Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence



MEMORANDUM SUBMITTED BY THE FORESTRY COMMISSION (K 2)

INTRODUCTION

  1.  This memorandum concentrates, as requested by the Committee, on the Forestry Commission's response to devolution and the progress it has made against its objectives.

  2.  The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible for advising on and implementing forestry policy in Great Britain. Forestry is a devolved matter and the Commission therefore reports separately in England, Scotland and Wales to, respectively, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has responsibility for forestry issues which have not been devolved, such as international negotiations, on which he consults the devolved administrations with a view to agreeing the UK line. He would normally convene and chair any meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee on forestry matters.

  3.  The Commission is headed by a Board of Commissioners, whose principal duties and powers are defined in the Forestry Acts 1967 and 1979. These are set out in Annex 1.

What we do

  4.  In practice, the Commission:

    —  provides advice to Ministers;

    —  sets standards for good forestry practice;

    —  offers grants for expanding, regenerating and managing forests;

    —  undertakes and commissions research;

    —  regulates tree felling and

    —  protects Britain's forests from pests and diseases.

  5.  The Commission is the largest woodland owner in each of England, Scotland and Wales, managing in total around 830,000 hectares. These forests are a powerful vehicle for the practical delivery of a range of government policies. Each year they play host to 50 million visits and produce over 5 million tonnes of wood. The Commission's 120,000 hectares in England include some of the country's finest forests, such as the ancient Crown forests—the New Forest and the Forest of Dean—as well as newer forests such as Thetford and Kielder.

How we do it

  6.  The Commission has two executive agencies: Forest Enterprise (FE), which is currently the subject of its first quinquennial review, and Forest Research (FR). FE is responsible for managing forests which Ministers place at the Commissioners' disposal while FR is responsible for undertaking forestry research. In total, the Commission employs 3,268 staff at over 80 locations throughout Great Britain.

  7.  In carrying out its functions, the Commission works closely with a wide range of other bodies, both within and outside Government. In England, this involves particularly close liaison with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), which is responsible for administering the Farm Woodland Premium Scheme (FWPS) as well as for co-ordinating the England Rural Development Programme (ERDP), and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), which takes the lead on matters affecting the countryside more generally.

RESPONSE TO DEVOLUTION

  8.  The Commission welcomed devolution and has taken a number of steps to ensure that its policies and programmes are responsive to the separate needs of England, Scotland and Wales.

  9.  The principal statutory change has been to make the Commissioners accountable separately and distinctly to Ministers in each country. This relates not only to forestry policy, but also to finances: the Commission is now funded separately by Scottish Ministers (covering its activities in respect of Scotland), Westminster (covering both its activities in respect of England and those areas, such as plant health, international policy, research, direct support for Commissioners and pensions, which are carried out on a Great Britain-wide basis) and, prospectively, by the National Assembly for Wales (covering its activities in respect of Wales). The assets, which the Commission uses for carrying out its activities in Scotland and Wales, have been transferred to the Scottish Parliament and The National Assembly respectively. At the same time, the "lead Minister" role, which post-devolution is as described at paragraph two above, has been transferred from the Secretary of State for Scotland, who no longer has any responsibility for forestry, to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

  10.  The Commission's own structures and practices pre-devolution already allowed it to respond well to local needs. It has, however, taken this further, strengthening significantly its National Offices in Cambridge, Aberystwyth and Edinburgh so that they become the principal contact for Commission business, with responsibility in each country for servicing the needs of Ministers, drawing up plans as to what the Commission as a whole intends to deliver, integrating these plans with the country's other policy initiatives and preparing annual reports to Parliament as to what has been delivered. They also have responsibility for liaison with other government departments and agencies on policy issues. The draft concordat on forestry matters between Scottish Ministers, the National Assembly for Wales and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food provides that each party will nominate two non-executive Commissioners to the Board. The Commission has also re-structured its Regional Advisory Committees so as to ensure that they are able to provide advice which is genuinely regional: in England this has meant increasing the number from three to eight to reflect the boundaries of the Government Offices for the Regions.

