Conservative councillors call for referendum on downland farm sale

Campaigners assembled on Beachy Head to protest the South Downs sale SUS-160512-120416001
Campaigners assembled on Beachy Head to protest the South Downs sale SUS-160512-120416001

The Conservative Group of Eastbourne Borough Councillors have written to the Leader and the Chief Executive of Eastbourne Borough Council to demand a referendum on the sale of the downland farms.

The councillors suggest that it takes place on the same day as the elections in May 2017 to minimise incremental costs.

Leader of the Conservative Group, Tony Freebody, said, “The Downlands were purchased for the benefit of Eastbourne residents, following an Act of Parliament, in 1926. We believe it is right to let the people of Eastbourne decide.

“I have written to Councillor Tutt and Rob Cottrill asking them to postpone the sale of the Downland farms and to put the issue directly to the people of Eastbourne, by way of a local referendum; therefore giving local residents a voice and a chance to decide the future of this treasured asset.”

Meads Councillor Robert Smart said, “I attended the recent meeting at which Councillor Tutt tried to explain the rationale for the sale.

“Although Councillor Tutt announced the potential expenditure on a new Sovereign Centre, amongst other projects, the case for “selling the family silver” has not been made.”

A spokesperson for the Conservative Group said, “The proposed sale of the Downland farms has prompted strong reaction by local residents, and to simply sell the farms without fully consulting local residents and letting them have the final say is undemocratic.”

Eastbourne Borough Council announced earlier this year it is selling the four farms – a total of 2,900 acres – to raise millions for projects across the town. It will retain 1,000 acres of open downland including Beachy Head.

Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, Councillor David Tutt, said, “The use of the land cannot change and is protected by 140 pages of covenants, and it is further protected by being part of the South Downs National Park.

“If the freehold is sold the farms will continue to be farmed and all existing rights of way will remain in place. It is worth noting that a vast majority of downland farms are already in private ownership and have been for generations.

“The only noticeable difference will be improvements to the open downland.”