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Eastbourne ends downland sell-off!

The Society has campaigned alongside local residents and other environmental groups against Eastbourne Borough Council’s plans to sell off the bulk of its landholding in the national park. While the planning powers of the National Park Authority would have remained in place, and rights of way would have been protected, there is no substitute for benign ownership if landscape, wildlife, recreation and cultural heritage are to be conserved and enhanced, so there is much to celebrate in the recent decision of the Borough Council to stop the sale. The Society has continually offered to collaborate with the council and others to realise the potential of the landholding and looks forward to engaging in that process.

The South Downs Network of environmental groups active across the national park — of which the Society is an active member and secretariat — has also offered its expertise. Below is the text of the Network’s letter to Eastbourne:

 

14th March 2017

Councillor Tutt       Leader, Eastbourne Borough Council

Dear Councillor Tutt

Following our letter to you (30th January 2017) this is a positive follow-up to thank you for the bold decision you have taken to stop the sale of the Eastbourne downland estate farms. Our network of 40 organisations with environmental interests in the South Downs National Park is relieved that you have come to this conclusion, influenced by the overwhelming feelings of your Eastbourne residents in the recent poll.

We understand the financial difficulties and pressure to deliver public services that you are under, and recognise that this has no easy solutions. However, we strongly believed that selling the downland asset was not the right answer. Now you have stopped the sales you will be looking forward to how best to manage the downland estate and we re-emphasise the offer we made in our previous letter: “we will be more than happy to work with you, in partnership, to maximise the benefits from public land ownership”.

A strong partnership with the South Downs National Park Authority, Water Company, key organisations and local interests can be galvanised here. The estate is an invaluable public asset for the people of Eastbourne, for the local area and visitors from further afield. Your tenant farmers are making a valuable contribution. Their sensitive land management in food-growing helps deliver clean drinking water, wildlife and natural capital, along with its value for cultural heritage, public access, recreation and tourism and increasing the sustainability of the local economy in the face of climate change. With ownership and management in your control, as the publicly-accountable local authority for Eastbourne, much can be achieved.

The range of ecosystem services that the Eastbourne downland generates offers great opportunity, particularly if the UK’s post-Brexit farming policy results in more financial support for the maintenance of such services. Furthermore, your Downland Management Plan provides a useful base to affirm a renewed vision to develop a more comprehensive action plan for the Downs in harmony with local people while also recognising the national significance of this iconic landscape.

Yours sincerely

Dr Tony Whitbread, Chairman, South Downs Network

Cc Mr R Cottrill, Chief Executive, Eastbourne Borough Council

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Please Don’t Sell the Eastbourne Downs

As part of the Society’s continuing campaign alongside local residents and other environmental organisations to keep the downs in benign ownership, we have — as a member of the South Downs Network of around 40 organisations — again written to the leader of Eastbourne Borough Council urging the authority to call a halt to its plans to sell four farms in a key part of the national park behind Beachy Head. The Society, from January 2017, acts as secretary to the Network.

 

Dear Councillor Tutt                                                                                            30 January 2017

Leader, Eastbourne Borough Council

PLEASE DON’T SELL THE EASTBOURNE DOWNS

We, the South Downs Network of organisations with an environmental interest in the national park, urge you to stop the proposed sale of the four farms, comprising three-quarters of the Eastbourne downland estate.

This land is an invaluable public asset for the people of Eastbourne, for the local area and visitors from further afield. It has great value for its rich natural capital, its biodiversity and cultural heritage, to public amenity and the town’s drinking water supply. It is vital that ownership and management rest with the Borough Council, as the democratic, publicly-accountable local authority for Eastbourne, to continue its great work in conserving and enhancing the land and complying with the words and spirit of the 1926 Eastbourne Corporation Act.

Under your careful ownership there is a synergy of the tenant farmers’ sheep grazing; people wandering from “honeypot” sites to the more tranquil downland and chalk grassland restoration enabled by “joining up” different compartments. This synergy would fail if the estate was broken up. We hear assurances that you have given about the land being in the National Park, rights of way being protected and covenants on the land. However, from practical experience across the South Downs this will not safeguard the Eastbourne Downs. No guarantees can be given that current, relatively benign farming practices will continue. Recent examples show how insecure these apparent protections are. Twyford Down in Hampshire was a legally protected Site of Special Scientific Interest and Scheduled Ancient Monument– destroyed. Covenants on Brighton Marina to prevent building higher than the cliffs – tested and torn up in the Court of Appeal. St Mary’s Farm, sold by Brighton Council and subsequently to an investment bank, which, to gain a good return on its investment, rented it to an intensive arable farmer who ploughed up the grassland and to a commercial shoot that bulldozed out copse-centres for game rearing.

