§ Mr. Baldry
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what changes he proposes to make in the payment of compensation under management agreements in cases where afforestation grant is refused solely on nature conservation grounds.
§ Mr. Ridley
Following consultations with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Secretary of State for Wales, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I have agreed with the Nature Conservancy Council that it should not longer offer compensation for the refusal of afforestation grant where it is refused solely on nature conservation grounds.
Compensation will still be available for the profit forgone, excluding any grant element, in any case where planting would otherwise proceed.431W
In considering applicatons for grant for afforestation, the Forestry Commission will continue to pay full regard to nature conservation interest, and in particular to designations of sites of special scientific interest made by the NCC. While there will normally be a presumption against giving grants for afforestation in sites of special scientific interest, it must remain the case that each application will be considered on its merits.
This decision reflects the recent radical changes in support for forestry introduced in the 1988 Budget and the subsequent increases in planting grant under the new woodland grant scheme. These changes have made the grant element a very significant factor in determining the profitability of afforestation proposals and therefore in the compensation paid under management agreements. This is in marked contrast with the position in agriculture, where recent changes in the grant arrangements mean that it will now seldom be the case that these grants will form a significant element in the profit forgone calculation of management agreements offered by the NCC.
The withdrawal of compensation in these cases will be consistent with the developing policies of locational guidance for forestry illustrated by the indicative land use strategies under consideration by some local authorities in Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is currently considering the nature and scope of any advice he might offer to local authorities in preparing indicative forestry strategies. I shall be considering with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales the guidance to he offered to English and Welsh authorities on the form that locational guidance should take in appropriate cases. The Forestry Commission and the NCC stand ready to assist local authorities in this task.
I am satisfied that, taking all these factors into account, it is in the public interest that the NCC's policy should be changed. The forestry industry can take confidence in their long term investment considerations from knowing at a very early stage the areas of land with potential for afforestation.
A revision of the financial guidelines will be issued as soon as possible.