Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2001
60. Can I ask for some clarification on the
process for bids under the tender scheme? Susan, I think you said
that a proposed scheme bid is pre-scrutinised by the Forestry
Commission to make sure it conforms with the Woodland Grantwhatever
it is, which you will explain in a minute. Does that give the
Forestry Commission power to reject something before it even comes
to you, or does it come to you with their tag of "Yes"
or "No" regarding that particular point? Is that Woodland
Grant Schemewhatever it is callednarrowly and commercially
based, whereas you, of course, are looking at a much broader set
(Miss Bell) It is actually just the woodland element
of the tender scheme as a whole that they look at. Each one has
to actually be approved for the Woodland Grant Scheme. That Woodland
Grant Scheme is not a narrow, commercial scheme any more. It has
a commercial element but they all have to conform to environmental
guidelines and design guidelines, and so forth. That is a universal
scheme, and that applies across the country. So they are still
the forestry authority, in the same way that the planning authorities
are the planning authority. So the woodland element has to conform
to that. If there is any reason why it would be turned down, for
example, if it destroyed archaeology or did one of the other things
that would cause it to be rejected, then it would be rejected
before it even came to us.
61. In order to get a grant under the Woodland
Grant Scheme, does someone have to be able to demonstrate that
the trees which have been planted will be a commercial crop as
well as, maybe, having some other benefits?
(Miss Bell) That is not one of the elements of the
Woodland Grant Scheme any more.
62. Can I just probe a bit further about what
the people are actually bidding for, because the Woodland Grant
Scheme, as I recall it, deals with money to help manage woodland
once somebody has established it, because clearly you do not get
an economic return, if it is an economic crop you have planted,
for a considerable period of time. In terms of what people are
tendering for, just give me an idea of some of the things that
you have paid for.
(Miss Bell) That can be very wide-ranging. It can
include, for example, ponds and lakes. They can either be used
for purely amenity purposes or nature conservation or, indeed,
for fishing lakes and so forth. Obviously, they fulfil a dual
purpose. In some cases we have paid for bringing particular types
of grassland into proper conservation management. So there will
be a nature conservation element. There might be other specific
nature conservation projects. For example, in our Biodiversity
Action Plan we have specific species that we want to bring into
the Forest areathe otter for exampleso that could
include otter holts and so forth. That has already proved successful.
63. Would I be right in saying that actually
people are bidding for the non-forestry elements of a particular
project if they want to bring into the National Forest a piece
of land which may have features in addition to forestry itself?
That is what your tender process provides money for.
(Miss Bell) Absolutely.
64. In your own Chairman's overview, on page
5 of your report, you comment, and I quote: "Against a background
of uncertainty about farm woodland premium scheme . . ."
Could you flesh that out, because it has played such a central
role in underpinning what you are doing, and yet you are raising
a question mark about its future?
(Mr Astling) At the time there was a question mark
over its future for a number of months, as to whether it was going
to continue. That uncertainty resolved itself just in time for
us to make decisions and to notify everybody, but the scheme was
under review before it was reconfirmed as going forward. It was
just that sort of temporary hiccup, really.
(Miss Bell) It would have made quite a difference
to the bid price, if they could count it in.
65. Any significant change that might come in
the future could have a very measurable effect on what you do.
(Mr Astling) Yes.
66. One of the points you make about your aims
and objectives is to do with carbon dioxide and the securing in
woodland of CO2. Let me ask this question: are you considering,
or have you been approached with reference to, energy crops? Does
that come within your remit?
(Miss Bell) It has not really taken off. It is within
our remit. That could be one of the forestry types to go forward.
In fact, there has been remarkably little in the National Forest,
partly because there is not a commercial end-market. If there
was a power station locally fuelled by it, then I think they would
grow it, but at the moment it simply is not substantial enough.
It is something that we are keeping under review all the time,
and we talk to other people who are heavily involved in it, but
at the moment it does not stack up and so we are not actually
encouraging people into it.
67. Before we leave the tender scheme, it struck
me there is a historical point which I do not quite understand.
Which came first, the idea of the tender scheme or the National
Forest Company? Did the scheme evolve once the company was in
being or was it something that was part of your remit when you
were set up?
(Miss Bell) The National Forest has been developed
in two very distinct stages. The first stage was when the development
team was part of the Countryside Commission. That team was asked
to (a) draw up a strategy for the Forest and (b) to draw up a
business plan, if you like, or an implementation plan on how could
that strategy be realised. One of the proposals in that plan was
that there would need to be a specific mechanism and the mechanism
proposed was a tender scheme. The tender scheme was then developed
and the company took it on, and in fact started the first round
of the tender scheme on day one of the company. So it was there
ready to pick up. The company has developed it in practice.
