Public downland sell-off threat

29 November 2016 | Posted in Conservation , land-disposals
Public downland sell-off threat
Chris Mole

By Phil Belden

Brighton and Eastbourne are in the news, after secret council plans to sell off parts of the public estate leaked out. Public pressure has led Brighton & Hove and Eastbourne councils to re-consider, but not YET to stop the sales. A further, bigger push is needed.

Local authorities hold land in trust for their people. The large public estates at the eastern end of the National Park have achieved significant gains in landscape, wildlife, cultural heritage and public access over the years. Thanks to our democratic system, public influence has encouraged our elected councillors to direct officers to manage land in ways we desire:

  • Worthing – reverted arable to pastoral landscape with open access, town to Cissbury Ring, one of the country’s greatest hill-forts;
  • Brighton – you can now walk, unencumbered, from city and Stanmer Park, west to the Chattri downland or up to Ditchling Beacon and South Downs Way;
  • Eastbourne – Beachy Head chalk grassland restored and joined up, good for wildlife, protecting fine ancient field-systems under permanent pasture and quality public access.

However, this positive conservation management of our downland is now under threat. Public sector cuts are putting huge pressures on council budgets and services. However, selling the family silver for a one-off capital fund injection is not the answer and means the loss of annual revenue and opportunity forever.

The sales risks are too great, as past experience has shown. Mary Farm, east of Stanmer, was a haven for wildlife, with rolling hills of “permanent” chalk grassland and small copses. Sold by Brighton council, it ended up in bankers’ hands, then rented to an intensive arable farmer who ploughed up the pastures and a commercial shoot where woodland centres were grubbed out for game-rearing.

We need to protect our precious public estate, get our councils to honour their responsibilities of managing this land in trust for us and future generations.

What can I do?

Read more about Local Authority land disposals


  • Jenny Simpson:

    30 Nov 2016 12:54:41

    It is heartbreaking that the Council would consider selling off such an important natural assett. What are we going to leave our children at a time when the environment needs all the help it can get for all of us to have a sustainable future.

  • Hannah C. McClure:

    30 Nov 2016 14:22:33

    Appallingly shortsighted – selling off the family silver indeed. What a terrible cost which will no doubt cause irreparable damage to the environment, wildlife and quality of life for future generations of East Sussex residents. Praying that this grubby fiscal irresponsibility is halted. Council tax is already so expensive and it seems increasingly perplexing as to where the money is actually spent. Certainly not on more regular recycling removals or our parks, protection of nature reserves and gardens…and public transport? Ransom prices.

  • Susan Adams:

    30 Nov 2016 14:24:26

    Councils have no business to snatch and ruin land for their own financial devices. It is about time they accepted the fact that millions of people exist who regard the United Kingdom as a land of beauty and pleasure. MAKE SURE IT IS KEPT THAT WAY.

  • Denis Blake:

    30 Nov 2016 14:45:04

    I am dead against selling off our heritage. increase the rates if necessary

  • Jo edwards:

    30 Nov 2016 14:58:57

    I can’t believe the council can get away with this. The land is ours not theirs

  • D C Tye:

    30 Nov 2016 15:05:48

    I am very concerned, both from the right of access/use of the land /conservation aspects and, in particular, from the potential risks to the integrity of the potable groundwater resources. The implications are in my view severe.

  • Joyce Edmond-Smith:

    30 Nov 2016 15:31:03

    I am a Brighton resident and former local Councilor . I cannot believe present Council members are preparing to roll back all the progress that has been made over the past 20 years in safeguarding and caring for the naturl heritage of Brighton & Hove. The Council has won many awards over the years for its work in sustainability and environmental policies. How can it now contemplate denying the people of Brighton & Hove , as well as surrounding areas its natural heritage of the Downs and risk the future of such a wonderful natural asset , all at the same time as it is running a Unesco Biosphere Programme bringing people together with the environment. Yes times are hard for local government , but this reaction is scandalous and it must b e stopped.

  • Brenda Pollack:

    30 Nov 2016 16:31:20

    Thanks for this helpful summary of the situation. I do hope people come to the rally or get involved in some way. It is clear that only by local people raising their voices will downland sell-offs be halted. People really do care about our countryside but if they don’t take action we will lose more publicly owned land.

