Eastbourne Borough Council faces both moral and legal difficulties when deciding whether to sell the downland farms.
The farms were purchased compulsorily from the Chatsworth and Gilbert Estates, most responsible landowners, under powers given by the Eastbourne Corporation Act 1926. During the stages of the Bill in Parliament, the council gave evidence to the House of Lords that the council would ensure that the character of the land was preserved in perpetuity. Lord Hartington MP intended to oppose the Bill and only withdrew his opposition when the council confirmed they would always ensure the use of the land and buildings for agriculture.
It is not possible for the council in selling the land to include covenants to use the land for agriculture so that the covenants would legally bind future owners (other than the first purchasers). Such covenants in legal jargon ‘do not run with the land’. Assurances given by the council that ‘nothing will change’ must be in doubt.
The ‘Council Proposal and Context’ now posted on the web show that the proceeds of the downland sales would be used ‘to invest in assets that generate good income streams’. However this is not permitted by the 1926 Act. Section 10 provides that, so far as the sale monies are not spent to buy other downland, the money must be used towards paying off council loans as approved by the Minister (in 1926 the Minister of Health).
The Local Government Act 1972 requires that on the sale of any open spaces the council must advertise the proposed disposals and consider any objections. Already there are more than 6,000 signatories to a petition opposing the sales so many objections must be expected. Many local electors must ask why in the municipal elections only six months before the sales decisions no warnings were given that our Heritage downlands could be under threat.
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