68. I was very impressed with the tender scheme
and the fact that it is a National Forest. You say the tender
scheme is unique and, by the very title, "The National Forest"
it actually says "This is going to be the only one; we are
not going to do it anywhere else". To be honest, living in
the north-west corner of England, the National Forest is not going
to get a lot of coverage in my area; most of my constituents think
it is a sign on the A1. It does seem a very good scheme, but do
you believe it should be duplicated anywhere else in the United
(Miss Bell) Yes. You mean the National Forest or the
69. It is a regional forest, but why should
there only be one?
(Miss Bell) I think there will be lots. They will
not all be called the National Forest. I think there are a lot
of lessons being learned. That is what makes the National Forest
national at the moment; the fact that it is an exemplar, it is
a test-bed for new ideas and a number of those ideas can be duplicated
all over the country. Whether you want to construct the thing
in its entirety and put it in different parts of the countrywhy
not? It is there to be duplicated or replicated, if anybody wants
to do that.
70. New Labour, new targets, new league tables,
new sticks-to-beat-people-with. I bet you are fed up, are you
not, with the sole performance indicator that people attribute
to the Forest of plantingwhich of course is crucially important?
In your written submission on page 2, you make it clear that,
of course, you have economic objectives, social ones and, particularly,
multiple environmental objectives which relate to diversity and
so on. Are these a bit airy-fairy? How do you measure them? Are
they measurable? What progress have you made against these targets?
Such ones as, I do not know, reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
It is all very worthy, but are you able to say that you are making
progress against these non-tree planting objectives?
(Miss Bell) I think on nature conservation we most
certainly are, because we have a Biodiversity Action Plan which
has some very specific targets in, which are not just for us to
do but for the voluntary bodies with whom we work to do as well.
Those are monitored very strictly, and we are now in our third
year of monitoring. So I think on the nature conservation side,
yes. On the carbon sequestration, I think there are a number of
very wild claims being made, frankly, and I know that all we can
do is make a tiny contribution. However, it is a significant contribution
in terms of global sequestration.
71. It is in the nature of multiple targets,
Chairman, that sometimes the environmental ones will, perhaps,
run against the social or economic ones. What takes precedence
in those circumstances?
(Mr Astling) Just to follow on the measurements point,
we have actually tried to put together a socio-economic analysis.
So we are measuring what impacts we have on the socio-economic
field. That is some pioneering work that we have produced recently,
and we have had all the 60 partners together in a conference,
Mrs Shephard will be glad to hear. We are trying to get more understanding
on how these things can be measured, not just in the National
Forest but elsewhere with other forestry initiatives. There are
about 28 forestry initiatives up and down the country of one sort
or another. The other element of measuring is on the tourism side.
That has not really featured very much this morning, but we have
a whole series of surveys every other year; we have just finished
our visitor survey of tourism and are measuring the value and
volume of tourism business, which is now supporting about 3,600
jobs in the area. So there are a whole series of measurements
that are not just about tree planting, that we think are now fairly
comprehensive. The question was about measurability. We are actually
getting some of the universities much more engaged into this being
an area where they ought to be helping us. We have had a consultancy
with Derby University recently to produce a socio-economic report
and we will go back on that when we have the 2001 Census data
to update it. I think the whole gamut of measurements is extremely
important to us; we cannot say we are an exemplar unless we are
trying to measure right across the board what we are doing, not
just tree planting.
72. Would not a useful additional environmental
objective be the sustainability of motor transport for visitors
into the National Forest area? Do you have a view on what is now
called the return of passenger services and the National Forest
rail line, which runs right through the heart of the National
(Miss Bell) Transport is the weakest link, in terms
of sustainability of the National Forestthere is no doubt
about that. In every other respect we score very highly on the
sustainability indicators; on transport we frankly do not because
the only way of visiting most of the Forest is by motorcar. There
is a fantastic opportunity of bringing back into passenger use
the Mineral Line that runs east-west across the Forest, going
right the way through that central, regenerated area, the main
tourism area, which is proving extremely difficult to get upgraded.
We are very much in the forefront of fighting that case to get
73. Have I got it right? Of the 200 square miles
of the Forest, a third is settlement, a third will end up being
farming and a third will end up being forest. Is it decided now
which third will end up as being the Forest? In making a judgment
as to which third will end up being forest, do you make some judgment
on the visual impact, in making those decisions, as to whether
or not that bit of farmland can convert to forest? Or is it pre-ordained
on a map that these particular hectares can be converted to forest?