  • Louise Tucker:

    30 Nov 2016 16:42:33

    Surely ‘public’ means ‘public’? The Downland does NOT belong to the Councils but to those who elected them and they gamble at their peril with the risk of losing votes next time around….. How COULD any number-cruncher in a back office equate the value of the natural environment and the priceless archaeological heritage with more ‘little boxes made of ticky-tacky’ or whatever?

  • Sue Merrikin:

    30 Nov 2016 16:57:06

    All my life I have walked or ridden on beautiful upland turf and enjoyed the song of the skylark all along the South Downs Way. It never fails to uplift my spirits and make me thankful to be alive. The land in the South Downs National Park is a wonderful resource which should be protected in perpetuity for all to enjoy for ever more.

  • Rod Evans:

    30 Nov 2016 17:02:06

    Appalling, unconscionable.

  • Chris Yarrow:

    30 Nov 2016 17:05:27

    Compared with many countries England has very little publicly-owned land, largely as a result of the feudal system, and Henry 8 giving the Church land to his cronies. In the US, even under the Republicans, they hang on to millions of public lands: National Parks; State Parks, Bureau of Land Management, etc In France, since the Revolution many communes have their commune forests, with rights of access, access and sport guaranteed. In Scandinavia all land is open to the public. Let us hang on to the precious few acres we have in public ownwership!

  • marian harding:

    30 Nov 2016 17:11:17

    Phil you don’t say how the council acquired the land in the first place, did it buy it ‘to secure the amenities of the area’ or some such motive, or was it donated? Perhaps the original reason for acquiring it is no longer relevant – this seems very unlikely! It’s far more likely that it was acquired to PREVENT development or damage, in which case the original reason still stands. If the maintenance cost is a problem perhaps they should donate it to the National Trust who manage so much land around Eastbourne anyway.

  • Valerie Kemp:

    30 Nov 2016 17:39:03

    This is so wrong – and totally underhand.

  • Jane Coward:

    30 Nov 2016 18:02:22

    A number people have said very cogently what so many of us are feeling at this appalling news. To me it questions the integrity of the councillors who are responsible. Worrying.

  • Kay Warner:

    30 Nov 2016 18:35:46

    Marian Harding, the Council bought the land in 1929 by raising public subscription to stop the biggest landowners from developing it. The then Mayor of Eastbourne had to make a submission to the House of Lords and an Act of Parliament had to be passed to enable the purchase. The two biggest landowners at the time were able to insist on a clause that said that if the land were ever sold, they would be offered it for purchase first. Negotiations are now going on with those landowners.

  • Penny Wright:

    30 Nov 2016 18:40:59

    Downland areas MUST MUST be protected for the benefit of wildlife, the environment and equally important future generations, so that they can enjoy the countryside as much as we have been able to .

  • tom murray:

    30 Nov 2016 21:12:47

    Please, please let us and the local councils come to an understanding that while finance to meet the needs of our communities is necessary and the pressure on our councilors is heavy indeed, the environment and landscape is of immeasurable value to the well-being of all. As a previous responder said “selling off the family silver is not the answer. It is a short term measure which will have serious consequences for the future.

  • Phil Belden:

    30 Nov 2016 21:40:51

    It was Parliament that enabled this land to be acquired (1926 Eastbourne Corporation Act) to “secure the public the free and open use of the Downs in perpetuity”. Eastbourne BC hold this land in trust for its people. For how much longer? I wonder what “perpetuity” means!

  • Jeff:

    30 Nov 2016 22:09:43

    Downland areas must be protected from bankers and developers, once it’s gone we can’r get it back. We must protect our wildlife, and the environment.

  • Jenny Watts:

    30 Nov 2016 23:23:47

    I find it unbelievable that these councils could consider this sell off but it would also be helpful if someone would let us know where these areas are – besides the four farms near Eastbourne – I’d feel better equipped to protest if I knew.

