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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?”



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What next for the A27?

On Monday 7 March this Society issued the following press release:

Back On the Right Road

 The announcement by Highways England that they are no longer considering building a new A27 expressway north of Chichester has been welcomed by the official “Friends” group for the South Downs National Park, the South Downs Society.

“The setting of the national park and some splendid views from it would have been badly damaged by a new road running right along its boundary,” says the Society’s chairman, Robert Cheesman. “We know there are major traffic issues on the bypass and we understand the need for improvements but those changes can be made to the existing route, as Highways England and the government have now recognised.”

The Society, and a range of environmental, business and other organisations, have been engaged with Highways England and their transport consultants for over a year, considering congestion, road safety and other issues along the A27 at Arundel, Worthing/Lancing and east of Lewes and how to address them. Options for improving the Chichester bypass will be the new focus when public consultation takes place in the spring or summer.

Says Robert Cheesman, “The problems with the A27 are not just about delays for car drivers but also the impact of traffic on the national park and those visiting it. People should be able to enjoy the park and reach it on foot, bicycle or public transport as well as by car. As possible improvement schemes emerge, the South Downs Society will look at each option on the basis of the likely effects on the national park and how we can all enjoy it.”

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No need for Lewes housing site?

The Society has just issued the press release below concerning pressure for new housing around Lewes:

No need for Lewes housing site?

Newly produced papers reveal that pressure may be off for releasing a greenfield site in Lewes for new housing.

The public inquiry into the “core strategy” jointly prepared by Lewes District Council and South Downs National Park was reopened in December to hear evidence on whether a site in the Ouse valley on the north side of Lewes should be allocated for development.

The site, known as Old Malling Farm, lies between Landport and Malling and had been suggested as a possible location for 200 houses earlier in the inquiry. But the two local planning authorities, Lewes District and the National Park, have submitted an eight page statement to the inquiry inspector demonstrating that house building rates in recent years and the prospect of more in the pipeline mean that the Old Malling Farm site will not be needed in the near future.

This evidence has been warmly welcomed by both the South Downs Society and the Friends of Lewes who have campaigned against developing this highly sensitive site in the National Park.

Says South Downs Society Policy Officer, Steve Ankers, “The planners are obliged to show there is a five year supply of land available for housing, without which permission is more likely to be granted on unsuitable sites like this one. Happily, the work that Lewes and the National Park have just carried out demonstrates that –counting planning permissions granted recently, including North Street and Southdowns Road in Lewes, and the progress being made on the national park plan and neighbourhood plans —  the housing targets for Lewes are being met without the need for the Old Malling Farm site.”

Chairman of the Friends of Lewes, Robert Cheesman, agrees. “The evidence shows that the planners have been doing their job. We all recognise the need for some new, affordable housing but we don’t want to see development on this scale on greenfield sites. The town of Lewes and the South Downs National Park are very special places and we will continue to work to protect them. This new evidence is very positive news.”



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A27 Chichester Bypass: Road to Ruin?

The Society has issued the following press release in connection with proposals for a new expressway, northern bypass for Chichester:

Road to Ruin?

“The South Downs National Park would be severely damaged by a Chichester northern bypass” says the park’s official “friends” group, the South Downs Society.

Although formal public consultation has not yet begun on various options drawn up by Highways England, the government’s agency for trunk roads, it is already clear that two of the possible routes would pass to the north of Chichester, between the city and the national park.

“We fully recognise that there are major traffic issues on the bypass and understand the need for improvements,” says South Downs Society chairman, Robert Cheesman, “but those changes can be made to the existing route, not by constructing a major new expressway along the edge of the national park. We have a very special landscape here, designated of national importance, and planning policy insists that better options be found.”

The Society, and a range of environmental, business and other organisations, have been engaged with Highways England and their transport consultants for over a year, considering congestion, road safety and other issues along the A27 at Arundel, Worthing/Lancing and east of Lewes and how to address them, but the proposals for Chichester bypass have taken them by surprise.

