LONDON — Ministers are planning a massive sell-off of Britain’s state-owned forests as they seek to raise billions of pounds to help cut the deficit, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, is expected to announce plans within days to dispose of about half of the 748,000 hectares (1.85 million acres) of woodland overseen by the Forestry Commission by 2020, according to the newspaper.
The controversial decision will pave the way for a huge expansion in the number of Center Parcs-style holiday villages, golf courses, adventure sites and commercial logging operations throughout Britain as land is sold to private companies, the report added.
The forestry commissions lands were last valued in the 1990s at 2.5 million pounds, the Telegraph said.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that the Government will be setting out its details of its “strategic approach” to forestry this autumn.
“We will ensure our forests continue to play a full role in our efforts to combat climate change, protect the environment and enhance biodiversity, provide green space for access and recreation, alongside seeking opportunities to support modernization and growth in the forestry sector,” a spokesman said.
Allan MacKenzie, the secretary of the Forestry Commission Trade Unions, warned that they would fight the sell-off.
“Once we’ve sold it, it never comes back. Once it is sold, restrictions are placed on the land which means the public don’t get the same access to the land and facilities that are provided by the public forest estate,” he told the Telegraph.
“The current system means a vast amount of people can enjoy forests and feel ownership of them. It is an integral part of society.”