In May 2019 the CDA wrote to Michael Gove alerting him to Forestry England’s new and unauthorised approach to marketing Crown-owned land and homes in the New Forest. After a long delay DEFRA ministers agreed in July that the failure to consult on this dramatic change was “unfortunate” and demanded that Forestry England conduct a formal consultation if it wanted to change direction. The minister, David Rutley MP, also demanded that this consultation must be completed by the end of 2019, when a “shared outcome” should be presented to ministers.
The CDA is really grateful to our local MPs*, who all pressed ministers to force Forestry England to come clean on their plans for the Crown holdings, after three years of stealthy change.
We were disappointed that in the meantime the Forestry England Land Agent for this area, used the Verderers Court to sow confusion. Once again he tried to pretend that nothing had changed – that those who do essential work in the New Forest would continue to be supported. In truth his rent hikes are making the properties unaffordable to the real hands-on workers of the Forest, going instead to the highest bidders at hugely inflated rents. The advertised rents would be more than 100% of land-workers’ annual salary. This obfuscation is, however, unsurprising from someone who has made it clear repeatedly that his sole task is to extract maximum revenue from the landscape.
The minister’s intervention now means that a series of consultation meetings will be held. This Review Group will meet on 2nd September, 14th October and 25th November, and will be chaired by the chairman of the National Park Authority. Both the CDA and the New Forest Verderers will be represented in the Review Group. Given the exploitative approach now being taken by Forestry England we know that this will not be straightforward, unlike the process of the Illingworth Report in the early 1990s when all involved were focused on benefit to the New Forest landscape. Our representatives in the consultation will, of course, be working hard to make the case that these properties have been saved from past Forestry sell-offs because of their value to the New Forest, and that the case for using them as affordable bases for commoning into the future has only got stronger over recent decades.
* John Glen MP, Rt Hon Dr Julian Lewis MP, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, Rt Hon Sir Desmond Swayne TD MP