Says Robert Cheesman, “The problems along the A27 are not hard to identify. It’s not just about delays for car drivers but also the impact of  traffic on the landscape of the national park and the quiet enjoyment of those visiting it. We want people to be able to enjoy the park’s special qualities and reach it on foot or by more environmentally sustainable forms of transport. When the various possible improvement schemes eventually emerge, the South Downs Society will look at each option on the basis of the likely effects on the national park and how we can all enjoy it.”

Meanwhile, Chichester bypass seems to have jumped to the front of the queue of A27 schemes and the Society will be lobbying vigorously against any options that involve building a new dual carriageway expressway right along the boundary of the national park. The Society hopes that as many individuals and organisations as possible will comment during the public consultation scheduled for the spring, but meanwhile is urging people to put their names to the following petition:

Click HERE to go to the petition


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A Transport Plan for East Sussex

The Society has today submitted comments on an “Implementation Plan 2016/17 – 2020/21” for East Sussex’s Local Transport Plan. As the authority responsible for highways and transport planning across the county — including the East Sussex part of the national park — East Sussex County Council is consulting on how best to deliver the transport capital schemes necessary to support the local economy and promote social and environmental well being.

Our comments appear in full below:

These are the comments of the South Downs Society, the national park society for the South Downs National Park. The Society has nearly 2,000 members and its focus is the conservation and enhancement of the special qualities of the national park and its quiet enjoyment. Our comments will reflect this focus.

The Society welcomes the objectives set out in the plan and especially those relating to climate change, accessibility, social inclusion, road safety and environmental sustainability.

At para 4.7 we note the reference to improvements to the A27 east of Lewes. The Society is aware of, and has engaged with, the ongoing work of Highways England and DfT on this and will respond to any options for change in the light of predicted impacts on the national park in both short and long term. We have been in contact with the consultants working on this with regard to seeing, in user friendly form, the outcome from traffic counts and origin and destination surveys, model development and model validation. In order to inform our own position on any change options we need to have a feel for what increases and what reductions in traffic may be expected on routes crossing or near to the national park.

At para 4.12 we welcome the prospect of a county wide Cycling & Walking Investment Strategy and would be keen to engage with its preparation, especially in respect of access to and within the national park.

We note at para 6 the process for initiating and prioritising schemes but it is not clear at what stage, and how, the various environmental issues are taken into consideration. There is a risk that these may only be considered at a detailed design stage but an environmental “sift” needs to happen earlier, alongside any perceived economic or social implications.

We note under Eastbourne and South Wealden a case being made for improvements to the A27 east of Lewes. There is however no apparent reference to any implications that such changes might have for the use of the existing rail service which runs roughly parallel from Eastbourne to Lewes and beyond. Although the County Council is not the responsible authority for the A27 it must be conscious, in helping to promote changes to the trunk road network, of any wider transport implications and the prospect of encouraging a shift from rail to road use.  Also, this section appears to make no reference to the need for safe and attractive access to the national park for different travel modes.

Newhaven: although something of an afterthought (the final para of the narrative and one mention in the list of measures), it is moderately encouraging to see a reference to the national park. The Society would be keen to be consulted on the proposed walking and cycling links to the national park.

Lewes and the National Park: we welcome the recognition that appears to run through this section that Lewes has a special character of its own which needs to be served by any transport investment. We also welcome the references to the links to the national park and the emphasis placed on more sustainable modes of transport.

One area where caution is required is the reference to improving traffic flow within the town: while few would argue in favour of congestion and the associated visual and physical disruption and threat to air quality and health, it would be undesirable to see traffic moving at speed through the town centre and other parts of town, and equally undesirable to encourage more car use in town seeking to benefit from – and eventually nullify – any improved traffic flow. Solutions to these dilemmas have long proved highly complicated. This section should also be cross-referenced to that on proposed changes to the A27 between Eastbourne and Lewes: it seems to us that any measures that make it easier to use a car to access Lewes along the A27 from the east is likely to add to the problems of congestion, parking capacity, air quality, etc rightly identified in this section.

Finally, we note that the delivery of the plan is dependent on the availability of finance and that economic growth is the top priority. In the circumstances the Society is anxious that the measures that it views as positive in terms of sustainable transport and improving access to, and enjoyment of, the national park and the associated advantages to health and quality of life may take a back seat. We would hope that the economic (especially the visitor economy), social and other benefits derived from the park will be fully recognised: the economy is more than offices and production lines.



