The scant and misleading ‘information’ which accompanies the poll regarding the sell-off of Eastbourne downland betrays the narrow and out-dated attitude that the borough council has adopted to this sale. These farms are worth far more than their bare rental value.
Currently every Eastbourne resident derives huge benefits from the way this land is managed, even those who have never set foot on the downs. The most obvious example is the provision of fresh water and flood protection but there are scores of possible ‘services’ that could be lost if the land use changes.
A thorough (and independent) assessment to identify the key benefits that each farm currently provides is required. This must also indicate what sort of activities and land use changes would pose a threat and, ideally, provide information about opportunities to increase the benefits and consider whether the land can be used to help address issues the town currently faces.
For example, perhaps rather than mop up the town centre after flash flooding or implement expensive flood defence schemes within the town, we can manage our uplands to slow or reduce water flow to reduce the risk of it happening at all.
A full assessment of ALL potential impacts should have been carried out before the sale was even proposed to ensure that informed decisions can be made. Only then can the question of whether sufficient legal safeguards can be put in place, or whether it’s even worth the risk, be investigated. Our elected representatives should use current and impartial advice from relevant experts if they are making decisions which may impact upon these vital issues. As far as I can ascertain, even the most basic assessment of potential environmental impacts has yet to be undertaken.
As to the poll in the Eastbourne Review; if I set up a poll asking the question ‘Do you want to keep the downland or face increases in your house and/or business insurance premiums and risk regular flooding’ there would be an outcry. Rightly so.
The Eastbourne Review poll is asking people to decide on a hugely important and very complex question, providing one narrow alternative without reference to wider implications, offering no other alternatives and failing to provide comprehensive background information. The people of Eastbourne, past, present and future, deserve far better.