Campaigners are taking their fight to stop the sale of the freehold of Downland farms to the streets of Eastbourne.
A demonstration’s being held in the Town Centre at 2pm this afternoon (25 February), starting at Bankers Corner, with a peaceful march through to the Bandstand. The Keep Our Downs Public group will be supported by Friends of the Earth, East Sussex Ramblers, Sussex Wildlife Trust and the South Downs Society.
The group does not want to see the freehold of the farms sold by the Borough Council to raise funds for capital projects. Campaigners believe the authority has no right to sell the freehold, saying the land was bought to be held in perpetuity for the people of Eastbourne. They are also angry that no public consultation was carried out before the council made a decision that the freehold could be a possible asset to sell.
For several months now, they have publicly voiced their objection to the move and have been asking for a full consultation – a call now backed by the Conservatives at Town Hall, who have taken it a step further, calling for a referendum – a suggestion voted down at a full council meeting earlier this week. The campaigners feel the opinion poll in the Eastbourne Review is not good enough, with the Tories calling it a ‘sham’. There has also been criticism that the Review did not offer any alternative views on selling the freehold and believe the options of selling the freehold or accepting frontline service cuts is unfair.
Lyn Core, who lives in Old Town and is spokesperson for Keep Our Downs Public said, “I am very upset about the Eastbourne Review poll. Previously the council said the income from the sales would go to ambitious regeneration projects such as a revamp of the Sovereign leisure centre and an upgrade of Devonshire Park Lawn Tennis club. It has now changed its story on how the sale money could be spent in what looks like an attempt to affect the outcome from the poll.”
Earlier this week, the town’s MP Caroline Ansell said she would not be taking part in the opinion poll, saying ‘it’s just not right’ and is calling on the council to think again about whether the freehold should be put up for sale.
Sally Boys, who lives in Meads and is a member of Eastbourne Friends of the Earth said, “Rare chalk grassland on the downs needs careful, coordinated management. Once the farms are in private hands I’m worried that the land could change irreversibly. We are getting so much support for the campaign as people are waking up to what could happen. The rally is a chance for people to find out more and make their voice heard.”