Talks on future of forests in Norfolk

Woods and forests contribute �1.3bn a year to the east of England, according to a report that warns of a 'significant impact' in Norfolk if any are sold off by the government.

County councillors will be told on Wednesday that the Forestry Commission plays 'an important role in the economy and wellbeing' of the county and there has been overwhelming opposition to sell off woodland.

Access, continuity of timber supply and environmental protection are among the areas of concern if ownership moves out of public hands.

The government had proposed selling off 15pc of land managed by Forestry Commission England, but that was suspended until extra protections on access and biodiversity are put in place.

Norfolk County Council has sought views from the public and other local authorities about woodland sell-offs.

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Some 80 responses were received, with all but one against the proposals.

Members of the Environment, Transport and Development Overview and Scrutiny panel will now discuss the implications of any future government consultation or initiative concerning the Forestry Commission.

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In a report to go before the panel, Norfolk county council officer Gerry Barnes said: 'Any sale of forestry commission land could have a significant impact on the people of Norfolk.

'The reduction of funding for the Forestry Commission will also have effects.'

The report went on to comment that the Forestry Commission manages 18pc of woodland in the east of England but produces 70pc of the timber supply. It also noted Norfolk's estate was particularly interesting because of its location near to Norwich and Thetford.

One of the key issues was the distinction between leasehold and freehold land managed by the Forestry Commission. The report said: 'If the 15pc sale is to go ahead it is likely to have a particularly significant impact on Norfolk.

'Many of the holdings north of Norwich are leasehold and they are likely to be sold as part of the 15pc. The few freehold sites in this area would then not be viable and would probably be sold at the same time.'

A further report will be produced after Wednesday's meeting, detailing the implications for Norfolk of any future government consultation or initiative concerning the Forestry Commission.

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