Mark has received a very high volume of emails about the government’s consultation on whether or not to sell off tracts of publicly-owned forests. Pasted below is the reply he sent today to constituents.
Thank you so much for your correspondence regarding the government’s consultation on whether or not to sell off tracts of England’s publicly-owned forests. I am sorry for this slightly delayed and rather impersonal reply to your message. I was abroad last week so was not able to attend the vote. The largest number of campaign emails I have ever received on a specific issue was awaiting me upon my return! As such, I hope you will understand that it is not possible for me to reply to everyone personally although I very much appreciate the time and trouble you and other constituents have taken to share your views with me.
I must confess that I believe the government has failed publicly to articulate its case for the proposals. As you appreciate, we are living in straitened economic times and this makes difficult, unpalatable and unpopular decisions over the public finances impossible to avoid. Had the Minister been upfront about the moral imperative to reduce the debt burden that years of overspending have placed on future generations and been clear about the spending choices open to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, then I believe a robust case for its plans to sell off forestry land might feasibly have been made. Instead the Department has chosen to embark upon a self-evidently unconvincing twelve-week long consultation process without soothing any of the understandable public concerns that have been expressed at the outset.
As you may also know, the planned sales were designed to bring in £200-300m; the resulting black hole in the DEFRA budget will most likely result in less money being spent on flood defences. I believe it is important that you are aware of the consequences of the anticipated change in policy over publicly-owned forests.
However, in view of the strength of public opinion, I believe it would now be in everyone’s interests for the forestry proposals to be shelved as soon as possible. Rest assured, I have been privately advising the government of my views.
Thank you again for making your voice heard on this issue. As you will know it has been a matter which has aroused great passions and I trust the government will be taking into account the groundswell of concern.
With kindest regards,