Saturday, January 08, 2011

For Sale - Cameron's Green Credentials

Can you hear the silence of the huskies? When he was rebranding the Tory party, David Cameron promised us he would lead "the greenest government ever". Since he came to power, he has broken every environmental promise he made – and then gone much further. He has opened up the coasts of Britain to the deep-sea drilling that worked so well in the Gulf of Mexico, and put a "for sale" sign outside every single remaining forest in England. Yes, as his own Environment minister puts it, Cameron is determined to "dispose of public forest" – and the timber companies and holiday parks are preparing their opening bids.

In order to raise £2bn, the Government is selling all 650,000 acres of our forests – a privatisation that even Margaret Thatcher blanched at. These are the most popular outdoor spaces in Britain. They are the last places where millions of people can go to escape their anxieties and glimpse what Britain looked like to our ancestors for millions of years. They are the site of some of our most potent national myths: what would Robin Hood say if he knew Sherwood Forest itself was now on the market? Is Cameron really taking the Sheriff of Nottingham as his role model? This is in direct contradiction to what Cameron told us he would do before the election. In 2007, talking about forests, he promised he would "take a more effective and strategic approach to safeguarding a priceless – and irreplaceable – natural asset." He said the countries that were cutting forests down were "barmy". The Government says there is no danger to the forests in selling them to timber companies and the other highest bidders. They say they will still be standing, they will be cared for as well, and the public will have just as much access. Does this match the facts?

It is true that once a company has bought a forest, it will still need planning permission to cut the woods down. This is a crucial brake. But – wait – Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has just announced he is "remov[ing] the structures of control" and making it "much easier" to get planning permission across the country. Planning is being massively deregulated, just as the forests are sold.


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