  11.  Most importantly, our policy-making recognises that we are responding to three distinct policy leads. This has led, in particular, to the drawing up of country forestry strategies for England, Scotland and Wales, reflecting the circumstances and aspirations of each. Implementing these strategies is involving adjustments in each country to the way we operate our grants schemes and to our management of the public forest estate.

  12.  Devolution has also given further impetus to our partnership working. In addressing the needs of each country, we are working increasingly closely both with other Government departments and agencies, in particular MAFF, the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department, the National Assembly for Wales Agriculture Department, and with local bodies, to mutual benefit. Examples in England include our close involvement with MAFF on the ERDP and short rotation coppicing and with DETR on Community Forests and the National Forest.

  13.  In responding to devolution, we have been careful to safeguard the benefits of remaining as one body with responsibilities throughout Great Britain. These range from the economies of scale obtained by operating efficient, expert core services, to the ability, where appropriate, to apply throughout GB lessons learnt in one locality. It also allows us to take a pragmatic approach to those issues where the appropriate scale is likely to be Great Britain, such as timber marketing or the important strategic and long-term research undertaken by FR. Our structure, as shown at Annex 2, reflects our overall approach post-devolution, with the three National Offices taking the policy and presentational lead on most issues, supported by a range of core services.

PROGRESS AGAINST OBJECTIVES

  14.  The Commission's objectives are:

    1.  to protect Britain's forests and woodlands;

    2.  to expand Britain's forest area;

    3.  to enhance the economic value of our forest resources;

    4.  to conserve and improve the biodiversity, landscape and cultural heritage of our forests and woodlands;

    5.  to develop opportunities for woodland recreation;

    6.  to increase public understanding and community participation in forestry.

  15.  The Commission's achievements against its objectives are set out each year in the reports which it, and its two agencies, make to Parliament. The latest versions are enclosed; a report on the Commission's progress against the targets in its Public Service Agreement is at Annex 3. However, as the annual reports relate to 1998-99 (the move to annual reports and accounts to three Parliaments has meant that this year's reports will not be published until next month), the Committee may welcome an update on more recent activity.

  16.  The emphasis of the Commission's activities has shifted considerably in recent decades. For much of the twentieth century it focused—successfully—on its initial remit of creating a strategic reserve of timber. Since the 1980's, however, there has been a major shift in both policy and practice in recognition of the value of forests for wildlife conservation and landscape enhancement and of the impact of forests on people, whether as a valued recreational resource or as a focus for local community involvement. As a result, the Commission's objectives now reflect the fact that Britain's forests and woods can, and should, deliver a wide range of benefits.

  17.  In providing these benefits for this generation and those to come, forestry fits squarely into the concept of sustainable development. Indeed, the principles on which UK forestry policies (and hence the Commission's objectives) are based flow directly from those agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. The Commission both plays an active part—working closely with other departments—in international negotiations on the promotion of sustainable forest management worldwide and is responsible for ensuring that domestic policies are consistent with what is agreed. This means above all achieving an appropriate balance between economic, environmental and social benefits.

  18.  The foundation stones for delivering these benefits are the Commission's first two objectives of protecting Britain's forests and expanding their area. For the former, it has two principal tools. One is the work of our dedicated Plant Health service in regulating and inspecting imports against pests and diseases. Another is the tight control we exercise on the felling of trees, pursuing all cases where there is clear evidence of illegal felling and insisting on the replanting of felled areas where convictions are obtained. We exercise a general presumption against the conversion of woodland to other land uses unless there are overriding public benefits. Forestry expansion, almost all of which is undertaken either by FE or with Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS) support, as continued in recent years at a rate of almost 16,000 hectares per year, with an increasing emphasis on broadleaves.

