Saturday, 26 February 2011

The Forest Sell Off Controversy continued

After posting the last piece on John Leech and his speech on the Government's forest sell off proposals, I received an e-mail from FoCM member Ben Smart (some of you may recall that Ben is our local moth expert). I thought that Ben's comments were interesting and highly relevant and, in the interests of balance, I thought that, with Ben's permission, I would post our correspondence here (leaving out some of my more intemperate and sweary remarks - none of them directed at Ben, I hasten to add!)

Hi Dave

I know you said to contact John Leech re the speech, but I don’t really think it’s appropriate to have this speech on the FoCM website. The group should not be a mouthpiece for Con/Dem (sic) policies. If this policy was being proposed by a majority Tory administration alone, I suspect John Leech and the rest of the Liberal [Democrat] party, like the rest of us, would probably have opposed it (only guesswork, I know) and would probably have made much the same points that the opposition are putting.

The destruction of a good chunk of the [Lower Hardy Farm] SBI proceeds apace. Standing by the wooden fence on the north side of the Mersey, there is now a wide open track all the way through Lower Hardy Farm, towards Hardy Lane.

Best wishes,


Hi Ben,

Yes, I struggled with my conscience about this. But so many people spoke to me about it that I thought that I ought to ask John Leech myself. He wrote back to me and explained to me what actually occurred and what his thinking was. I decided that his reply was confidential between me and him (although he probably sent the same letter to all those of his constituents who wrote to him).

But the speech is in the public domain and I thought that it made a lot of sense - and although it is (unavoidably) political I think that it cuts through a lot of the general hysteria that has surrounded this issue. Whilst the sell-off was on the table I really couldn't make up my mind about what I thought about it. Although I believe privatisation, generally, to be ideologically driven madness I've also got little time for the Forestry Commission who have been responsible, in the past, for destroying huge tracts of our woodland.

Finally you mention Lower Hardy Farm. Please remember that it is a Labour Council that has allowed this to happen. They have utterly neglected our local environment and I suspect that they think that the environment, in general, is irrelevant (I've seen it reported that Gordon Brown himself considered the environment to be irrelevant). And in spite of the fact that they label themselves as 'Socialists' (when it suits them) I believe that Metrolink to the Airport is mainly about a toxic mixture of greed, vanity and airport expansion. I fear that they will eventually concrete over everything.

[At this point I expressed some of my own political views, which are not strictly relevant here and included some rude words which I would not like to inflict on our refined and genteel readership ...]

Anyway, I will try to avoid politics on the blog as much as possible ... but, I repeat, the environment is an intensely political subject (as the forestry furore showed).

Best Regards,


Hi Dave,

This is the actual question John Leech and his colleagues were voting on – I’d certainly have been with the motion rather than against on that one, despite any reservations towards the Forestry Commission. (I see 3 Conservatives and 4 Liberal Democrats voted with Labour).

That this House believes that the Government’s intention in the Public Bodies Bill to sell off up to 100 per cent. of England’s public forestry estate is fundamentally unsound; notes that over 225,000 people have signed a petition against such a sell-off; recognises the valuable role that the Forestry Commission and England’s forests have made to increasing woodland biodiversity and public access, with 40 million visits a year; further recognises that the total subsidy to the Forestry Commission has reduced from 35 per cent. of income in 2003-04 to 14 per cent. of income in 2010-11; further notes that the value of the ecosystems services provided by England’s public forest estate is estimated to be £680 million a year; notes that the value of such services could increase substantially in the future through the transition to a low carbon economy as a carbon market emerges; notes that the public forest estate has been retained in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and calls on the Government to rethink its decision on the sale of England’s public forest estate in order to protect it for future generations.

As to the Metrolink, the system and the developments have been supported by Council, Government and John Leech. I am certain that much the same decisions would have been made whichever of the three parties were in power locally and nationally.
I’ve always, perhaps naively, thought that getting people out of cars and onto public transport must be a good thing, so am somewhat torn on the issue. Nevertheless it is incredibly depressing to be out looking at Lower Hardy Farm at the moment (and the sign telling us that the area has been surveyed for protected species and promising an increased number of trees seems to add insult to injury)!
I totally agree that politics and the environment era inextricably linked. I just don’t like seeing Liberal Democrat party speeches on the Friends of Chorlton Meadows blog, with no critical comment whatsoever. It might be worth at least printing the actual motion on the website so people can decide whether John Leech did the right thing.


I would just like to add a couple of footnotes to this correspondence:

(1) I am planning to post an article about Lower Hardy Farm and Metrolink very soon.

(2) It must be remembered that many people in South Manchester welcome Metrolink and many of them know nothing and care less about biodiversity. John Leech has a duty to listen to the views of all of his constituents and he has certainly listened, and actively supported, those of us who are pushing for the best mitigation for biodiversity loss possible.

Posted by Dave Bishop, February 2011

1 comment:

urban-arcadia said...

The real issue with the sell-off is not how or who mangages the forests,but the land-grab involved.