By Phil Belden
At last week's Brighton & Hove City Council meeting (Policy & Resources Committee, 23/1/20) councillors approved the recommendation from their Tourism, Equalities, Communities & Culture Committee (16/1/20) to lease the Waterhall golf course buildings and land for 25 years to a tenant who aims to "restore/rewild" the area. This is potentially good news for our very rare chalk grassland and its associated wildlife. They also approved the re-letting of the Hollingbury golf course to a commercial leisure operator, who specialises in health and well-being courses. He says he will also continue to use the site as a golf course. This will be, initially for three years and, subject to plans being approved, for a further 25 years.
Although there is a possibility of the land at both sites being managed positively for biodiversity, it appears that this will be entirely down to the new tenants' good will. All of the negotiations and proposed terms of the leases have been kept secret, but it is our understanding that no restrictions or conditions will be placed on the tenants to ensure the biodiversity of these designated sites is enhanced or even conserved. So for us it's a lost opportunity. We are disappointed that the council neither carried out any public consultation nor engaged with any experts, to seek the best interests of this valuable public land. Sussex Wildlife Trust was one of a group of over 20 organisations in an Alliance to send briefings to councillors, meet up with those who agreed to discuss the sites and submitted reports and questions to the committees to try and positively influence the results for people and wildlife.
We will keep trying to engage with the council, particularly to discuss the whole Brighton Downs Estate, some 5,000 hectares (12,500 acres) of public land surrounding the City. The aim, as ever, is to seek to ensure the protection and conservation management of our precious downland. With the same intent, we will also invite the new tenants, once the legal work with the council is done, to discuss plans with us and other interested community groups, residents and stakeholders.
We thank everyone who rallied behind the cause and supported the campaign. We live to fight another day.