“SENSIBLE, popular and correct” – that’s the reaction from one of Hampshire’s top politicians after it was revealed that parts of the New Forest will not be sold off to businesses and charities.

An expert panel was set up to examine the future of England’s woodlands, including some areas of the New Forest, after the Government failed in moves to dispose of it.

In a 72-page report, published on Wednesday, panel members said that there was still a role for publicly-owned forests while the benefits they brought came at a relatively low cost to the taxpayer of £20m a year.

Politicians and conservation groups last night lined up to welcome the decision.

Among them were the RSPB, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and New Forest National Park Authority, which hosted a crucial site visit of the panel.

New Forest East MP, Julian Lewis, said that after the “nationwide uproar” against the sell-off idea, “it would have been surprising if the independent panel had backed such a half-baked proposal”.

He added: “The panel has come to a conclusion that is sensible, popular and correct and it looks like the Government has accepted this with good grace.

“I trust that lessons have been learned.”