Political rivals in battle over sell-off of forests

IN FAVOUR -- Hucknall's MP, Mark Spencer (Con)
IN FAVOUR -- Hucknall's MP, Mark Spencer (Con)

THE ROOTS of the latest clash between Hucknall’s Conservative MP, Mark Spencer, and a Labour rival are embedded in controversial plans to sell swathes of Britain’s forests.

It’s General Election, Round Two as Mr Spencer is tackled by Emilie Oldknow.

The coalition government wants to offload land that is currently run by the Forestry Commission. It wants to raise money and also encourage the private sector, community groups or charities to take on sites.

Mr Spencer is backing the move and says there are “exciting aspects” that will get enthusiasts more involved in protecting prized woodland in the Dispatch district.

But the scheme has been slammed by Mrs Oldknow, who was defeated by Mr Spencer when she stood as the Labour candidate for the Sherwood seat, which includes Hucknall, at the General Election last May.

Labour tabled a Parliamentary motion in a bid to halt the government’s plans and Mrs Oldknow, along with local campaigner Tom Twigger, of Papplewick, called on Mr Spencer to vote against his party.

Mrs Oldknow said to Mr Spencer: “Over the last few weeks, many people in Hucknall and Sherwood have contacted me with their fears about the proposed sale of local forests and woodland.”

She added: “I remember well the spirited debates we had in last year’s election campaign. I particularly recall your emphasis on protecting our green space and natural beauty.

“Given this, will you join me and local people in campaigning to get your government to change its mind?”

But Mr Spencer voted with his party and replied to Mrs Oldknow by pointing out that Labour sold off 25,000 acres of public forest without ensuring strong rights of access and without consultation.

He highlighted that Sherwood Forest is not part of the plan because that is already privately owned.

Mr Spencer also believes that safeguards will make sure walkers have access to woodland, which will remain protected for future generations should the government scheme be passed.

He says that community groups would be given first refusal when any forestry came on to the market.

“I want to explore the possibility of the people of Sherwood taking over and running local forests as a community project,” said Mr Spencer.

“It seems to me that there is no difference between a private tree and a public tree. The Major Oak has been private for years with well-run footpaths and services we all enjoy access to. The government’s proposals will maintain exactly this kind of access.”

He added: “I have received hundreds of letters telling me how much local residents value their forests.

“I very much hope they will put their energies into celebrating their local woods by supporting a community bid.

“I will continue to champion our beautiful forests and our rights of access.”

In response, Mrs Oldknow said: “People across the Sherwood constituency have been vocal in opposing the sell-off of local forests and woodland.

“This is why I’m disappointed that Mr Spencer, despite local lobbying, has voted in favour of the Tory-led government’s plans to sell off forests.

“Our public forests and woodlands are a precious part of our national heritage, which is why Labour will continue to campaign to protect them.”