COUNCIL chiefs have been forced to deny that Worcestershire's "crown jewel" countryside sites face privatisation in a desperate bid to save money.

Councillor Richard claims secret talks have taken place behind closed doors about selling off popular sites including Worcester Woods Country Park, and other key countryside assets, for private profit.

Last year Worcestershire County Council hatched a move to transfer Kingsford Forest Park near Kidderminster to the National Trust, a deal which is yet to be finalised but will save £30,000 in annual running costs.

Councillor Udall says "the unthinkable is now happening" and that the Conservative leadership has made it clear all sites are up for grabs, including Worcester's countryside centre and Waseley Hills Country Park, near Rubery - another site Labour claim is under threat.

The Tory cabinet has admitted to looking "at every area" but insists no other deals are in the pipeline, saying the concern is unfounded.

Councillor Udall said: "The unthinkable is now happening, with Worcester's countryside centre and Nunnery Wood under threat of being privatised.

"Already Kingsford Forest Park has been handed over to the National Trust and discussions are ongoing to rid the county (council) of Hartlebury Common.

"These discussions are going on behind closed doors and we only know what is happening when the deal is done.

"The council has now made it clear all sites are up for privatisation.

"The previously unthinkable is happening.

"Any private operator would only be interested in making a profit out of our countryside.

"The council is only too eager to rid itself of country parks throughout the county, these sites have developed over the years into areas of outstanding beauty and areas of education and information."

But Councillor Lucy Hodgson, the Conservative cabinet member for localism and communities, said: "The county council is very proud of the country parks we have and over the last three years we have looked at organisations who might be interested, but proposals are looked at on their own merits and must have the same service standards.

"Discussions are ongoing with the National Trust over Kingsford Forest Park but there are no plans at all to transfer Worcester Woods or Waseley.

"They are key parts for us and destination places.

"We have looked at all areas, the one which fitted perfectly was Kingsford Forest Park and the National Trust, anything else I don't think is a goer.

"We've got a proven track record with our Green Flag (outstanding park) awards and I wouldn't want to do anything that deters from that."