National Park boss speaks out on downland sale and Eastbourne Review

Demonstrators in Eastbourne protesting against the proposed sale of 3,000 acres of downland (Photo by Jon Rigby) SUS-170227-114230008
Demonstrators in Eastbourne protesting against the proposed sale of 3,000 acres of downland (Photo by Jon Rigby) SUS-170227-114230008

The Chief Executive of the South Downs National Park Authority is calling for a rethink on the proposed sale of downland farms – and has criticised the council’s poll.

In a statement, Trevor Beattie argues that only Eastbourne Borough Council’s (EBC) ownership of the land safeguards it from development or ‘exploitation’, and says the opinion poll presented in the latest Eastbourne Review ‘poses a confusing choice for residents’.

He said, “The preservation of the downland in its current open, grazed condition is an important economic asset, quite apart from the indisputable landscape, recreational and environmental benefits it provides to local residents and visitors to the area.

“These farms are not just local assets, they are national legacies, now in a National Park.

“Countryside sites were secured for the people early last century by far-sighted councils and campaigners who wanted to protect our landscapes and water supply in perpetuity. EBC’s original vision when they purchased the land in 1929 was that it would be ‘saved for ever from building or other exploitation.’ [The Times, October 29 1929]

“The informal poll in the latest edition of the council’s Eastbourne Review poses a confusing choice for residents between a capital sale of the downland and revenue cuts to services.

“We understand the financial pressures local authorities now face but the landscape is the main driver of the local economy that councils are trying to stimulate. Ownership by EBC safeguards this landscape.

“It is short-term thinking to put this timeless asset, which helps to attract investment, at risk for a one-off capital injection. We have therefore made our concerns clear and called for a rethink about these countryside sales.

“We continue to work behind the scenes to urge councils to consider their responsibilities. These include: safeguarding the landscape for future generations; maintaining public access in the face of predicted coastal erosion; the protection of historical features; the removal of permitted development rights on existing agricultural buildings; restrictions on certain types of agricultural use which would be inappropriate in this location; and a guarantee that any covenants and restrictions put in place to protect the land from damaging uses which might not be caught by the planning system can endure with the land if ownership changes.

“The long-term protection of our rare and precious landscapes, such as chalk grassland, is the highest possible priority for the National Park.”

Every house in Eastbourne should have received a copy of the latest Eastbourne Review, according to EBC.

It is a topical copy of the council’s newsletter, including an opinion poll on whether the council should sell the freehold of four downland farms or cut public services.

Although the poll is not legally binding, councillors have said they will respect the opinion of the public.

Residents are asked to fill in their choice and send it freepost to the council by this Friday (March 3).

To view the latest Eastbourne Review go to www.eastbourne.gov.uk/news/eastbourne-review