Four downland farms in Eastbourne are to be sold by the council in a bid to boost cash reserves.
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 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.
Council leader David Tutt said he hoped the sales would save the council money and generate a capital receipt that can be reinvested in the local economy.
“As far as the farmers are concerned, nothing will change,” said Mr Tutt, “it is only the freeholds of these farms that are for sale, not the leaseholds.
“The farmers will have every option to buy the freeholds themselves. If they want to stay on they can, they are not being asked to leave.
“And I want to make it very clear: we are not selling off the Downs for development. I have Eastbourne at my core and I just wouldn’t let that happen.”
Specialist land agents Strutt & Parker is currently consulting with all parties that hold rights in the downland owned by the council.
A South Downs National Park spokesperson said, “The robust planning framework and national park legislation governing the use of the downland remains exactly the same regardless of any future change in land ownership.
“If the proposed sale of the farmland owned by Eastbourne Borough Council takes place, the main use of the land, farming, will not change as a result of any sale.
“Eastbourne Borough Council is a close working partner of the South Downs National Park Authority and we are delighted that, if the sale is successful, the council plans to invest some of the proceeds in enhancing the visitor experience on the downland every year.”
Not everyone is happy about the proposals though.
Anonymous letters sent to the Herald say the proposals are of huge concern and claim the council is selling off land bequeathed to the people of Eastbourne for recreational use.
One letter writer said, “The money generated from this ‘sale of the family silver’ is to be poured in to the hungry pit that is the Devonshire Park.” Photo by Claire Blacklaws.
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