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National park society gives cautious welcome to new park plan

The text of the Society’s submitted comments on the “South Downs Local Plan: Preferred Options” is already on our website, but for information, here is the text of our press release issued today:


The South Downs Society, the Friends group for the national park, has submitted a 5,000 word set of comments on the draft plan for the national park drawn up by the South Downs National Park Authority in a consultation which ran until the end of October.

The Society has participated regularly during the preparation of the plan and has not found too many major surprises amongst the 59 draft policies and sites proposed for development.

Said Robert Cheesman, chairman of the Society, “We welcome the way the plan places its emphasis on the national park purposes of conservation and enjoyment taking precedence over development – while recognising the need for appropriate levels of new “affordable” housing on brownfield sites, suitably located and designed.  We have added our own commentary and suggestions for new and amended policies which would help to protect the park’s special qualities.”

The Society has challenged some of the housing target figures in the plan and has repeated its strong objections to the use of farmland at Old Malling Farm on the outskirts of Lewes for a new housing estate.

The plan will, once it has gone through its various stages of consultation and examination, become a key document in conserving and enhancing the landscape and townscapes of the park and guiding development. It is anticipated that the plan will be formally adopted around June 2017.


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National park society gives cautious welcome to new park plan

The South Downs Society has submitted its comments on the draft plan for the national park drawn up by the South Downs National Park Authority in a consultation running from 2 September to 28 October.

The Society has been fully engaged in the preparation of the plan and has not found too many major surprises amongst the 59 draft policies and sites proposed for development. We have welcomed the structure of the plan with its emphasis on the national park purposes of conservation and enjoyment taking precedence over development – while recognising the need for appropriate levels of new “affordable” housing, suitably located and designed.  We have where necessary added our own detailed commentary and suggestions for new or amended policies aimed at achieving the purposes for which the park was designated.

The plan will, once it has gone through its various stages of consultation and examination, become a key document in conserving and enhancing the special qualities of the park and guiding development. It is anticipated that it will be adopted around June 2017. Click Here for the text of the Society’s full response.


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Hands off Old Malling Farm!

Hands off Old Malling Farm!

“80 new houses in Lewes at Southdowns Road behind Tesco and 400 more at North Street – we have no problem with either of those in principle, both on brownfield sites, provided the mix of uses is right and the design and layout are good enough for Lewes and the national park,” says Robert Cheesman, chairman of Friends of Lewes, “but turning good quality farmland into 200 more homes is simply unacceptable.”

The Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society – the “Friends” group for the national park — have joined forces to fight a proposal to build 200 new houses on a greenfield site in the heart of the Ouse Valley between Landport and Malling.

This is a site already considered for development, and rejected, by the South Downs National Park Authority but its future is back in the melting pot following a public examination of the draft local plan for Lewes (covering land both in the national park and outside) last January. The planning inspector concluded that the plan would yield insufficient new dwellings to meet local need and suggested that land at Old Malling Farm could be developed to make up some of the shortfall.

Steve Ankers, Policy Officer for the South Downs Society, says, “We are in total agreement with the Friends of Lewes on this. The national park was designated to ensure the protection of its special qualities and there’s nowhere in the park more special than Lewes and its setting. Both societies want to see affordable housing available in and around Lewes on brownfield sites but development at Old Malling Farm would be a very worrying precedent for building on other greenfield sites on the edge of town or anywhere else in the national park.”

A further round of consultation on possible changes to the plan is taking place until 2 October, with a likely reopening of the public inquiry in December to consider comments on this site. The Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society have submitted a joint response strongly objecting to the proposal to develop Old Malling Farm and highlighting the impact on landscape quality, views across and into the site, tranquillity and dark night skies, archaeology and the vital green finger of land reaching into the heart of the town.