Economic Benefits (Objective 3)

  19.  The Commission remains committed to enhancing the economic value of Britain's forest resources. Forest Enterprise has consistently met its production targets, making efficiency savings of around 5 per cent annually as it has done so. In 1999-2000, FE produced 5.6 million tonnes of wood. This has been important not only for returns to the taxpayer, but also for the UK's wood processing sector. Working with a number of partners, the Commission commissioned in 1997 a major study into the development of the UK softwood market. The study identified a number of areas where action was needed if maximum benefit was to be gained from the forecast doubling of GB production over the next 25 years. These are being actively pursued, in particular with the successful launch of the Scottish Forestry Industries Cluster, which aims to provide 1,000 jobs in the sector over five years. A similar approach is being developed in Wales.

  20.  The environmental credentials of wood are important in the market place. The Commission, working with other UK producers and Nordic timber producers, recently launched a three year campaign to promote the merits of wood as a raw material; the "Wood for good" campaign emphasises the fact that wood is sustainable, fashionable and energy-efficient.

  21.  The Commission continues to assist woodland owners and managers, providing in 1999-2000 more WGS support than ever before. This support, together with the agriculture department's FWPS, reflects in part the role forestry can have in safeguarding rural employment, particularly during a time of agricultural decline. This theme features prominently in the ERDP, which provides £139 million for the WGS over seven years. It is also exemplified in the success of the South West Forest which aims to contribute to revitalising the economy and environment of rural communities in parts of Cornwall and Devon.

  22.  The Commission has taken a number of steps to ensure that its grants are as effective and user-friendly as possible: firstly, by adopting a discretionary approach, targeting its grants to meet local needs, for example through the use of challenge funds; secondly, by undertaking a thorough review of the administration of grants and licences to ensure the maximum use of modern technology and the minimum bureaucracy. We would expect this review, in which the private sector has been closely involved, to be completed by Spring 2001.

  23.  All this activity has, however, been against the background of a severe market downturn. UK timber prices have fallen by 45 per cent since 1998. Whilst the market has historically been cyclical, such a fall is unprecedented. Given the UK market's dependence on imported timber—accounting for over 80 per cent of consumption—the most significant factor has been the continuing strength of sterling. The fall has had an impact on every sector of the industry, with a number of casualties. It has also caused serious financial difficulties for the Commission (see para 38 below). There can be no doubt that the sector faces difficulties for some time to come.

Environmental Benefits (Objective 4)

  24.  Environmental considerations are taken carefully into account in everything which the Commission does, reflecting the Commissioner's statutory duty to balance the interests of forestry and the environment. The Commission makes a major contribution, both through FE and Grant Aid, to delivering the government's Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP): 23 per cent of the priority BAP species are primarily woodland-based. The FC is the lead partner for five UK Habitat Action Plans (HAPs) for native woodland habitat types and plays a leading role for a number of Species Action Plans (SAPs) for woodland species, such as cow-wheat, capercaillie, red squirrel and wood ant. We also contribute to meeting targets under HAPs and SAPs for non-woodland habitats. Taken together, this activity represent a major commitment which is likely to be difficult to deliver in full if the Commission's current financial difficulties continue.

  25.  All 62,000 hectares of the Commission's own forests which are Sites of Special Scientific Interest are managed in accordance with plans endorsed by the conservation agencies, whilst 88 per cent of scheduled ancient monuments are similarly covered. In addition, 72 per cent of the estate is now the subject of forest design plans, which ensure that a programme is in place to move from the single age plantations of the past to more diverse and attractive woodlands.

  26.  Delivering these environmental benefits often involves close collaboration with others. An example of this increasingly important approach is our work in the New Forest where we have worked with partners on a highly successful EU LIFE project and where we are looking forward to working closely with the proposed National Park Authority as we seek together to safeguard a unique part of England's heritage. Another is the Border Mires programme. This project, which aims to restore active blanket bog in Kielder forest, is led by Forest Enterprise and Northumberland Wildlife Trust, in collaboration with Northumberland National Park, English Nature, Newcastle University and RAF Spadeadam.

