Campaigners held a public meeting against council plans to sell off parts of South Downs land last night (Tuesday, November 8).
Members of the Eastbourne branch of Friends of the Earth were joined by concerned locals and campaigners from across Sussex at Eastbourne Town Hall.
The meeting was a response to news earlier this year that Eastbourne Borough Council (EBC) is to sell four downland farms to boost cash reserves.
Eastbourne Friends of the Earth coordinator Andy Durling said, “It was a very productive meeting, lots of people showed up.
“We have to act to stop the sell off of South Downs land.
“The immediate action that came out from the meeting was to call upon EBC to put an immediate hold on its proposal and have a public consultation.
“A lot of people don’t know what’s going on, we want to give the public a chance to be shown what’s proposed.
“We’re going to put pressure on the council and the local MP.
“A working group has been set up to take the campaign forward locally.
“This could set a precedent that could lead to the eventual sell off of the entire downland estate.
“If the rare chalk grassland is sold there is a great possibility it could be ploughed up.”
The group, which will be petitioning the council with letters and demonstrations, has set up a Facebook page called Keep Our Downs Public.
Also present at the meeting was Dave Bangs, co-founder of Keep Our Downs Public and countryside activist.
He said, “At present we in Brighton are fighting a mini-version of the Eastbourne downland privatisation. If you lose your battle and we lose our skirmish, then we may later lose the fight for our substantive downland estate of 12,500 acres (three times the size of your estate) – and the backbone public asset of the new South Downs National Park will be lost.
“It will be a National Park with no substantial democratically controlled public assets ... an empty shop.”
Black Robin Farm, Bullock Down Farm, Cornish Farm and Chalk Farm will be sold in a deal which could bring millions of pounds in to council coffers which could in turn pay for new projects in the town such as the redevelopment of the Devonshire Park complex and reinvesting in the downland.
The council says the freeholds of the farms will initially be offered for sale to the current leaseholders who farm the land and other prominent landowners such as the Gilbert-Davis and Duke of Devonshire estates before being put on the open market.
The farmers can either buy the farms, stay on or leave but the council says there are no plans to offer cash alternatives to vacate the properties.
The council says it has quashed fears the sale could lead to unwanted development as the downland it owns is part of the South Downs National Park which is protected.
The authority also says footpaths and rights of ways on the downland farms will not be affected.
An EBC spokesperson said, “Any change in the freehold of the farms within the South Downs National Park will not result in a change in their use.
“The farms will remain farms and the network of footpaths and bridleways will continue to provide visitors with public access across the downland. Any suggestions to the contrary are misleading and unwelcome.
“As a result of the sale, some of the money generated will be spent improving the open downland, which will also remain in public ownership.
“These improvements will be the only visible changes on the downland following the sale of the farms.”
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