MP Caroline Ansell has spoken out on the Eastbourne Borough Council sale of the freehold of four farms on the South Downs.
The Eastbourne and Willingdon MP said that there will be a “democratic deficit” if the decision is not put to Eastbourne residents and has called for a public consultation on the plans.
Mrs Ansell said, “Our downland is much loved and these farms have been in the council’s possession for nearly a century, so their sale is clearly of interest to local people.
“That interest is increasingly being expressed as opposition to those plans.
“Whatever the merit in the council’s plans for those sale proceeds, whatever the strength of argument on established environmental protections, including public right of way, all the while this ‘forever’ decision on the farms is not put to Eastbourne residents, it will suffer from a democratic deficit. That needs to happen. If we can consult on polling districts, we can consult on legacy farmland.
“The decision on farmland is irreversible and is arguably, in financial terms, one of the most significant ever to be undertaken.
“There is clearly a great deal – and growing – of concern as more people become aware of the proposed sale and so I ask the council to engage with residents on this and start a consultation on its plans.
“I certainly do not criticise the council for looking at the sale of the farms because it wants to raise funds, but concerns over future protections of the land and planning issues need to be satisfied and public support won.
“It may be that a sale is the best way forward, but for too many people that is presently difficult to see. Knowing more of the council’s ambitions for prospective sale proceeds would help but ultimately a consultation, with everyone having their say, will give the whole issue the clarity it needs. Then, we can move forward.”
Eastbourne Borough Council announced earlier this year it is selling the four farms – a total of 2,900 acres – to raise millions for projects across the town. It will retain 1,000 acres of open downland including Beachy Head.
A petition calling on the council to stop the sale has gained almost 3,000 signatures, and is available at www.actionnetwork.org/petitions/stop-the-sell-off-of-eastbournes-public-downland