Government fails to meet deadline to answer questions on forests disposal proposals.
It is over three months since Our Forests sent in its submission seeking answers on the public forest disposal debacle, yet no final response has been provided, despite officials initially telling us, “we will be able to sort this out fairly quickly.”
On 29th July 2011, Our Forests submitted questions under both the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 seeking clarification on the Government’s ill-conceived plans to dispose of England’s public woods and forests.
Under the terms of those pieces of legislation, a response could have been expected no later than 20 working days following our submission – that would have been Monday, 5th September. However, officials extended the timeline on the grounds of the claimed ‘complexity’ of our questions to the maximum permissible of a further 20 days. That means we should have received an official response by Monday, 3rd October.
Nothing has been forthcoming and, therefore, Our Forests is putting in a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Jonathon Porritt, founder member of Our Forests commented,
“Our questions were straightforward. Earlier in the year, over half a million people rose up in protest at the Government’s proposals to dispose of all the public woods and forests managed by the Forestry Commission. We simply asked which organisations or other bodies the Government and its officials had met with to discuss taking on some of those public woods and forests. We also asked how much it costs the Forestry Commission to look after them as they currently do, delivering the wide range of benefits not just to the millions of people who visit the sites each year, but to society generally.
These are questions that seem unlikely to endanger national security. Perhaps the apparent reluctance to answer them reveals a fear that they would further expose the Government’s cavalier attitude to England’s natural assets, as well as call into question the judgement and motives of those organisations which might have been considering boosting their own land-holdings at the public’s expense?”
As well as the official submission to government, Our Forests wrote directly to a number of conservation bodies reported or alleged to have been in discussion with Government over taking on some of the public forest estate: The National Trust; RSPB; The Wildlife Trusts; The Woodland Trust. To their credit all of these organisations have responded, in contrast to the Government. However, their replies do not provide complete clarity or dispel some of the rumours and allegations that have been in circulation.
UPDATE 6 October
Government officials today responded to Our Forests’ embarrassing revelations regarding their failure to meet deadlines to respond to the Freedom Of Information requests. Their responses have also triggered some further comment from NGOs. Further information will be posted here soon.
OurForests background briefing FOIs (questions and responses to date) 07Oct2011 (corrected from 05 October version). See resources for more information.
For more Our Forests background information and documents, see Resources