Countryside campaigners have joined forces to protest against Eastbourne Borough Council’s plans to sell its four downland farms.
The Sussex branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE Sussex) and the South Downs Society have appealed for local people ‘to join the battle to save thousands of acres of downland before it is too late’.
The organisations are hoping a new wave of ‘people power’ could force the council to rethink its plans to sell-off the land, which was originally bought for the people of Eastbourne in 1926.
“We think it is unacceptable that the council is now looking to auction this land off to the highest bidder for short-term economic gain,” said CPRE Director Kia Trainor. “The council must halt and reconsider this plan and we are hoping that a strong message from the people of Sussex will make them do so.
“This land includes of some of Sussex’s most iconic landscapes, and was acquired for the people of Eastbourne ‘in perpetuity’ in order to ensure that it was protected ‘for the enjoyment of all’. We are calling for anyone in Sussex who cares about the South Downs to write urgently to Councillor David Tutt at Eastbourne Borough Council to express their opposition to this sale.”
The countryside campaigners said many local residents are still unaware of the council’s intention to sell the land which is made up of four farms in the South Downs National Park.
The Eastbourne Downland Estate extends to 4,200 acres – much of which is internationally important due to its unique biodiversity and rare wildlife habitats.
Steve Ankers, Policy Officer for the South Downs Society, said, “This policy on the part of the borough council to put at risk all the environmental and recreation gains made since the downland was bought has united not only Eastbourne residents but all those with a love of the South Downs
“This would be a betrayal of the far-sighted vision shown by the council nearly a century ago”
The council has said that if it is sold the land would still be protected by the planning restrictions imposed by the National Park Authority and by legislation covering its public rights of way. However, the campaigners say this won’t go far enough and have warned that landscape enhancement, archaeology and visitor access will all be in jeopardy.
“For Eastbourne, it is a short-term and rather desperate ‘family silver’ sale, seeking to rob downland Peter to pay for urban regeneration Paul,” said Phil Belden, former Director of Operations at the South Downs National Park.
“Public ownership provides the opportunity to influence the way our land is managed. As constituents we can engage with our councillors/officers to achieve commendable conservation and access gains. Unless there is a benign private owner, there can be no assurances.”
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