Whilst recognising the very real and difficult decisions that the council must make due to ever decreasing budgets, we feel very strongly that sacrificing our much-loved part of the South Downs to possible commercial threats cannot and should not be the solution.
The South Downs must not be threatened. It is part of what constitutes living in and visiting Eastbourne. It is also at the heart of the identity of Sussex and a big part of our national heritage. Its value cannot be judged in monetary terms.
Although it is claimed that by choosing to sell the farms, Eastbourne will retain 1,000 acres, what is not made clear is that it will possibly lose control of 3,000 more. And those 1,000 acres, although precious, are made very much more so by the adjoining 3,000, which are now under serious threat.
It is over optimistic to claim that little will change if the farms are sold. It is by no means certain that any covenants will hold in the short-term or the long-term. With low profit yields, it is unlikely that the farms will be attractive propositions for agriculture and there will be requests for diversification which would be totally at odds with the whole ethos of the downland landscape and its ecology.
Whilst it may be possible to guarantee current access rights to walkers, the whole landscape could change. In the future, it may be that instead of walking over wide, empty open vistas with the light playing over the rolling fields and hills we will be walking through a landscape of vineyards, poly-tunnels, solar panels or even worse.
Not so good for the soul! Not so good for the downland flowers, birds and insects. It cannot be right to jeopardise so very much for so very little temporary gain. The money raised will be but a drop in the ocean and in a very short while will be but a memory. Let us hope that the same cannot be said of our beautiful downland farms.
Obviously, cuts have to be made or budgets be redefined. The council wants to invest in Eastbourne’s future with new projects and developments and, of course, this is also desirable. However, we mustn’t squander one of the very great tourist assets it already holds.
We may have to make more shorter-term cuts, painful as they may be, such as losing the annual bedding of the Carpet Gardens and charging for green waste which can always be reversed if the financial situation improves. If we lose the identity of our downland setting it is gone for evermore and for everyone.
KATE and STEVE TILBURY