§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What is their response to the criticisms made by the Ramblers' Association of their policy regarding continued public access to woodlands being disposed of by the Forestry Commission.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Strathclyde)
The attitude adopted by the Ramblers' Association is disappointing. The clear purpose of our new policy, as set out in the statement by my right honourable and learned friend the then Secretary of State for Scotland in another place on 21st November 1990 is to ensure that effective arrangements are established whereby continued public access to any Forestry Commission woodland that is sold may be secured.
The Ramblers' Association claims that our approach to maintaining public access will be ineffective because local authorities will be unwilling to enter into agreements. We do not accept this. The Foresty Commission is currently preparing guidelines on the arrangements: the Ramblers' Association and local authority associations will be consulted about these before they are issued so that their views can be fully considered. This will ensure that the agreements are workable and place a minimal burden on local authorities.
The association is also quite wrong in suggesting that local authorities may be involved in significant expenditure in terms of compensation and wardening. The Forestry Commission will certainly not be seeking compensation itself, and subsequent owners will be bound by the agreement entered into by the commission before sale. It will be up to the local authority to decide whether or not wardening will be required.16WA
It is particularly disappointing that the response of the Ramblers' Association should be to call for an abandonment of our disposals policy for Forestry Commission woodlands. This is a sensible and measured policy which will not only strengthen the private forestry sector but will allow the commission to rationalise its estate in order to increase the efficiency of the forestry enterprise. The Ramblers' Association's legitimate concerns about the possible loss of public access as a result of this policy are being met.
The Government hope that the Ramblers' Association will reconsider its position and co-operate fully with the Forestry Commission in considering the guidelines that will bring this new and positive policy on public access to woodlands into effect.