Eastbourne AND Brighton Downs - saved!

21 March 2017 | Posted in land-disposals
Eastbourne AND Brighton Downs - saved!
downland / Sarah Athers

By Phil Belden

Conservation Advisor to the Sussex Wildlife Trust

A major relief and heartfelt thanks to you all for the hard work put in to express your love of our downland and showing your grave concern. At the beginning of March, Eastbourne Borough Council took the bold step to reverse its decision, in response to the huge public outcry and agreed not to sell the Eastbourne Downs (well ¾ of it, some 3,000 acres).

Now, Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC) has agreed not to sell the two key sites that remained on its disposals list, the internationally rare chalk grassland escarpment at Plumpton and the foot-slope field of the Devil’s Dyke estate at Poynings.

On 21st March, BHCC issued this Interim statement from its cross-party Downland Policy Review Panel (with the full recommendation to go to its Policy, Resources & Growth Committee on 4 May 2017):

"The council has been considering the sale of two small downland sites at Poynings and Plumpton … previously approved by committee in 2014 and 2016 … After reviewing the situation, a cross party Policy Review Panel has taken the view that the sites at Poynings and Plumpton should not be sold at this time.”

“The panel’s recommendation was made after councillors looked at the council’s approach to the Downland Asset Management Policy and heard evidence from expert witnesses. The sale of the sites was due to generate an estimated £360,000 and if approved at committee would result in a shortfall of the projected budget … As part of the process, the panel looked at the funding strategy for the Stanmer Park Restoration Project because the income from the sale of the sites was previously linked to securing the £3.9m Heritage Lottery Fund awarded to this innovative renovation. The panel’s view was that the fundraising strategy for the Stanmer Project is currently anticipated to over-achieve its target, allowing the plans to now continue without the need to sell the two sites.”

The Policy Review Panel will still meet and has invited the Sussex Wildlife Trust to attend – Tony Whitbread our Chief Executive has accepted.

When the South Downs National Park was progressing towards designation the phrase was coined “The People’s Park”. The recent Brighton and Eastbourne campaigns have re-affirmed this accolade and re-awoken in our elected representatives’ minds the passion people have for protecting our beloved South Downs.

This is a BIG THANKS to everyone – without your actions we would have certainly lost these valuable assets. Now the constructive work with our local councils begins, to secure the long-term public benefits from these public assets: for our wildlife, cultural heritage, drinking water supply, public access, quality of life … and more.

Comments

  • Fiona Weaver:

    22 Mar 2017 18:41:37

    If the Stanmer Park Restoration Bid is going to “over-achieve” it’s target, is it possible for the Council to: 1) remove the approval for the two small downland sites so that they are not threatened in the future, and 2) invest the difference in caring for/restoring publicly-owned downland?

  • Phil Belden:

    23 Mar 2017 14:27:33

    Good points:
    - Now that BHCC has gone public on this it should mean that this is ratified at the council meeting, so the short-term threat will be over (vital as one of the smaller disposed of sites, part of the Devil’s Dyke estate along the Saddlescombe road, has already been damaged by the new owner / developer – the SDNPA is now investigating).
    - BHCC has set up this downland policy review, so with some good environmental and ethical evidence presented, it should prove compelling, but politics is an unpredictable beast and local councils are not in good health. We will be there, to present the case, which I hope the panel will judge to be compelling. If so, we will then need to work with Brighton & Hove City Council to ensure that our precious downland is cared for and protected – for ever.

  • Candi Gould:

    31 Mar 2017 08:48:52

    What is Plumpton College’s interest in the Stanmer Park Project, as I understood they were developing the project and not the council.

  • 11 Apr 2017 12:58:40

    Candi – Plumpton College has a specific interest in Stanmer as an “outlier” centre, with its teaching facilities at the old nurseries behind Stanmer House. Brighton & Hove City Council owns the park and will be responsible for the lottery-funded restoration project. Part of this is to remove the more modern clutter (portacabins and the like) that has degraded this historic park. The aim is for Plumpton College to move into the restored walled garden area and carry out its teaching + garden centre activity, which should be appealing to the public visiting the park. The core of the park, the corridor running up from the Lower Lodges entrance, and the traditional farm buildings between church and village would be restored by the council. Improved long-term management and governance are important terms tied to the lottery agreement.

  • Yvonne Barnet:

    25 May 2017 19:44:45

    I am so glad that this park is going to be restored. I loved the ice house best of all and there are hardly any left, it would be great to see it again. It was a long time ago that I saw it.

  • Long time park user:

    17 Aug 2017 23:06:02

    Personally I’m really concerned about yet another currently free facility that feels like countryside and an accessible place to feel away from “city” being manicured by the council to justify parking fees. Council love to spend money on unnecessary projects (“path”/ “butterfly”) and reduce parking to create parking issues and then “fix these” by applying charges. How has visitor demographic changed at the beacon since charges began? This relates to city street projects/I cannot park within 300m of my house thanks to the -now embedded – approach to council funding of creating issues to then “fix” by charging. Wild stammer is its charm.

  • 16 Sep 2018 10:52:00

    As a regular user of our parks I feel it is important they remain in public hands, to be accountable, transparent and democratic, unlike private parks.
    Government austerity policy means local authorities have much less money, so need to make hard decisions on what to cut or how to raise income to fund their public services. This is why both Brighton & Hove, and Eastbourne Councils proposed selling off the family silver (public downland) to release capital funding.
    When car park charging was introduced at Seven Sisters Country Park a few years ago, it enabled a greater investment in the park, for the benefit of the landscape and visitors.
    Stanmer Park is a sad relict of a former well-managed and much loved public asset, car park charges should greatly help rejuvenate this popular place, so long as the income is ring-fenced for spending in the park.
    For local non-car users it costs £5 to go to Stanmer and back by bus, more if travelling from further afield.
    For a very modest fee (a tiny % of the total cost of running a car) car-borne visitors can make a significant contribution to helping restore and revive the park – subject to the council investing that income back into the park, something we all need to keep a careful eye on.

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