News that Eastbourne Borough Council plans to sell off its landholding on the South Downs has been greeted with great concern by the South Downs Society.
Its policy officer, Steve Ankers, said, “This is worrying news. This Society came into being when public-spirited citizens banded together to acquire land on the Seven Sisters to keep it safe from development and open for public enjoyment.
“Other councils along the Sussex coast faced with budget pressures have thought about selling off their downland assets like this but have been persuaded to reach agreement with local communities on safeguarding access, landscape and wildlife.
“There are also national and regional bodies who could be involved in helping to protect this land. Eastbourne needs to think again.”
Eastbourne Council has issued statements defending the move, claiming that the land will remain protected from development by being in the National Park and being crossed by public rights of way that won’t be extinguished, and that the cash raised can be ploughed back into providing services for the people of the town.
But the South Downs Society is unimpressed, said Mr Ankers. He continued, “Of course planning powers and the laws protecting footpaths are important – this Society has been working in this framework for more than 90 years! But, with ownership gone, what are the prospects for meeting the National Park’s statutory purposes of conserving and improving the landscape, public access beyond the linear paths, enhancing the wildlife habitat, interpreting the archaeology and providing for visitor understanding and enjoyment?
“Once ownership is forfeited, that’s also the annual income to the council gone too: once you’ve sold off the family silver to help meet this year’s budget problem, what’s left next time round?”
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