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17 Wycombe woodlands leased off to staff mutual and Chiltern Society
A PIONEERING move to lease off 17 woodlands will protect the sites for future generations and save cash, council chiefs say.
Plans to hand over control for the woods, totalling more than 110 hectares, have been approved by Wycombe District Council.
Officials stressed, however, it should not be compared to controversial plans which sparked a Government u-turn earlier this year.
The Coalition proposed selling a number of woodland sites but abandoned the policy after a public outcry.
The council's woodland service team, led by John Shaw, will taken on 14 woodlands, stretching over 85 hectares, as a staff mutual.
Effectively, aided by a council grant, they will look after the woods as a new business.
The Chiltern Society has been given a 99 year lease at a token rent for woods in Prestwood, Brush Hill and Marlow Common.
The handover will save the council nearly £90,000 per year after the second year of operation.
Councillor Katrina Wood, Conservative, the cabinet member responsible for woodlands, said: "As a council we are very concerned that the woodland are kept and protected for the community, we don't want anything to happen to them.
"They are part of Wycombe's heritage."
She stressed that nobody should be concerned that the plans echo what the Government was trying to do.
She said: "I would like to reassure people there's no threat of selling off.
"The Government were looking to sell off woodlands, we aren't looking to sell at all, only to lease.
"The overall responsibility remains the council's.
"It's a move to protect the woods and maintain them for the community, our children and their children after that.
"We will save money in the end by doing it but the savings are an added benefit, it was the staff that approached us to do this."
The woodlands team trio will be given the 14 sites on a five year lease, which will then be reviewed.
The staff mutual has been made possible by the new Localism Act.
Sarah Randall, Cohesion and Leisure Manager, said: "It's very new to Local Government, we are the first to take it forward.
"It's an exciting opportunity for the staff, it's great to be pioneering the Localism Act."
Plans were looked at for The Chiltern Society, a charity, to buy the three sites, but the cost would have been £338,000.
Jenny Gilmore, director of the society, which already manage three sites, said: "We are keen to take our expertise into looking after more conservation sites and we are absolutely delighted the council has approved our lease."
The sites WDC currently manages: Ashwells Tree Belt; Axa Kings Wood; Brush Hill Local Nature Reserve (LNR); Castlefield and Rowliff; Carver Hill; Chairborough Road LNR; Desborough Castle; Funges Meadow; Gomms Wood LNR; Green Hill; Highfield & Hangingcroft wood; Keephill; Long Shaw Site of Special Scientific Interest; Marlow Common; Plomer Hill and Iain Rennie Memorial Wood; Prestwood LNR; Rayners Ave; Roundwood; Sands Bank LNR; Tinkers Wood; Tom Burt’s Hill.