I was dismayed to see such a huge amount of misleading content in ‘The big questions answered about Eastbourne’s downland farms’ in a recent issue of the Herald.
It is of great concern that the council are still trying to pull the wool over our eyes regarding the proposed sale of this publicly-owned downland rather than protecting and enhancing it in perpetuity for the benefit of all – as they promised back in 1929 when it was bought.
The article gets underway by muddying the waters about the term ‘open downland’ and stating that no open downland will be sold. But, in environmental terms this chalk grassland, rich in plant and wildlife species and grazed by sheep is indeed open downland. Once the land passes into private hands the council would not (despite what they say) be able to stop more intensive farming, viticulture or game shooting, for example, which would bring noisy machinery, buildings and high fencing.
The beautiful rolling hills grazed by sheep which we all enjoy when we walk from Beachy Head to Birling Gap would be gone.
The article gives reassurance that multiple covenants will protect the land post-sale. However, experience shows that covenants are unenforceable – you only have to look at Brighton Marina to see this.
In these cash-strapped times, the council needs funding. We all understand that, but selling off our heritage is not the answer. In purely economic terms it doesn’t make sense. The rental income from the farms is a continuous revenue stream, whereas you can only sell the crown jewels once. What happens in 10-15 years when they need more money? It strikes me as ironic that the article gives a huge plug for benefits of the redevelopment of Devonshire Park – an amenity which the council obviously thinks will bring more money into the town from tourism. However it is Eastbourne’s setting as the gateway to the South Downs National Park and the iconic landscape of Beachy Head that draws visitors here. Why not preserve and enhance this amenity also rather than sell it off?
There is still time for the council to change its mind about selling off our heritage. I, for one, hope Cllr Tutt and his colleagues come to their senses before it is too late.