  27.  In acting to encourage others to protect the environment the Commission is placing increasing emphasis on long-term planning, with a specific grant available for woodland owners to produce plans covering 20 years. We issue guidance on a range of environmental issues, such as water and soil conservation and archaeology and landscape design. We also scrutinise all applications for new planting, felling and restocking against those guidelines and the requirements of the environmental impact assessment regulations.

Social Benefits (Objectives 5 and 6)

  28.  The social aspects of forestry are of increasing importance worldwide. If forests are to be a major use of Britain's land—often at taxpayer's expense—they must deliver benefits to Britain's people. The most tangible benefit is as a place for recreation. The Commission is Britain's biggest provider of outdoor recreation, hosting 50 million visits annually. Recent research shows that these visits to an outdoor, restorative environment can make a significant contribution to the nation's health. They also provide valuable educational opportunities. Forest Enterprise has undertaken a major review of its recreation policies, fine-tuning them in response to the ever-changing needs of customers, whether for specialist activities such as car rallies and mountain-biking or for more traditional pursuits such as walking. However, resource difficulties have not always made it possible to meet those needs, with, for example, under-investment in our cabins and campsites.

  29.  Not all woodland owners have the same policy of free access as Forest Enterprise. The Commission advised Ministers in England and Wales that the best way to encourage access to woodlands was not through a new statutory right of access to woodlands, but instead through a combination of increased and more targeted incentives together with a new instrument, dedication, to provide long-term security of access to key woodlands. This advice was accepted by Ministers and is reflected in the provisions of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill.

  30.  The Commission wants to ensure that more people have a say in how woods are managed. At the wider policy level, this has involved extensive consultations to prepare the ground for the three country strategies. For private woodlands, we have developed sophisticated and effective consultation procedures, including Internet access to a public register of new planting and felling applications. Forest Enterprise has launched an initiative on community involvement, offering local communities a wide range of options as to how they might become involved. The launch document is enclosed.

  31.  The Government has made social inclusion a high priority. The Commission and the Countryside Agency are working together in England on an initiative which recognises that, if forests are to contribute to this goal, more woodlands are needed near towns and in areas of social and environmental deprivation. The Community Forests programme has been a great success, with nearly 7,500 hectares of new woodlands planted in the 12 forest areas since 1991. The grant of £9.4 million from the Capital Modernisation Fund will provide the project with a welcome and significant boost. Together with DETR and the Countryside Agency, the Commission is considering how community forestry can be used to assist with the implementation of other regeneration, forestry and community-based initiatives.

Integration

  32.  Perhaps the most significant developments in recent years have been the specific steps taken to integrate these three strands—the economic, environmental and social. The UK Forestry Standard, launched in January 1998, sets out in one document all the criteria and standards required for the sustainable management of the UK's forests and explains how progress will be monitored. In 1999, agreement was reached by the whole range of interested parties on the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme, based closely on the UK Forestry Standard, against which forests can be independently certified as being managed to the highest international standards of sustainability. Forest Enterprise secured the certification of its own estate in 1999. This represents independent assurance, recognised by the Forest Stewardship Council, that FE is delivering genuinely sustainable forest management.

  33.  Forestry's ability to help deliver a range of economic, environmental and social benefits is also reflected in the Government's forestry strategy for England, A New Focus for England's Woodlands. The strategy was published in December 1998 and sets out the Government's priorities and programmes for delivering sustainable forestry in England. The strategy is based around four inter-related programmes: Rural Development; Economic Regeneration; Recreation, Access and Tourism; and the Environment and Conservation. Each of the four programmes includes a range of actions that the Government plans to take over the next five to ten years. A copy of the strategy is enclosed. The Government is considering publication of a progress report on implementation of the strategy during 2001.

  34.  The strategy has led to a much closer working relationship between officials in the relevant government departments (MAFF, DETR and FC) and their agencies (including the Countryside Agency, the Environment Agency, English Nature and English Partnerships). Many of these organisations are now looking for the scope to use forestry as a vehicle to help deliver their own objectives. Achieving an integrated approach was one of the four guiding principles for the Strategy. Annex 4 sets out the benefits which are accruing by applying this approach to implementing the Economic Regeneration Programme.

