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.