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If you go down to the woods today…
Forest privatisation, Issue 1373
FOREST HOLIDAYS, the Forestry Commission spin-off company now majority-owned by private equity firm Lloyds Development Capital (LDC), is expanding its holiday cabins into important landscapes and wildlife habitats.

At Fineshade Woods in Northamptonshire, Forest Holidays’ plans for 70 deluxe timber lodges, plus a new road, within the woods have been blasted by local and national wildlife groups as well as by parish councils in the area. Those who live in the tiny number of longstanding cottages nearby fear the arrival of a holiday camp in their midst will ruin their peaceful way of life.

From tents to posh eco-lodges
The site is right next to the Nene Valley nature improvement area (NIA), funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Natural England to improve wildlife habitats. NIA development officer Heather Webb says in a letter to planners that she would have expected better from a Forestry Commission site, including “a better consideration of the site’s strongly ecological context”.

Forest Holidays began life as a collection of campsites run by the publicly-owned Forestry Commission, but was hived off in a public private partnership with the Camping and Caravanning Club (CCC). In 2012, just as Forest Holidays switched from tents to posh eco-lodges, LDC invested in a management buy-out of CCC’s involvement, meaning the former campsites were now 65 percent owned by LDC, 20 percent by the Forestry Commission and 15 percent by the company’s managers (Eye 1353). However, Fineshade was never a campsite, raising questions about how much Forestry Commission land Forest Holidays will be allowed to use.

‘Substantial harm’
Forest Holidays is soon expected to submit full plans for another 75 timber lodges, plus a shop, cycle hire base and reception and maintenance buildings, in Houghton Forest, inside the South Downs National Park, which is supposed to offer the highest level of protection for landscape and scenic beauty. Earlier this year, the National Park Authority told the company the proposed development could have “a significant landscape and visual impact” and that an environmental impact assessment must be done. The Campaign to Protect Rural England said: "This inappropriate and car-dependent development within the forest would cause substantial harm to the woodland’s character and tranquillity.”

Meanwhile Evans Property Group announced last month that it was investing £13m in expansion plans at Forest Holidays sites in the Forest of Dean (another 44 cabins on top of the existing 76) and Sherwood Forest (adding 17 cabins to the 65 already there). Campaign group Hands Off Our Forest, which led the fight against wholesale privatisation of the Forestry Commission, described the expanding exclusive log cabin sites as “gradual back-door privatisation” of the public forests.

PS: Conspicuous by its absence from the lists of objectors responding to the planning applications is the Woodland Trust – which receives a £2.50 donation from Forest Holidays for every booking.

More top stories in the latest issue:

Bankers and officials roasted by MPs for underpricing the Royal Mail sale find consolation together in an expensive Mayfair restaurant.

HMRC finally shuts a major loophole the Eye found was being extensively sold by the UK’s big accountancy firms to wealthy non-doms.

Treasury desperation to keep costs of London’s new supersewer off the books means the government is struggling to do what the Victorians managed.

A decision to sell off non-complex surgery in Cornwall is now threatening the provision of other vital health services across the West Country.

The largest private UK provider of non-emergency ambulance and patient transport is bedevilled by complaints and calls for it to lose its contracts.

A nurse at the centre of police investigations at Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend pleads guilty to wilfully neglecting nine vulnerable patients.

Greater Manchester Police is castigated yet again for its treatment of disabled people who are supposedly in its care.

Bmi cabin crew who lost their jobs after the merger with BA pursue tribunal cases against both airlines and claim they were ‘sold out’ by their union.

What is the Gazelle Group offering, apart from pages of aspirational business drivel, in return for the millions it collects from 23 further education colleges?

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Next issue on sale: 2nd September 2014.

Private Eye Issue 1372