  35.  To coincide with publication of the strategy, the Government established an England Forestry Forum which is chaired by the Forestry Minister, Elliot Morley MP. The Forum normally meets twice a year and members include representatives of environmental, social and business organisations. The Commission provides the secretariat for the Forum. The Forum's terms of reference are to:

    —  share and exchange proposals for implementing the Government's Forestry Strategy for England; and

    —  monitor and review progress with implementation of the Forestry Strategy.

  36.  The Forum has established a number of working groups which are examining a range of detailed issues including business advice, training and support; land regeneration; town and country planning; protection of ancient semi-natural woodland. The Working Groups are due to submit their recommendations by the end of this year.

  37.  The Commission believes it is making good progress against its objectives despite the difficulties created by the low price of timber (see para 38). Perhaps more importantly, external observers appear to agree. Public Opinion Surveys undertaken in 1995, 1997 and 1999 show an increasing level of public satisfaction with the quality of both Britain's forests in general and the Commission's forests in particular: 73 per cent of those asked about places to visit rated the Commission's forests as good or very good. Respondents to the extensive consultation on the quinquennial review of Forest Enterprise were overwhelmingly of the view that its performance had improved considerably since its creation in 1996 and that it met their needs. The successful completion of the certification process described in para 32 above provided further assurance, against closely defined and challenging criteria.

  38.  However it is clear the Commission would have been able to make greater progress had it not been confronted with the financial implications of the fall in timber prices. In 1998-99, FE timber sales accounted for 73 per cent of Commission income; in 1999-2000, these sales were 22 per cent below target. This financial gap could, in theory, have been bridged by sales of land. However, the Government confirmed in 1998 that there would be no large scale sales of public forests, which continue to provide important public benefits. To avoid breaching its Vote limit, it was therefore necessary for the Commission to increase timber production (and alter its method of timber sales); to defer land acquisition and new planning; to cut grants to other woodland owners; to defer research work, investment in recreational conservation projects, and capital expenditure on buildings, equipment and computers; and to seek supplementary estimates of £7.5 million from the UK Parliament (and £5.6 million from the Scottish Parliament), in addition to increasing its planned programme of small scale land sales. Similar action is being taken in the current financial year. These difficulties have led to a recognition that the Commission's current funding arrangements, based largely on a forecast of timber prices over a three year period, need to be re-examined. Following a Treasury-led review, inter-departmental discussions are seeking to identify a financial regime for the future which would, if agreement can be reached, allow a more flexible response to changing timber market conditions, without jeopardising the Commission's social and environmental work.

  39.  In delivering public benefits, the Commission seeks both to develop and make the best use of all its staff. As part of its drive to modernise its operations, it has introduced a range of initiatives including new pay and grading structures, an improved performance management system and new personnel and training policies. The Commission has been recommended for accreditation as an Investor in People. Most importantly, the Commission has recently removed the outdated distinction between industrial and non-industrial staff, creating for the first time a single workforce, simplifying administration and removing artificial barriers to allow all staff to contribute to the full in delivering the Commission's objectives.

Summary

  40.  In short, the Commission

    —  has changed its organisational and financial structure and its operational practices in response to devolution and has prepared forestry strategies for each country as the basis for devolved programmes of work;

    —  has delivered much on its core objectives—economic, environmental and social—but could have achieved considerably more were it not for the unprecedently low level of timber prices combined with the inflexibility of its funding regime.

November 2000



Annex 1

THE FORESTRY COMMISSIONERS' PRINCIPAL DUTIES AND POWERS UNDER THE FORESTRY ACTS 1967 AND 79 AND THE PLANT HEALTH ACT 1967

DUTIES

  To promote the interests of forestry, the development of afforestation and the production and supply of timber and other forest products.

  The promote the establishment and maintenance of adequate reserves of growing trees.

