We've never made a secret of our support for the Forestry Commission's wetland restorations. But clearly, in some areas, we haven't made our case often enough, publicly enough, or possibly well enough. For that we must apologize to the whole of the Forest.
We apologize to the Verderers, I know you don't need anyone to leap to your defence, but you have been impugned, under the snide accusation that everyone involved in, or indeed supporting the project, would knowingly harm the Forest. The Verderers who many of us regard as the conservative line in the sand, that we are so fortunate have powers granted by the New Forest Acts. You have supported this project in the various forms its taken when it has come before you.
This is one of the Leaders of the opposition's most poisonous assertions, that the process itself, is somehow tainted by a cosy "partnership". The National Park Authority, Verderers and Forestry Commission are only "partners" in the project inasmuch as they are the statutory bodies obviously required to be on the project board. It only benefits the FC as they fulfil their legal obligation to respond to the Natural England condition assessment of the SSSI, and only benefits the Park as it successfully fulfils their statutory purposes "to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area". The NPA is represented on the board by their Chief Exec Alison Barnes.
The NPA's Planning Committee is made up of 14 of the 22 members of the Park Authority. The Committee is mostly (12) local Parish, Town, District and County Councillors and 2 Secretary of State Appointees [through DEFRA]. As with any Planning Authority they have strict criteria they must adhere to, and whilst they may seek advice from the civil servant staff of the Authority including their own ecologists and the Chief Exec, the decisions are theirs. No previous scheme has been refused because, like the present one, they are worthwhile restorations to improve the habitat, and have met the criteria for planning approval. There is NO conflict of interest as the Chief Exec on the board of the project serves the members of the Authority, not the other way around.
We apologize to the Forestry Commission, and other public servants that have had to bear the brunt of what many would call a hostile work environment. I've heard hissing at Parish Council meetings. I've seen ecologists aggressively berated at consultations and site visits, where they are merely doing their job and explaining, calmly, what the values of these projects are. The NFA haven't been able to be present at all occasions and have not intervened enough. Not that I lay all bad behaviour at the feet of the Leaders of the opposition, but neither do they repudiate such behaviour.
We also apologize to the FC because while the NFA have campaigned for more monitoring built in to all these projects - We didn't insist enough to give everyone a larger more convincing body of evidence.
We apologize to the Friends of Latchmore. Yes, we do. On one level we welcomed them, we disagreed with their conclusions, but a localized voice giving the Forestry Commission a hard time, could have been useful. The NFA, covering more issues over the whole Forest, can't be everywhere all the time. But they are never sceptical enough with their own arguments, they don't sort the wheat from the chaff, as a result we've heard a few valid points hidden amidst a white noise of hyperbole and pseudoscience.
But here's where the NFA have done the leaders of the Friends of Latchmore and as a result many of their followers a true disservice. We didn't challenge them publicly often enough. We thought there was no point in popping up doing tit for tat when the planning process would make the decision. We limited speaking here at the Verderers Court mostly to key moments when the Verderers were to decide their views. In some cases they may even have taken our silence for validation.
We've let them steal a march on us in the public perception, but in doing so they have spread an entrenched dogmatic view which stifles debate, because you can't have a discussion where one side never concedes any of the many valid points that suggest that either this project is worthwhile, or that its challenges are proportionate.
I won't make up for lost time now. I have a critique of more than ten errors on just one of their webpages which I've sent separately to the Verderers (on our news page). But I beg the courts indulgence to address a few points.....
|-- Brian Tarnoff, Chair, Habitat and Landscape Committee
New Forest Asssociation
In a feat of both irony, and good timing thematically, the presenter met the five minute limit for Presentments, and was cut short. The second part shifts emphasis to addressing areas that concern all of us about the project, Wildlife, Material Delivery Routes and Beauty. The full presentment was distributed in written form to the Verderers, as well as the Annotated Fact Check of the Latchmore Crowdfunding Page.
The Presentment was preceded by a very short thank you to the Forestry Commission for their new Look, Don't Pick Fungi policy. We released a fuller response to the policy here.