This is a brief update to collate a few diverse matters relating to this project. They concern the review by Defra, delays in submitting the planning application and doubts about whether the Forestry Commission is achieving value for money by its relationship with Forest Holidays.
The breaking news is that English Heritage has withdrawn from its promotion of Forest Holidays under pressure from a Ludlow resident.
As reported earlier in the summer, Defra is conducting a review of the relationship between Forest Enterprise, the business arm of the Forestry Commission, and Forest Holidays. This was the background to Ludlow resident John Farley deciding to take English Heritage to task over its commercial agreement with Forest Holidays.
The Heritage champion replied that when it launched Members’ Rewards Scheme in July 2018 it was unaware of any relationship issues surrounding Forest Holidays and the Forestry Commission. It believed that as a promotional offer a discount would appeal to and be of interest to English Heritage Members. But after an internal investigation, it back John’s complaint:
“In light of the concerns that you have raised regarding this relationship, we have suspended our promotional offer with Forest Holidays pending the outcome of the DEFRA review.”
Well done John!
David Williamson, Partnerships Lead for the Forestry Commission, has confirmed that a planning application for the controversial woodland holiday cabins is still “some way away”. He has agreed to attend a public meeting of the Ludlow and Clee Local Joint Committee in the New Year after the application has been submitted. In the meantime, Herefordshire Council planners have confirmed that the project will need an environmental impact assessment under the EU habitats and bird directives. So far, Herefordshire planners have not contacted Shropshire planners over this proposal.
The Beddgelert site has recently opened and a Telegraph travel writer described his experience:
“Of course, I didn’t even attempt to sell the holiday as a “leafy retreat” to my 17 year-olds. I had much better bait: internet access, flat-screen TV with a food and drink ordering service, in-cabin entertainment with movies and Sky Sports and – guaranteed to get multiple likes – an outdoor hot tub on the deck.”
How different that is from Forest Holidays promotion of its sites:
“A sunlit forest glade, birdsong on the breeze, absolute peace. Forests to explore, rivers to canoe, and mountains to climb. The time, the space, the people you love. On a Forest Holidays short break in the UK, freedom awaits…”
That Telegraph experience does though fit well with Forest Holidays’ description of its cabins as “sheer decadence”.
Forest Holidays has been engaged in local consultation. But since it has been all to quick to cast aside opinion as “misinformation”. The company is guilty of misinformation itself. The 125-year lease it has on the Forestry Commission land it occupies is the equivalent of privatisation. That a longer lease than you will get on a mews house in London.
Forest Holidays makes much of the fact that the Forestry Commission is a shareholder. It fails to mention that that Phoenix Equity Partners, a venture capital company, have a controlling share of more than 50%. The Forestry Commission now owns only 14% of the business. Last year the Commission refused to detail the arrangement by hiding under freedom of information laws.
There are been doubts about the value of the relationship between the Forestry Commission and Forest Holidays for a while. The Times reported in April:
“An internal audit of the commission’s 2012 commercial agreement with Forest Holidays raised concerns that the public was getting a poor deal. The commission earns about £3,000 per cabin per year in rent from Forest Holidays but it costs up to £4,000 a week to stay in one. The audit also criticised the decision to extend the lease of land for cabins from 75 years to 125 years, which it described as ‘an inordinately long period of time’.”
Turning to rather different news, the Office of National Statistics has been looking at how much air pollution is removed by vegetation . The Mortimer Forest removes nearly twice the national average level of pollutants. Across Herefordshire and Shropshire, vegetation delivers nearly £20 of health benefits per person, above the national average of £15 or so.
We should keep our forest and counties that way and not urbanise it with hot tubs, Sky Sports and hundreds of cars.
The tide may be turning against this project. I am not referring to public opinion here. Much more important is the undermining of the credibility of Forest Holidays and and the Forestry Commission. The two bodies seem to be in sycophantic relation that does nothing for the purposes of the public forest.
See also a video of a recent visit to Mortimer Forest by the Bald Explorer.