  To endeavour to achieve a reasonable balance between the development of the forestry and the environment.

  To manage land placed at their disposal by Ministers.

  To undertake forestry research.

  To protect forest trees and timber from pests.

POWERS

  To provide assistance, including grants or loans, and advice to woodland owners.

  To grant licences for the felling of growing trees.



Annex 2



Annex 3

PSA PERFORMANCE TARGETS

  The Forestry Commission relies on timber income for much of its funding. Since the CSR settlement there has been a serious decline (of some 45 per cent) in timber prices and some PSA targets are unlikely to be met.

  The Commission's targets to be achieved in Great Britain by 31 March 2002 and the relevant objectives to which each applies are noted below together with the level of achievement by 31 March 2000. Unless otherwise stated the targets are on course to be met.

    (i)  ensure that 1.1 million hectares of woodlands have sustainable management plans and that 50,000 hectares of felled woodlands are restocked (Objectives 1 and 4);

    by 31 March 2000, there were 752,000 hectares of woodland with sustainable management plans and 14,210 hectares of felled woodlands had been restocked against the milestone target of 16,000 hectares.

    (ii)  provide incentives to have 57,000 hectares of new woodlands planted and increase the use of challenge funds and tenders to buy better value public benefits without increasing generally available tariff grants. For new planting, this will be 12 per cent by area and 35 per cent by monetary value (Objectives 2 and 4);

    by 31 March, there were 16,521 hectares of new planting achieved against the milestone target of 19,000 hectares—12.6 per cent by targeted funding representing 21.5 per cent of the monetary value. The 2002 target for new woodlands planted is unlikely to be met due to funding difficulties but the challenge fund target should be met.

    (iii)  guard against possible landslip in its forests in the Welsh Valleys by establishing priorities with £2.5 million of remedial work being completed each year in 1999-2000, 2000-01, 2001-02 respectively (Objective 1);

    this target becomes the responsibility of the National Assembly for Wales when funding for forestry is devolved [expected April 2001]. Only £850,000 was spent in 1999-2000 due to delay in local authority planning approval for the work but this will be rectified in future years.

    (iv)  develop methods to benchmark the return from commercial forestry on the FC estate against equivalent private sector forests and set an increased rate of return thereafter (Objective 3);

    terms of reference for this study are being discussed with HM Treasury.

    (v)  conduct a trial sale of future timber cutting rights (to bring forward income whilst protecting public access) with the public tender process to be completed by 31 March 2000 and any sale completed by 31 March 2001 (Objective 3);

    legal difficulties and value for money issues will delay the completion of the public tender process beyond the target date and these problems are being discussed with HM Treasury to seek a way forward.

    (vi)  submit proposals to Ministers by 31 March 2001 for a more transparent system to improve accountability for public policy decisions on environmental outputs (Objective 4);

    this is in hand.

    (vii)  improve the facilities provided by Forest Holidays through a public/private partnership to refurbish the 4 existing cabin sites (two in England and two in Scotland) by 31 March 2000 and build two new sites (one in England and one in Wales) by 31 March 2002 (Objective 5);

    the Commission identified a partner by advertisement whose business plans were in harmony with objectives but who was eventually unable to conclude a deal. Other options are now being explored to minimise further delay in making improvements.

    Efficiency Measures

    (viii)  reduce the cost of administration for each £1 of grant given from 19p in 1998-99 to 18p in 2001-02;

    the cost of administration for each £1 of grant given in 1999-2000 was reduced to 18.7p.

    (ix)  reduce the production cost of a cubic metre of timber from £16.42 in 1998-99 to £16.23 in 2001-02;

    the cost of producing a cubic metre of timber in 1999-2000 was reduced to £14.03.



Annex 4

FORESTRY FOR ECONOMIC REGENERATION: AN INTEGRATED APPROACH

INTRODUCTION

  1.  One of the four guiding principles of the Government's Forestry Strategy for England is implementation through an integrated approach across Government. This Annex shows how an integrated approach is supporting implementation of one of the Strategy's four programmes—Forestry for Economic Regeneration.