We strongly recommend that the Council re-thinks its policy, looks more closely at the range of ecosystem services that the Eastbourne Downland generates and sets out a renewed vision for its Downs in harmony with its people. This should respect the fact that the land is held in trust by the Council on behalf of the people of Eastbourne.

If you take this approach we will be more than happy to work with you, in partnership, to maximise the benefits from public land ownership; you can be assured that this would be a most popular move, applauded by the people of Eastbourne.

I am copying this letter to Caroline Ansell MP, to Councillor Gill Mattock and to selected media.

 

Dr Tony Whitbread

Chair, South Downs Network

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“Fight for it or lose it!”

The Society, in collaboration with local residents and other organisations, continues to campaign against the plans of local councils to dispose of their landholdings in the national park. Here is a press release that we issued jointly with CPRE at the end of January:

 

‘Fight for it or lose it,’

warn campaigners over Downland sale


Countryside campaigners have joined forces to issue an urgent appeal calling for local people to join the battle to save thousands of acres of Downland before it is ‘too late’.

 The Sussex branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE Sussex) and The South Downs Society are hoping a new wave of ‘people power’ could force Eastbourne Borough Council to rethink its plans to sell-off the land, which was originally bought for the people of Eastbourne in 1926.

“We think it is unacceptable that the council is now looking to auction this land off to the highest bidder for short-term economic gain,” says CPRE Director, Kia Trainor. “The council must halt and reconsider this plan and we are hoping that a strong message from the people of Sussex will make them do so.”

“This land includes of some of Sussex’s most iconic landscapes, and was acquired for the people of Eastbourne ‘in perpetuity’ in order to ensure that it was protected ‘for the enjoyment of all.’”

Many local residents are still unaware of the Council’s intention to sell the land which is made up of four farms in the South Downs National Park. The Eastbourne Downland Estate extends to 4,200 acres – much of which is internationally important due to its unique biodiversity and rare wildlife habitats.

“This policy on the part of the Borough Council to put at risk all the environmental and recreation gains made since the downland was bought has united not only Eastbourne residents but all those with a love of the South Downs,” says Steve Ankers, Policy Officer for the South Downs Society. “This would be a betrayal of the far-sighted vision shown by the Council nearly a century ago.”

Eastbourne Borough Council says that if it is sold the land would still be protected by the planning restrictions imposed by the National Park Authority and by legislation covering its public rights of way. However, the campaigners say this won’t go far enough and have warned that landscape enhancement, archaeology and visitor access will all be in jeopardy.

“For Eastbourne, it is a short-term and rather desperate ‘family silver’ sale, seeking to rob downland Peter to pay for urban regeneration Paul,” says Phil Belden, former Director of Operations at the South Downs National Park.

“Public ownership provides the opportunity to influence the way our land is managed. As constituents we can engage with our councillors/officers to achieve commendable conservation and access gains. Unless there is a benign private owner, there can be no assurances.”

 

 

 

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Eastbourne Downland sell-off

The Society has issued the following press release about Eastbourne Borough Council’s plans to sell off most of its landholding in the South Downs National Park:

 

Tarnishing the Family Silver

News that Eastbourne Borough Council plans to sell off its landholding on the South Downs has been greeted with great concern by national park “Friends group”, the South Downs Society.

 Says the Society’s policy officer, Steve Ankers, “This is worrying news. This Society came into being when public spirited citizens banded together to acquire land on the Seven Sisters to keep it safe from development and open for public enjoyment. Other councils along the Sussex coast faced with budget pressures have thought about selling off their downland assets like this but have been persuaded to reach agreement with local communities on safeguarding access, landscape and wildlife. There are also national and regional bodies who could be involved in helping to protect this land. Eastbourne needs to think again.”

 Eastbourne Council has issued statements defending the move, claiming that the land will remain protected from development by being in the national park and being crossed by public rights of way that won’t be extinguished, and that the cash raised can be ploughed back into providing services for the people of the town.

But the South Downs Society is unimpressed. Says Steve Ankers, “Of course planning powers and the laws protecting footpaths are important – this Society has been working in this framework for over 90 years! But, with ownership gone, what are the prospects for meeting the national park’s statutory purposes of conserving and improving the landscape, public access beyond the linear paths, enhancing the wildlife habitat, interpreting the archaeology and providing for visitor understanding and enjoyment? Once ownership is forfeited, that’s also the annual income to the council gone too: once you’ve sold off the family silver to help meet this year’s budget problem, what’s left next time round?”