The bumbling yet brutal incompetence of Eastbourne Borough Council over the sale of Eastbourne downland should come as no surprise.
Almost 10 years ago, the council decided that it would enclose Eastbourne seafront from the Pier to the Wish Tower during Airbourne. £5 admission was demanded to an area to which there had always been free access.
The council seemed unaware of the fact that the inter-tidal zone is crown not council property and there was a protest march onto the beach, in which we participated. References were made to the Great Trespass on Kinder Scout in the 1930s; which did much to establish the right of the public to walk in the countryside.
The council got its fingers burned. The enclosed area was almost devoid of visitors throughout Airbourne 2008 and the Red Arrows pointedly modified their display, so that those outside of it got the best view. For many, the issue was not the £5 fee, but that the enclosure might prove to be the thin edge of a wedge.
Well, the council has not tried enclosing the seafront again, but it clearly has not learned the lessons of history. Comparisons with the Great Trespass are even more appropriate this time, as is the ‘thin end of a wedge’ issue. Should the downland end up in the hands of the Gilbert Estate, or some other property developer, central government will be sure to overrule any local planning objections.
This is not just an Eastbourne issue. It is an issue for anyone who values our natural heritage, biodiversity and the right to roam. We are not the owners of this planet; just its temporary guardians.
MARTIN HILLMAN and DAVID ELLIS
Hawks Road, Hailsham