The Voice Of The People Of The Forest of Dean
The question of a special status for the Forest of Dean is not as straightforward as it may appear. We have an AONB in the Wye Valley, just a few miles away, and in the Cotswolds which is a little further away. Both of these areas are totally different to the Forest of Dean. The Wye Valley is an area of beautiful scenery and little or no industry ( with the exception of large scale quarrying).
The Cotswolds have been turned into a 'chocolate-box' area of picturesque villages and towns inhabited by monied people from the cities many of whom only use the residences at weekends.. There is no work there for local people; and neither can they afford the homes. Dean Forest Voice do not wish either scenario for the Forest of Dean.
The Forest of Dean is a unique area (a conclusion reached by the Countryside Agency that carried out the original investigation into a possible special status for the Forest of Dean) and does not fit into the description of either of the two AONB areas close to us.
Some of the Forest - namely the Statutory Forest - is a very beautiful area, and it is what the visitors come to see, and clearly fits in with AONB criteria. Outside of that area ( but within the administrative area of the Forest of Dean District Council) lie the towns and settlements where the people of the FOD live and work. This area does not sit easily within AONB criteria. (A fact realised by the Countryside Agency after a fact-finding visit to the Forest of Dean). Also, some of the settlements lie within the boundary of the Stat. Forest and so pose problems when discussing boundaries of any future AONB.
Dean Forest Voice want to see the Stat. Forest left as it is and not turned into a giant 'Theme Park'. Outside of that area we want to see affordable housing for local people, and worthwhile, quality employment. Alongside this we want to maintain and protect the heritage, traditions and culture of the Foresters. Encouraged and not eliminated because it does not suit a new AONB image.
Dean Forest Voice want to see protection for the Forest, and we believe that the powers that FoDDC and Forest Enterprise possess, but incorporating and adhereing to the baseline studies, carried out by the Countryside Agency, during the five year investigation into a possible special status for the Forest of Dean. What is also of importance is that decision making should remain with our elected representatives and not with an un-elected quango.
Quarrying, including open cast coalmining, ( AONB or not) will still be controlled by the County Structure and Minerals Plans . Should the Severn Barrage be given the OK, (A project that we understand is supported by several members of the Council) this will see a vast increase in the demand for stone locally.
It is hard to understand why the Forest of Dean District Council should seek powers of protection for the Forest, imposed upon them by an unelected body, when they have these powers already should they choose to use them.
Dean Forest Voice is in favour of protection for the Forest of Dean, along the lines outlined above, but we do not see AONB as being the way to achieve this.