed developments on land for which it is responsible. (115214)

It is for the planning authority to decide whether to grant permission for a development, guided by the national planning policy framework issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government. The Environment Agency and Natural England are statutory consultees in the planning process. The Forestry Commission will provide factual information on request on a non-statutory basis.

Parkhurst forest is an ancient woodland that is home to rare flora and fauna, and much of it is a site of special scientific interest. It is owned partly by the Forestry Commission and partly by the Ministry of Justice, which wants to site two 410-feet high wind turbines there, but the Forestry Commission has a policy of not objecting to schemes put forward by Government Departments unless there is a specific operational reason. Will the Secretary of State tell me who is responsible for evaluating the suitability and impact of these proposals on such sensitive sites?

Natural England is responsible for the SSSI. The land in question, on which it is proposed that the wind turbines should be built, is not managed by the Forestry Commission; it manages land adjacent to it. It has studied the proposal and the environmental assessment and assessed that the application will not impact on land it manages or owns.

To be able to offer advice, the Forestry Commission must be properly staffed and resourced. Given the announcement yesterday from the independent panel, will the Secretary of State confirm that there will be no further cuts in the Forestry Commission’s staff or resources?

Yes. We gave the Forestry Commission additional funds to assist with its restructuring, but, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, we inherited a situation in which the previous Government left us with a very substantial deficit and we have to set about clearing up the mess. That involves all DEFRA agencies playing their part, but we have provided assistance to the Forestry Commission on restructuring.

May I commend the Secretary of State on completing her about-face on forests? She was an innovative trailblazer back in the day when she halted her sell-off of the forests, setting a U-turning example that I am pleased to see has been followed by almost every Department in Whitehall ever since. In her answer to the previous question, she said that additional funds had been made available to the Forestry Commission to carry out its programme of cuts. Will she now commit to halting those cuts until she brings forward her decision on the report that was published yesterday?

We are dealing with two separate things here, but I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) for recording her cross-party support for the forestry report. To reiterate for the House and to make it perfectly clear, the public forest estate will remain in public ownership and there is no programme of sales, but, as I have just said in response to the question from the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), DEFRA has to help to reduce the deficit that the Labour party left this Government to clear up. Every DEFRA agency is playing its part, but we have given assistance specifically to the Forestry Commission with its restructuring programme.