Campaigners gathered outside Eastbourne Town Hall last night (Wednesday, February 8) to protest their continued anger at the council’s planned sale of four downland farms.
Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council Cllr David Tutt addressed the crowd, comprising members of Eastbourne Friends of the Earth and other groups in the Keep Our Downs Public campaign, outside the council’s cabinet meeting.
He said the council will seek public opinion on the issue through a poll in its newsletter, the Eastbourne Review, which will be delivered to every household in the town from Monday (February 13).
Cllr Tutt said, “There will be the option of saying whether they wish to sell the downland farms or reduce front line services.”
He added that, while the poll is not legally binding, he will vote for what the public decides.
The St Anthony’s Ward councillor said residents can return their response freepost to the council by March 3.
Afterwards, the crowd drummed and chanted “Whose downs? Our downs”, in what they say is in reference to the fact that the Eastbourne downland estate was bought by the council in the 1920s after the public raised the cash to keep the land open and accessible.
Brenda Pollack, Friends of the Earth’s South East campaigner, said, “Previously Councillor Tutt said they needed the money to pay for projects like the revamp of Devonshire Park, not for basic council services.
“This poll doesn’t sound like a fair way of asking for public input.
“The sales are an extremely unpopular move by the council. It’s no good having ambitious plans if they need to rob Peter to pay Paul by selling off publicly owned downland farms.
“This land needs long-term, co-ordinated and careful management.”
Lyn Core, Old Town resident and Keep Our Downs Public spokesperson, said, “I understand that the council needs funds for new projects for the town but the council’s desire to sell the downland, which is our heritage, is not the answer. There have to be other ways of increasing revenue than putting our iconic landscape at risk.
“I would welcome a meeting with Councillor Tutt to find alternative ways forwards.”
The Keep Our Downs Public group believes that once in private hands, management practices of the land cannot be properly controlled.
Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell will meet with David Tutt and downland farm campaigners to discuss the issue on Friday.