Eastbourne’s MP says there must be a public consultation into the future of farmland on Eastbourne Downland.
Caroline Ansell has joined the debate into the future of the land, which the Borough Council intends to sell, to raise revenue to fund other projects in the town. However, environmental groups and concerned residents are angry at the authority’s plans, demanding their say into the matter.
Caroline said, “Our downland is much loved and these farms have been in the council’s possession for nearly a century, so their sale is clearly of interest to local people.
“That interest is increasingly being expressed as opposition to those plans.
“Whatever the merit in the Council’s plans for those sale proceeds, whatever the strength of argument on established environmental protections, including public right of way, all the while this ‘forever’ decision on the farms is not put to Eastbourne residents, it will suffer from a democratic deficit. That needs to happen. If we can consult on polling districts, we can consult on legacy farmland.
“The decision on farmland is irreversible and is arguably, in financial terms, one of the most significant ever to be undertaken. There is clearly a great deal - and growing - concern as more people become aware of the proposed sale and so I ask the council to engage with residents on this and start a consultation on its plans.
“I certainly do not criticise the council for looking at the sale of the farms because it wants to raise funds, but concerns over future protections of the land and planning issues need to be satisfied and public support won.
“It may be that a sale is the best way forward, but for too many people that is presently difficult to see. Knowing more of the Council’s ambitions for prospective sale proceeds would help but ultimately a consultation, with everyone having their say, will give the whole issue the clarity it needs. Then, we can move forward.”
Andrew Durling from Eastbourne & District Friends of the Earth has responded to Mrs Ansell saying, "We welcome this timely and constructive intervention by Eastbourne MP, Caroline Ansell, on this hugely sensitive issue of the proposed sell-off by Eastbourne Borough Council of more than 3,000 acres of Eastbourne's public downland estate. This adds to the ever growing pressure on the council to think again about the sell-off of land that was meant to be held in perpetuity for the public benefit. As Caroline says, it's time to let the people have their say about all this. So, Councillor David Tutt, Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, must immediately call a halt to the sale proceedings and start a meaningful and thorough consultation process. We will participate fully and constructively in this process and we will work with others to develop a positive, dynamic vision for the long-term future of an Eastbourne downland estate that remains in the hands of some form of public ownership whilst delivering increased public benefit as well as further gains for wildlife conservation and landscape restoration."
Meanwhile, Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive for the South Downs National Park Authority, said, “Local Authorities can dispose of their assets as they see fit and we understand the financial pressures many now face. But these countryside sites were secured for the people in the 1930s by farsighted councils and campaigners who wanted to protect our landscapes and water supply in perpetuity. They are not just local assets, they are national legacies, now in a National Park.
“In every case, we have made our concerns clear and called for a rethink about these countryside sales. The landscapes of the South Downs are precious assets which are central to the distinctive identities of our local authorities, providing the context for the rest of their budgets and helping to attract investment. We urge councils to consider their responsibilities and, if they believe that there really is no alternative, put in place covenants or conditions to protect the land from damaging uses which might not be caught by the planning system.”