Details of the proposals are available on Lewes District Council website:

And the joint submission from the Friends of Lewes and the South Downs Society is available on their own websites:



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Equestrian development

Horse riding is a welcome recreational activity in the South Downs National Park, allowing many to enjoy the park’s special qualities. But one person’s enjoyment can be another’s “bad neighbour” and the Society receives many approaches from members of the public concerned about existing or proposed equestrian development. To guide the Society’s response to such developments, we have drawn up our own set of guidelines:



The South Downs National Park provides an ideal location for recreational horse riding.

The South Downs Way was the first long distance bridleway to be established by the former Countryside Commission, and activities such as racing, eventing, showjumping, dressage, driving, endurance riding and polo, including for the disabled, may prove acceptable in planning terms as well as enjoyable activities.

Looking after horses supports local businesses such as saddlers, carriage makers, farriers, vets, equine dentists, retailers of horse and rider equipment, and tourism.  Farmers may let their land to horse owners for grazing, so supplementing their agricultural income, and owners of stables provide livery for other owners of horses and ponies.

While the keeping, training and riding of horses gives pleasure and income to many, there is no doubt that some associated activity – such as the construction and operation of indoor and outdoor facilities, traffic, lighting – can cause problems for neighbours and have adverse environmental impact.  Each planning application, or unauthorised activity, needs to be considered on its merits. The proposed activity should be seen to contribute to the conservation and enhancement of the landscape of the South Downs National Park and its quiet enjoyment – that is, the statutory purposes of national park designation.



With the aim that provision for equestrian activity in the national park is properly planned and managed we will:

  1. Seek to influence the local plan for the national park, the local plans for adjoining areas and neighbourhood plans with a view to ensuring that provision is made for horse riding in the park, subject to adequate and appropriate safeguards to protect its special qualities.
  2. Respond to planning applications for equestrian development, recognising the contribution that may be made to quiet enjoyment of the national park and to the economic and social wellbeing of the park communities, while seeking to protect the park’s special qualities and their quiet enjoyment by residents, visitors and other recreational users.
  3. Query possible unauthorised development and support appropriate enforcement.



In carrying out 1 to 3 above the following considerations may apply:


  • Buildings and equipment


Stables are best established as a block, near the dwelling, to improve security and keep the “footprint” compact.  The materials used should be in keeping with local buildings. If a metal roof is proposed, attention should be paid to reducing its “shine” in the sun. Floodlights, security and roof lights may contribute to light pollution, reducing “dark skies” and tranquillity.


Stable effluent may be disposed of through a cesspit or septic tank which will need regular emptying and this may put strain on the rural highway network.

Field boundaries: division by electric tape fences into “pony paddocks” may help the owner to control equine diet but it can be unsightly, and if this sub-division can be avoided it may help to promote lower grazing densities and so maintain the biodiversity of the grassland.


Screening of buildings and equipment with native hedging and trees may reduce the impact on the landscape.


  • Bridleways


Horses can be legally ridden on bridleways and byways so proximity to them may be an advantage for an equestrian development, especially if there is direct access other than along roads. Horses cannot be ridden on footpaths, unless with the landowner’s permission.  If there is high equine population density in the area the pressure may be  high on some routes, contributing to erosion and possibly extensive degradation. If a part of the bridleway network is already subject to high usage from existing equestrian establishments, it may be appropriate to resist further developments of this type in the area.


  • Highways and traffic


Equestrian facilities generate vehicular activity – both cars (owners, staff, riders, parents) and large vehicles such as feed and bedding supply lorries — which may lead to difficulties on the local road network. Single track roads require passing places for lorries to reduce the need for reversing; vehicles may access and damage highway verges and vegetation when passing.


If manure is not being composted and spread on site, its removal by skip may take place, with potential impact on the local route network.


Livery yards may offer lorry and trailer parking as well as car parking to the horse owners. A large area of hardstanding may prove an eyesore.



  • Amenity value and conservation


Riding tuition may impact on local tranquillity and the quiet enjoyment of the national park by others. Noise, traffic and the visual impact of equestrian development may affect users of local rights of way.

Change from agricultural to equestrian use may damage biodiversity or landscape character.


Archaeological and historical features may be compromised.