  • Dave Smith:

    01 Dec 2016 07:34:33

    If this precedent of selling small pieces of Council owned down land is allowed to happen, Councillors will have every excuse to sell more, when further “cutbacks” to their Budgets are needed!

  • Jem James:

    01 Dec 2016 07:52:38

    Outrageous! The council has a public duty to protect these fragile, unique and under pressure landscapes. You’d think that in this country such a myopic approach would be unthinkable but, no, there are hard nosed individuals on the council that are more than willing to sell off our heritage plus degrade/destroy mportant ecosystems and associated wildlife for short term financial game and the benefit of a few. Not only gobsmacked but also outraged that it is even being considered, especially in secret!!

  • Shelagh wadman:

    01 Dec 2016 08:30:19

    I am speechless! I agree with all the comments above. Perpetuity has no end “selling off the family silver” is not the answer for the future.

  • M. Cooper:

    01 Dec 2016 09:32:02

    It is time the councillors or public officials responsible were named and shamed. They were elected or are paid as public servants to carry out the bidding of the people and are clearly not fullfilling their purpose. Sack them. Replace them.

  • ruth T:

    01 Dec 2016 10:57:45

    Please protect our wild life in our open spaces.

  • Jonathan Beebe:

    01 Dec 2016 22:26:39

    These sales must not go ahead. This is no legacy (or example) for our children

  • Patrick Collinson:

    02 Dec 2016 08:33:30

    Sale of land produces a one-off capital gain to be spent in the short term.
    Loss of downland produces a loss for wildlife and the natural environment probably for ever. Don’t do it.

  • Pru Roskrow:

    02 Dec 2016 10:24:37

    I realise Councils are strapped for cash, however. the selling of public access land is a plaster over a gaping chasm. This area could be damaged forever. Pesticides, Intensive Farming and more.
    These have a hugely deleterious effect on the surrounding flora and fauna for miles.
    Now we have to accept Brexit, there no control on use of pesticides.
    An absolute no to selling any public land. It is precious.

  • Phil Belden:

    02 Dec 2016 10:55:12

    If you want to delve deeper, search for “Eastbourne Downland Management Plan”, which has some useful maps & shows the benefit of a strong public conservation policy, being put into practice by tenant farmers & others (eg RSPB, SDNPA etc). This greatly complements neighbouring work being done by NT, Sussex Wildlife Trust & other benign bodies. EBC plans to sell 75% of all this (some 3,200 acres) – everything between Beachy Head & Butts Brow, keeping, for now, the open spaces at either end.


    02 Dec 2016 13:48:52

    I see this line of Council action as treacherous. The crucial point by PHIL BELDEN in his comment dated 30th November. The relevant Act to authorise the land purchase using public subscription was specifically ‘to secure the public free and open use of the DOWNS in perpetuity’.
    This can only mean public free and open use FOREVER on a CONTINUOUS BASIS.
    It must surely be possible to challenge these Councils’ actions on legal grounds upon this condition alone !!

  • Ann Boxall:

    03 Dec 2016 18:29:15

    Yet again our wildlife is at the mercy of development with small regard to the damage caused to habitat environment and loss to future generations .One can only hope the local authority sees sense.

  • Charles Rollings:

    04 Dec 2016 10:28:55

    A local authority has no right to sell land that belongs to the people.

  • Kathryn Willis:

    06 Dec 2016 16:28:04

    Any form of wildlife needs to be, and should always be, protected these days.

  • Robert Armour:

    06 Dec 2016 23:52:09

    Wasting this wonderful resource, in this way, would be a travesty, losing it forever, and depriving future generations of the enjoyment that it brings.
    Please resist the (false) economic urges behind this sale.

  • Rita Parker:

    09 Dec 2016 15:21:28

    Please do not lose this precious resource or there will be nothing for the future generation to enjoy, it will be housing and concrete, not fresh air and countryside to explore.

  • Brian Rhead:

    17 Dec 2016 17:50:17

    I am disgusted by this act of Cronyism/downright theft.Some of the local roads pass thro’ lovely areas of countryside like Rocky Lane but now obliterated by re development.Are the South Downs to go the same existing only as a painting by B Ravelous.
    (with apologies for miss-spelling)

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