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The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): My right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Scotland announced in his statement on 19th July 1994 in another place the Government's intention to establish Forest Enterprise, the forest management arm of the Forestry Commission, as a Next Steps Agency. The Government have also completed preparation of the new agency's Framework Document and it is published today. A new edition of the access guidelines, dealing with procedures for protecting continued public access to disposals subjects has also been published today. Copies of both documents have been placed in the Library. The new agency will come into existence on 1st April 1996.
The arrangements set out in the Framework Document will:- enable the commission to set out and explain its proposals for achieving environmental, financial, social and other outputs; permit clear targets to be set for the agency; allow the agency to demonstrate its success in meeting those targets. The Government expect these new arrangements to allow Forest Enterprise to achieve a real improvement in all areas of its output. Forest Enterprise will, of course, continue to operate firmly within the Government's multi-purpose forestry policy.
The largest number of comments reflected concern about access. The Forestry Commission owns over 1 million hectares of land throughout Britain. Some of its forests, such as the New Forest, are very intensively used for recreation and it is not our intention that this land should be sold. On the other hand, some tracts of land owned by the commission are of little recreational importance and this is where the bulk of the disposals programme will be concentrated. The Forestry Commission may also wish to sell some woods that are of recreational importance if this will help rationalise the estate, making management more efficient; but, in future, such sales will normally only take place where it is possible to guarantee future public access.
The details of how the Forestry Commission will implement measures to protect public access are set out in a new edition of the access guidelines. Central to the new arrangements will be the requirement that, in considering forests as candidates for sale, a check-list will be completed analysing the use of the forest by the public, taking account of forms of recreation other than walking--e.g. horse-riding and cycling. Local authorities will be informed of all proposed sales and will be sent a copy of the completed check-list and be able to comment on it. In all appropriate cases, the Forestry Commission will offer the local authority the opportunity to enter into an access agreement which will protect public access in perpetuity. The Forestry Commission will also be prepared to meet the reasonable legal costs of local authorities in drawing up agreements. The Government expect local authorities to give careful consideration to all such proposals, taking into account the views of local communities.
In addition to seeking to protect access to woods that are sold, we are providing important new opportunities to open more woodland for public access. The Forestry Commission will seek to purchase the freeholds of woods where lease terms at present prohibit public access in areas where there is high demand for such access.
We are also very keen that people should have easy access to information about the location of Forestry Commission woods where they can walk. We have asked the commission to examine, with the Ordnance Survey, ways of identifying its land on Ordnance Survey maps.
Of course, a good deal of recreation takes place in woodlands that do not belong to the commission and many private woodland owners have an excellent record in welcoming the public. We have introduced a new Woodland Improvement Grant for projects which will increase recreational opportunities in privately-owned woods.
Finally, I confirm that we fully recognise the close interdependence between wood processors and growers. The commission has a general duty of promoting the production and supply of timber and will continue to work closely with the wood processing sector to achieve the common interest in a prosperous British timber industry.
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