HL Deb 19 March 1998 vol 587 cc214-5WA
Lord Ewing of Kirkford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have any plans to increase public access to Forestry Commission land, and what are their plans for the future of the moratorium on large scale sales of Forestry Commission land. [HL1128]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel)

We have made clear that we are determined to increase public access to the countryside, including woodlands. As Britain's largest landholder, and as the country's largest single provider of outdoor recreation, the Forestry Commission has an important role to play in this; one of its key objectives is the development of opportunities for woodland recreation.

We are still considering the commission's future activities as part of its Comprehensive Spending Review. Nevertheless, we have agreed that in the coming year the commission should offer to buy suitable areas of land where it can provide additional public access and recreation facilities, especially in the National Forest, the community forests and the Central Scotland Forest. In addition, we wish to ensure that as many of the commission's woods as possible are open to the public, and so the commission will also offer to buy out freeholds where the leases currently restrict access to its existing woods.

The Forestry Commission, like any large landowner, needs to be able both to buy and to sell land in order to manage its estate efficiently and effectively, and to carry out its activities within its budgetary provision.

For the coming year, therefore, while the moratorium on large-scale sales of forest land will stay in place, the commission will be able to sell a small amount of land which is surplus to its requirements. This will include agricultural land, unplantable land, and relatively small and isolated blocks of forest land which do not make a significant contribution to the commission's objectives. Areas of forest land which are important for public access will not be sold unless an access agreement is in place. The commission will also be prepared to sell areas for development where this is in the public interest.