Broad coalition calls for North-East FIZ

8 February 2019

A broad coalition of interests has been brought together by Confor to call for the extension of the Forestry Investment Zone (FIZ) initiative to Northumberland.

A letter to Forestry Minister David Rutley MP urges him to consider broadening the FIZ programme into the North-East from the initial pilot scheme in east Cumbria.

The letter is signed by Peter Jackson, a farmer and the leader of Northumberland County Council, as well as Labour MEP for North East England Paul Brannen, a strong supporter of the forestry and timber industry.

As well as Confor's CEO Stuart Goodall, other signatories are Beccy Speight, CEO of the Woodland Trust and Mike Childs, Head of Science, Policy and Research at Friends of the Earth - plus Simon Hart of EGGER, the largest private sector employer in Northumberland. 

All six signatories spoke at Confor's Superwood conference in Newcastle in December, where the idea of developing a FIZ in Northumberland found widespread support. 

"Forestry Investment Zones are a real opportunity to drive forward productive planting and Northumberland is a prime area for a FIZ, as Confor highlighted in its paper last year," said Mr Goodall. [Read the paper here

Confor's paper says that a FIZ would allow specific areas to be designated as suitable for planting, with the potential for enhanced grants and accelerated approval times.

"We believe the key to the success of the initiative is collaboration between economic, environmental and political interests, which is why we wanted to show the Minister that there is both cross-party and cross-sector support for a FIZ in Northumberland," said Mr Goodall. "The support of the county council leader, who is from a farming background, is very significant, as is the backing of high-profile environmental organisations. 

"I look forward to discussing this issue further with the Minister, his officials and the signatories to the letter, to identify the best way to deliver a FIZ to Northumberland." 

The letter to Minister Rutley also raises the prospect of a FIZ further south, as part of the Northern Forest project.  

It says: "There is clear cross-party political support to move ahead with FIZs (there are Labour and Conservative signatories to this letter) and cross-sectoral support, too. 

"The Woodland Trust, Confor and Friends of the Earth have different primary objectives but all support expanding our woodland resource for the many benefits it provides, including a significant increase in productive forestry - to supply our domestic industry, reduce timber imports and make a real impact on climate change targets. Confor and Friends of the Earth are both making climate change the focus of campaigning efforts for 2019, with a call for a step change in tree planting from the current low levels. 

"An expansion of the FIZ programme can play an important part in delivering this step change and I hope you will support our cross-party, cross-sectoral efforts to identify more FIZ areas throughout 2019. We believe a series of FIZs can help to stimulate new planting and deliver wide-ranging positive benefits to our economy, our environment and our rural communities." 

To read the full letter, click here.