  2.  The Strategy establishes forestry's role in supporting the delivery of wider regeneration policy. Its shows the opportunities forestry can offer, not just in terms of its value to the environment, but for wider benefits to society within the context of broader economic, health and social agendas. In essence, the Strategy has provided the Forestry Commission, for the first time, with a clear and legitimate basis for talking with those Government and private sector bodies responsible for economic and physical land regeneration. It has also helped to establish partnerships what will lead to quantifiable outputs.

BACKGROUND

  3.  The case for forestry as part of regeneration strategy was established in 1997 by research into "The Potential for Woodland on Urban and Industrial Wasteland" [1] by the University of Manchester. This work, commissioned by the Commission and the National Urban Forestry Unit, showed that there were approximately 175,000 ha of derelict and despoiled land in England. Of this, it was estimated that 87 per cent could be considered to justify reclamation. The findings also showed that economic activity was likely to continue to deliver significant areas of new damaged and disturbed land. The research concluded that if no more than 10-20 per cent of the current land stock was restored to trees up to 40,000 ha of new woodland could be created. It gave a clear indication that forestry had a great deal to offer as a cost effective and sustainable solution to the regeneration of damaged and derelict land and their surroundings.

ESTABLISHING PRIORITIES

  4.  The first task of the Economic Regeneration Programme was to identify those areas in England where it could be most effective in supporting the Government's broader regeneration policies over the next three-five years. This work identified four priority areas in the North West (Manchester/Merseyside), the North East (south Tyneside and Teesside), South Yorkshire (Sheffield to north Nottinghamshire) and the Midlands (Birmingham and south west Leicestershire). In addition, the Thames Chase Community Forest Area of East London ranked highly and remains important to the programme. Together, these priority areas are now the national focus of the Commission's economic regeneration work. They also establish the basis for implementation of the Economic Regeneration Programme by our regional teams through partnerships and initiatives.

WORKING IN PARTNERSHIP

  5.  In its simplest terms, the aim of the programme is to make the case for forestry and integrate it into the mainstream regeneration policy. This can only be done in an atmosphere of mutual co-operation and partnership. The Strategy has given the Commission a greater depth of credibility at the policy level, leading to greater recognition by other organisations of the potential relevance of forestry. DETR's Regeneration Directorate has for instance been instrumental in enabling the Commission to open up a dialogue with teams in the Regional Development Agencies (RDA) who are responsible for regeneration policy.

  6.  Alongside this, we are preparing a Memorandum of Understanding with English Partnerships, the Government's regeneration agency. This will set out the framework for using forestry as the vehicle for achieving regeneration objectives. It will also address institutional and practical issues including the long-term ownership and management of land. The Memorandum reflects in both organisations that by integrated working they can deliver their shared objectives more effectively.

  7.  The Coalfields Initiative is one of a number of areas identified with opportunities for early action and the Commission and English Partnerships are developing an action plan to move this forward rapidly. The intended output over the next three-five years is the creation of several hundred hectares of new woodland on former colliery spoil tips within economically and physically disadvantaged areas. In addition to creating the new woodland, the action plan will cover requirements for its ongoing management.

  8.  In addition to their role of implementing regeneration policy per se, the RDAs will also be responsible for identifying and bringing forward parcels of land to be planted with new woodland. This integrated working approach with English Partnerships has helped to legitimise our place in the discussions with the RDAs over future use of their land portfolios. This in turn is beginning to create a more constructive context for other regionally based opportunities.

CONCLUSION

  9.  This example illustrates how the Strategy is helping to ensure that the delivery of forestry policy in England is more effective than hitherto. The Strategy demonstrates forestry's relevance as a cost-effective vehicle for delivering many of the Government's social, economic and environmental policies. Similar integrated approaches are being applied to the other three programmes of the Strategy.


1   "The Potential for Woodland on Urban and Industrial Wasteland". Forestry Commission 1999. Back


 
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