Rally at Beachy Head against downland farms 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

Campaigners gathered at Beachy Head on Saturday for a rally protesting against Eastbourne Borough Council’s sale of four downland farms.

Eastbourne Friends of the Earth (FOE) organised the protest, where more than 150 people turned up with banners and placards and held a walk across the land the council plans to sell.

FOE coordinator Andrew Durling said, “More than 150 people were there. That’s a fantastic turnout on a cold, windy morning.

“We had a great walk around the parts of the downland that are to be sold off.

“Tony Whitbread, chairperson of Sussex Wildlife Trust, gave his full support and gave a fascinating speech where he explained it was important that land does not fall out of public ownership.

“Public support is building, we are winning the arguments and have the support of an increasing number of organisations.

“We think we can ramp up the pressure. We are still demanding a halt of the sale and a public consultation on the matter.

“We will be holding meetings in the future to discuss the way forward.

“The whole thing is shrouded in mystery, people are being told not to speak up, which is deeply concerning for local democracy.

“The council did nothing to publicise the meeting with David Tutt, we had to advertise it.

“We want a proper public meeting in the new year, with representatives debating from both sides.”

The campaign has gathered support from organisations and politicians, including Sussex Wildlife Trust, Green MEP Keith Taylor, CPRE Sussex, the South Downs Society, the Open Spaces Society, the Eastbourne People’s Assembly Against Austerity, and the Eastbourne Society.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas also sent a message of solidarity for the rally in a Tweet.

At the rally, resident Catherine Tonge said, “Today’s demonstration shows the deep concern and betrayal that Eastbourne people feel over this back-room decision.

“To get a crowd like this out on a Saturday just before Christmas, at such short notice is remarkable. We hope the Council will listen to those they represent and halt this sale.”

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.

Two weeks ago Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, Councillor David Tutt, held a meeting with those concerned about the sale.

He said there are covenants in place to protect the land, and the sale will provide much-needed funds to redevelop the town.

If the sale takes place, he said, a figure of £1million is to be injected into improving the public footpaths across the open downland, and the rest into projects like replacing the Sovereign Centre, and reinvigorating Devonshire Park and Princes Park cafe.

Mr Tutt rejected calls for a public consultation on the matter and said the council is currently in the sale process and looking to sell for a figure of between £15million and £30million.

A petition calling on the council to stop the sale has received more than 2,800 signatures, and is available at www.actionnetwork.org/petitions/stop-the-sell-off-of-eastbournes-public-downland

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