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?
- Sign the Eastbourne online petition
- Support the rally at Beachy Head this Saturday, 3rd December at 10.30am and be fully informed
- Write to your MP and, if you live in Eastbourne or Brighton & Hove to your local councillors (the council website will have contact details)
- Keep updated by looking on this Facebook group
Read more about Local Authority land disposals