DID you know legislation is currently being pushed through Parliament that will allow any public land to be transferred by a Government agency, all rights of way extinguished, to private developers?
Did you know the same law – the Infrastructure Bill – will allow any substance whatsoever to be dumped under any land, and that it will become a legal objective to frack anywhere where there is the potential of shale gas, or turn any coal seam into gas?
Did you also know that the same law gives the potential go-ahead to exterminate barn owls, red kites, goshawks, wild boar, and a great many other species not deemed as 'native'?
You'd be forgiven for not knowing because incredibly – despite its massive implications for nature, the environment and also our rural and urban spaces – the Infrastructure Bill has almost entirely not made the news.
There are no celebrities crying 'foul' or any politicians who are supposed to be opposed to the Government. It's almost as if all parties want this law to be passed under the radar, because whoever gets in after May 2015 will have carte blanche to hand over our countryside, urban public spaces, and the ground we walk and live on, to multinational companies.
Thankfully people have started raising the alarm about the TTIP US-EU trade deal and its potential for the privatisation of everything. These discussions are being held behind closed doors, and its only thanks to leaks from German MEPs that we have an inkling of what's being said.
The Infrastructure Bill, however, has already been debated in the House of Lords for a total period of about 10 days, and yet apparently it's not worth reporting. The Bill in its totality, and all the proposed amendments, can be read on the Parliament website. It's there in black and white.
And yet we campaigners in the Forest of Dean only spotted its existence and content when, disappointed after draft legislation we'd been promised aimed at protecting our forests was jettisoned by the Government in June, we decided to look into what else the Government might have up its sleeve.
As soon as we raised the alarm, the Government attempted to put the lid on by confirming forests weren't included in the land transfer schemes contained in Clause 21 of the Bill. I invite anyone to read this section, as the only land exempt from disposal detailed in the Bill is that owned by the royal family.
We have heard various arguments – forests and national parks can't be included because they are not surplus, the only land being considered is brownfield, and only land held by arms-length bodies can be included. I'll let anyone read Clause 21 (and Section 53A of it in particular) themselves and draw their own conclusions. The words surplus, brownfield, arms-length or any equivalent do not appear.
There is no exemption whatsoever for any public land (apart from Crown) contained within the Bill.
An oversight, poorly defined drafting that could easily be rectified, you'd think. If the Government says forests aren't at risk of land transfer schemes, then why not amend the Bill to state that?
But Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, a member of the Hands Off Our Forest steering group, with the Bishop of St Albans, have been told by the Government's Baroness Kramer that their amendment to exclude the Public Forest Estate "will be resisted".
The Bill is due to be debated in the Reports Stage in November. After that there will be a third reading and – if the Government doesn't back the amendment on forests – there is likely to be a vote. Hence we at HOOF are urging people to lobby lords to support Baroness Royall and the Bishop of St Albans' amendment. See www.handsoffourforest.org
The fracking elements also cause us alarm because our Forest of Dean is a coalfield – coal gasification (when seams are set fire to and the gas recovered from a power plant above) is part of the proposed 'energy mix'; we also have proposed expansion of nuclear power stations just across the river (Severn) from us. Back in the 1980s, the Government tried to persuade the local authority to allow disused mine shafts to dump radioactive waste. The waste produced from fracking is also partly radioactive.
So there we have it, the Infrastructure Bill – opening the door wide for any future government to take any land, override any easements and rights of way, and give to the Government, with a wide remit to destroy a wide range of species, and to frack under any public or private land. Energy minister Baroness Verma noted in the last day of the Committee stage in the Lords (October 14) that regarding the consultation about fracking: "Stakeholder responses from the petroleum and geothermal industry unanimously supported the legislation, as did wider industry, such as manufacturing, the steel industry and engineering associations... Environmental groups and various civil society organisations opposed legislation. Having carefully considered the various issues raised within the consultation responses and whether any compelling new arguments had been presented, we firmly believe that the proposed policy is the right approach."
Remember February 2011, when the Government's Caroline Spelman made great virtue of the fact that the Government had listened to the public when she ditched the forests sell-off proposal? Well the public's views don't seem to be worth listening to now, not big industry has spoken...
Here in the Forest of Dean, thanks to us extensively leafletting and using social media, there is a growing clamour against the Infrastructure Bill. The media have given us no help – recent correspondence with one editor said unless we "hit them between the eyes" it won't make the paper. Our remit is protecting the Public Forest Estate, others may want to protect their local beach, mountain, park, recreation ground, allotment or remaining green space...
I would have thought everyone should be up in arms about this. Are you? Will you help us spread the word?
Visit www.handsoffourforest.org to find out which MPs to lobby.
Below are a couple of links which give some background:
We don't have long to stop this! Affirmative action now, or else...
OWEN ADAMS, HANDS OFF OUR FOREST
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