Public Forest Estate (England)
Opposition Day — [10th Allotted Day]
Caroline Spelman (Secretary of State, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Meriden, Conservative)
As I have tried to point out, and as evidenced in the documents prepared by the previous Government, the fact of the matter is that as long as there are no opportunities for communities in respect of the public forest estate, there is a risk in Whitehall politics. The point about giving the community that lives nearest the forest that opportunity is that they are the most likely to protect it in perpetuity.
This is a really exciting opportunity for our woodlands. We share completely the desire of those who love to walk, cycle, ride, kayak or go ape in our woodlands. I have children and know what a lifeline woodlands are in the long summer holidays. I am certainly not going to deny others the respite that those woodlands gave me, not now and not for future generations. I want to see whether we can improve on the status quo. I want many people to be engaged in the consultation, and I mean genuinely engaged by the facts, not the fiction. This is an opportunity to do things better. If access rights, public benefits and environmental protections are not the same or better, we will not make any changes. I believe that they can be better, that they should be better and that the consultation points the way to making them better.