The draft “Preferred Options” Local Plan for the national park currently (August 2015) contains the draft policy below. This will be subject to public consultation as one element of the draft Local Plan during September and October 2015:

“Development Management Policy: SD50 Equestrian Uses

  1. Development proposals for equestrian development will be permitted provided that they comply with other relevant policies and they: a) have a scale and/or an intensity of equestrian use which would be compatible with the landscape and its special qualities; b) demonstrate good design which responds to local character and distinctiveness including location and siting, any subdivision of field(s) and earthworks; c) have a location which satisfactorily relates to existing infrastructure, where necessary, which includes vehicular and field accesses, tracks and bridleways; d) re-use existing buildings wherever practicable and viable; e) locate new buildings, stables, yard areas and facilities adjacent to existing buildings provided they respect the amenities of surrounding properties and uses; f) provide new or supplementary planting, hard landscape features and boundary treatments consistent with local character, where appropriate; and g) are compatible with other users of the countryside.
  2. Development proposals for equestrian development that would have an unacceptable adverse impact on the special qualities of the National Park will be refused.”


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STOP THE CUTS: Campaign for National Parks and 38 Degrees join forces for South Downs walk to highlight the effects of the Government cuts on National Park services

The South Downs Society has organised a special walk at Queen Elizabeth country park, Hampshire, for environmental pressure group 38 Degrees in support of its campaign, with CNP, against government budget cuts for the country’s national parks.  CNP has issued a press release as follows:

National Parks will welcome hundreds of people this weekend as part of a unique partnership between the Campaign for National Parks and pressure group 38 Degrees to highlight our Stop the Cuts campaign.

Walks have been set up in all ten of the English National Parks to enable people to meet together to learn more about the challenges facing our precious landscapes and to enjoy the glorious countryside.

The South Downs 5km walk has been set up by our sister organisation, the South Downs Society. It starts in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and includes a fairly steep uphill climb to the top of Butser Hill, which at 270m is the highest point on the South Downs chalk ridge and the second highest within the National Park.

National Park Authorities have had their Government budgets cut by up to 40% in real terms over the past five years and there is real concern that Defra – the lead Department for National Parks – will have to make huge cuts to meet the Government’s £20bn savings plan over the lifetime of this parliament.

Fiona Howie, Campaign for National Parks Chief Executive, said she was delighted that so many people were taking part in the walks to help promote the huge challenges facing National Park Authorities.

“National Parks are among the most beautiful and valued landscapes in the British Isles, containing some of our most breath-taking scenery, rare wildlife and cultural heritage. Ninety million visits are made to them every year, with people eager to enjoy their iconic landscapes, uninterrupted views and tranquillity.

“Our Parks are living landscapes, home to diverse communities, and must be conserved for the benefit of all – both now and in the future. That is why we are leading a campaign calling on the Government to stop cutting funding for the English National Parks and to make sure National Park Authorities have enough money to protect our most iconic landscapes for future generations.

“To deal with the huge funding cuts National Park Authorities have been forced to cut back on the maintenance of footpaths, close visitor centre and reduce funding for flood protection, forestry, climate change, education and ranger services.”

Robert Cheesman, South Downs Society chair, said: “As the Friends group for the South Downs National Park, we campaigned vigorously for the creation of the National Park and we believe the new Park Authority needs the resources to do its job of caring for this precious landscape.

“We are wholly behind the efforts of the Campaign for National Park and 38 Degrees in calling on government to protect the National Parks from damaging budget cuts, and we are delighted to arrange a special walk for their supporters. A well cared for National Park is good for the local economy and vital for local communities.”

The walk comes a fortnight after the annual National Parks Week when the Minister Rory Stewart MP, described National Parks as the soul of Britain and as areas which brought together the environment, traditional farming communities, tourists and elements of our history, poetry and literature.

“I would like to work very closely with National Parks and the British public to make sure everybody in Britain has the unique experience of going to one of our National Parks,” he said in a You Tube video.

Ms Howie welcomed the Minister’s words but said warm words were not enough: “We recognise that National Parks need to continue to evolve and we know they are being proactive about accessing new sources of funding. But National parks are national assets and the Government needs to give them sufficient resources to make sure they continue to deliver important environmental, social, economic and cultural benefits to the nation,” she stressed.