BREAKING UPDATE: Council U-turn over downland farms sale

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Council bosses say the sale of the downland farms is “off the table” after an informal poll saw residents vote resoundingly against the plan.

In a statement released just minutes ago, Eastbourne council said it was following the results of the Eastbourne Review which asked residents if they wanted to sell the freehold of the farms or make cuts to frontline services.

“The decision of the public is they wish the council to maintain ownership of the farms and we will honour this,” said a spokesperson for the Liberal Democrat administration.

“So as from now, the potential sale of the farms is off the table.”

Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council Cllr David Tutt said, “ This was not an easy decision for anyone to make but reflects the difficult financial challenge facing the Council as a result of relentless cuts in Government Grant to Local Authorities and I would like to thank everyone who took part.

“The decision of the public is that they wish us to maintain the Council ownership of the Farms, those who opposed the option to sell campaigned hard and I congratulate them.

“I gave a pledge that we would honour the public decision and so as from now the potential sale of the Farms is cancelled.

“This does however leave us with the tough challenge of cutting services in our next budget which will take place in February 2018. The items we published in the Eastbourne Review are all things which have already been cut in other parts of the South East and are those which are currently in the frame to be cut next year.

“During the consultation process however many people have said to me that there must be other ways to tackle this problem. A number said that they would happily pay more Council Tax, but the Government caps this to a maximum of 2% for Borough and District Councils which would only generate around £160k for Eastbourne.

“Only one person has so far suggested any other alternative and I will be meeting with them to discuss their thoughts. I am however happy to explore any ideas that people may have which might help prevent these cuts being necessary and would ask those with ideas to contact me.

“My own feelings are that Local Government has already borne the burnt of the national austerity programme which has seen our Government grant reduce by £6m or 60% in recent years.

“These cuts have also hit other Councils very hard and so I am therefore launching a petition today calling for Government to halt these crippling cuts. I would ask everyone who believes that local services to sign it.”

Cllr David Tutt’s petition is available at: www.change.org/p/theresa-may-mp-theresa-may-reverse-the-crippling-cuts-to-local-government

The council has been locked in a bitter dispute with campaigners for weeks after it said it wanted to sell the downland farms to boost the council coffers of up to £30 million and pay for new projects within the town including a new Sovereign centre and the refurbishment of the Devonshire Park.

More than 10,000 people signed a petition against the proposed sale and a war of words broke out between council officials, councillors and opponents including the pressure group Keep Our Downs Public.