East Sussex County Council has carried out extensive public consultations on the future management of its rights of way and countryside sites, including the famous Seven Sisters Country Park. Decisions on their future are scheduled to be made by the Council at a meeting of its Cabinet at the end of June. In the light of recent moves by both Eastbourne and Brighton and Hove Councils to sell off land in their ownership, the Society has written to each member of the East Sussex Cabinet urging them to guarantee “benign” ownership, ensuring the protection and improvement of the landscape, wildlife, cultural heritage and public enjoyment.
The text of our letter is as follows:
The Society recognises the achievement of the County Council over the years in acquiring and maintaining land for the purposes of countryside recreation over and above its statutory duties with regard to rights of way. We also fully recognise the financial pressures facing the authority which render increasingly difficult the achievement of the highest standards which you would wish to meet.
In the circumstances we have responded positively to your consultation on options for future management and we await with great interest the report due to be considered at your June meeting. As set out in our written response to the consultation, the Society would urge the County Council to:
1. Ensure that the rights of way function is adequately resourced in terms of staff and finance to meet not only its statutory obligations but also the reasonable expectations of its users and other stakeholders
2. Either deploy sufficient resources on a continuing basis on the management of its countryside estate or agree to dispose of its assets to one or more benign owners committed to maintaining and enhancing their landscape, wildlife, cultural heritage and quiet enjoyment. In our response we made particular positive reference to the National Park Authority and National Trust as potential new owners.
The Society, which owes its origins to the benevolent and protective acquisition of coastal downland close to Seven Sisters Country Park, looks forward with great interest to your deliberations and offers its continuing support towards the achievement of the national park objectives of conservation, understanding and enjoyment.
The Society has today, 2 March, issued the following press release:
National park “Friends” group, the South Downs Society, has hosted a visit from shadow minister Barry Gardiner MP at Seven Sisters Country Park. The MP was responding to receipt of “National Parks in the 21st Century: a manifesto for the next Westminster Government”, produced by the Campaign for National Parks (CNP).
Each national park has its own supportive society, raising funds and campaigning to conserve the special park landscape. CNP is the national umbrella organisation for the national park societies.
Says South Downs Society chairman, Robert Cheesman, “The manifesto aims to highlight to politicians the vital role the national parks play in the local economy as well as in people’s recreation and enjoyment, and their need for strong planning protection and secure funding. We will be sending it out to prospective parliamentary candidates locally and CNP has circulated it to national politicians of all parties in advance of the general election. Barry Gardiner wanted to hear more and to share his thoughts on possible future legislation and funding for the national parks and our Society was very happy to host his meeting with CNP and local environmental groups in the South Downs.”
Poor weather and the MP’s tight timetable rather put a dampener on plans to explore the country park and its iconic river meanders but those attending found the meeting very helpful.
Says Robert Cheesman, “These irreplaceable national assets need friends in high places as well as local support. Whichever party or parties may be in power after the election, it is essential that the national parks are safeguarded and that all sectors of the community are able to appreciate and enjoy them. I believe Mr. Gardiner was taking careful note of what we all had to say.”