(Miss Bell) The National Forest Strategy, the original
strategy, drawn up by the development team indicated the sort
of weight of new forest in each of the areas of the forest. It
was divided into six landscape zones, and the actual weight of
forestry that could be handled within each of those zones was
specified in that strategy. That does not mean a site-by-site
demarcation of where the forestry ought to go. We did two things:
one was that landscape zone and, also, we did an indicative forestry
strategy for the area, which I do not think was common south of
the border at that point. That was a DOE initiative. So we know
where the preferred areas are, or where the areas are in which
you need to go with great caution for one reason or another. It
could be they are areas of great scientific interest or landscape
importance or flood plain, for example. Those are the sensitive
areas where you have got to take extra care over what and where
you plant. Then, on top of that, there will be this layer of landscape
zone, which would indicate the sort of weight and type of forestry
that would be most suitable for that area.
74. When this process is completed, presumably,
you have got, as part of your vision, the change to the landscape
that will result in an increase in the third of the area becoming
forest. Is that vision one that is shared by the local community?
To what extent is it supported by the local community, or is there
opposition within the community?
(Miss Bell) The original National Forest strategy
went out to a very wide public consultation, not just to hundreds
of organisations but actually to a genuine public consultation.
In fact, we had 1500 responses to that. The support for it was
enormous. I think it is questionable how much people could visualise
just what the scale of change was going to be on the landscape.
I think it is beginning to become apparent now, and in a way the
relatively slow progress is quite helpful in that because if it
was a build development going up overnight it would be quite a
shock to the system. You are talking about a radical change in
the landscape. That is now becoming more apparent. We are in the
process now of reviewing that original strategy, and we hope to
produce that review on its 10th anniversary in 2004. Part of that
process will help people with that visualisation. This is the
sort of thing you may expect. We are all beginning to realise
much, much more now what it is going to mean in the landscape
because of the way it is happening in reality. We would certainly
help people through that process and ask them whether that is
what they want to see more of. There may come a stage, say, at
about 25 per cent forest cover, where people say "Enough",
and I think cognisance ought to be taken of that at that time.
75. The process is going on at the moment and,
therefore, by its very nature the land that is going to be covered
by forest has not been completely determined, so you have an on-going
relationship with landowners and farmers within the area outside
the main settlements. Do you see an on-going role for the National
Forest when you reach 25 or 33 per cent and things stabilise?
Is there a role for the National Forest other than simply always
seeing the National Forest within the rest of the non-forested
(Miss Bell) You mean for the company?
76. For the company.
(Mr Astling) I think that is quite an interesting
question. There will be, it seems to me, some residuary business
to be done post the end of the creation of the Forest. It is a
matter of debate, I would have thought, whether the company continues
or whether those residuary burdens and benefits devolve to someone
else, maybe the local authorities together, maybe some other body,
the RDAs, or whatever. It seems to me that there will be something
there that ought to be nurtured and continued. There will still
be the need, I would have thought, to market the area in tourism
terms. As a facilitator, that is one of the things we do, and
I would have thought there was a number of those residuary functions
which it is probably quite important to continue.
77. If we contrast the situation with the Forestry
Commission, and the relationship there with local communities,
and the relationship with the National Forest Company as a company
that can only operate by partnership, at the end of the day there
will need to be some mechanism to ensure that the voice of the
local community continues to have a role within the on-going development
of the Forest, even when it reaches a mature stage. Do you think
that is something that the company ought, at least, to consider?
(Miss Bell) Very much so. The community has been such
an active partner in all its various guises, and I think they
would need the reassurance that the faith is going to be kept.
78. David Taylor asked about measuring the progress
on some of those environmental objectives that were part of the
National Forest Strategy published in 1994, and there has been
reference throughout the morning to the Biodiversity Action Plan
of the National Forest Company. I could not find a great deal
about that in your annual report. I just wonder if you could say
a bit more about the Biodiversity Action Plan.
(Miss Bell) I will happily leave some literature about
it, too, but that is something that has its own specific targets
which not only the National Forest Company representatives but
the representatives from the other nature conservation bodies
are signed up to. As I say, that is monitored regularly on the
target achievement there. In the Corporate Plan each year we have
six fundamental objectives that we set, one of them being nature
conservation. Underneath that you will have a whole lot of measurable
targets which we have to fulfil. Those are in detail in the Corporate
Plan because you have to have measurable targets in order to be
able to see how you are getting on. The overall objective may
be to improve nature conservation in the area but under that will
be a number of measurable targets, and they are published each
year in the Corporate Plan.
79. To what extent is progress being made on
achieving those targets?
(Miss Bell) At the moment it is extremely good. As
I say, we are judged not only through the Corporate Plan but,
also, by the partners involved in that, be it English Nature or
the voluntary organisations.