Referendum on downland farms sale would cost £150,000

Caroline Ansell, MP for Eastbourne SUS-160604-141512001
Caroline Ansell, MP for Eastbourne SUS-160604-141512001

A war of words over the sale of the downland farms has broken out between Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell and the council.

The council took the unusual steps this afternoon (Wednesday) of releasing a statement to “clarify” several matters Mrs Ansell has spoken about since a meeting.

The MP, council officers and members and campaigners against the proposed sale of the downland farms were all at the meeting last week to discuss several issues.

Mrs Ansell, who has backed calls for a referendum on the sale, said concessions were made at the meeting.

But the council says it disagreed with Mrs Ansell’s summary of the get together and has also defended its poll within the Eastbourne Review.

A spokesperson for the local authority said, “Firstly, in regard to covenants, council leader David Tutt, offered to work with the campaign group on any further protections felt necessary for the working farms, including new covenants, should the matter proceed to open market sale.

“There was no commitment given to specifically include the MP in co-writing new covenants.

“Secondly, when a council consults on a proposal, it is good practice to clearly set out what it proposes to do and why, make that information as widely available as possible, invite feedback from its community, respond to that feedback, and take all views into consideration when making a final decision. That is exactly the process that has been followed in this case.

“Thirdly, the MP states the result of the opinion poll will not be in any way defining and appears to be implying a referendum would be more robust. This is not the case.

“The only kind of referendum a council can lawfully conduct is a non-binding local advisory referendum.

“Such a referendum would have to be confined to a simple yes/no or either/or question and would be accessible only to residents on the Eastbourne electoral register.

“Exactly the same opportunity in every detail is being presented by the council to the Eastbourne community in the informal ballot contained within the Eastbourne Review.

“The only major difference is that conducting a referendum would cost Eastbourne taxpayers an unbudgeted-for sum of around £150k, whereas the method being used by the council gives everyone the same opportunity to give their opinion of equal validity at a fraction of the cost.”