Seven Sisters to be South Downs National Park’s ‘flagship site’ as ownership change agreed

The final terms of a deal to hand a Sussex beauty spot to a new owner have been given the go ahead by a senior county councillor.  

Monday, 20th January 2020, 4:31 pm
Seven Sisters cliff taken from South Hill Barn, Seaford. SUS-190522-122305001

On Monday (January 20), East Sussex County Council’s lead member for transport and environment Claire Dowling approved the final terms of a deal to transfer ownership of the Seven Sisters Country Park to the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA).

As part of the deal, the SDNPA are expected to commit to immediately investing £1.4m into the park as part of a project to improve visitor facilities at Exceat.

Cllr Dowling said: “When you look at the executive summary of what the park is proposing to do it is actually a good news story for the residents of – and visitors to – East Sussex.

“This is a tremendous story and it is very good news that this came forward.”

Before making her decision, Cllr Dowling heard from Vanessa Rowlands, a Liberal Democrat councillor who sits on the South Downs National Park Authority as a representative of the county’s town and parish councils.

Cllr Rowlands said the deal was viewed as a ‘positive step’ by the parish councils within the country – East Dean, Friston, Alfriston and her own Cuckmere Valley parish. 

She said “I know this must have been a really difficult decision for the council to take. It is an iconic landscape in the county and you have been custodians of that land for a long time but this transfer will keep the park in public hands. 

“This will be the national park authority’s flagship site. Their purposes are to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area and promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of those special qualities. 

“I can’t think of anywhere better to showcase that.”

Cllr Rowlands also said the SDNPA would put new investment into the country park, highlighting how funding would be used to ensure the visitor centre would be fully staffed. 

According to council papers, the transfer deal would see the SDNPA commit to an initial investment of £1.4 million, with an ambition to invest a further £13m in the long term.

This would be dependent on successful bids for funding including an ongoing application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the report says.

As part of the proposed deal, the SDNPA would also commit to freezing parking fees at the park for at least three years, ensuring the permanent right of public access and working with the county council on the future management of Chailey Common.

The deal would also include a clause requiring the county council be asked for their approval for the disposal of any land or property from the park in the future, with the council able to buy it for £1 if it wishes.

All these terms would be subject to the deal being approved by the secretary of state, however. 

At the same meeting Cllr Dowling also approved the final terms of deals on three other council-owned sites – Ditchling Common Country Park, the Ouse Estuary Nature Reserve and Riverside Park in Newhaven.

These deals would Ditchling Common Country Park would be taken on by the Sussex Wildlife Trust through a long lease and peppercorn rent.

As part of this arrangement, Sussex Wildlife Trust would gain use of a £400,000 fund held by the county council. 

The fund forms part of the S106 money from the Kingsway housing development in Burgess Hill, which is tied to the management of Ditchling Common Country Park and the mitigation of the impacts of the housing development on it.

The remaining sites are to be transferred into the control of Newhaven Town Council.

As a result, the town council would own the Ouse Estuary reserve on a freehold basis and be given a long-term lease to Riverside Park.

The principle of East Sussex County Council entering into these agreements had previously been approved at a meeting in June last year.