The Society, in collaboration with local residents and other organisations, continues to campaign against the plans of local councils to dispose of their landholdings in the national park. Here is a press release that we issued jointly with CPRE at the end of January:
‘Fight for it or lose it,’
warn campaigners over Downland sale
Countryside campaigners have joined forces to issue an urgent appeal calling for local people to join the battle to save thousands of acres of Downland before it is ‘too late’.
The Sussex branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE Sussex) and The South Downs Society are hoping a new wave of ‘people power’ could force Eastbourne Borough Council to rethink its plans to sell-off the land, which was originally bought for the people of Eastbourne in 1926.
“We think it is unacceptable that the council is now looking to auction this land off to the highest bidder for short-term economic gain,” says CPRE Director, Kia Trainor. “The council must halt and reconsider this plan and we are hoping that a strong message from the people of Sussex will make them do so.”
“This land includes of some of Sussex’s most iconic landscapes, and was acquired for the people of Eastbourne ‘in perpetuity’ in order to ensure that it was protected ‘for the enjoyment of all.’”
Many local residents are still unaware of the Council’s intention to sell the land which is made up of four farms in the South Downs National Park. The Eastbourne Downland Estate extends to 4,200 acres – much of which is internationally important due to its unique biodiversity and rare wildlife habitats.
“This policy on the part of the Borough Council to put at risk all the environmental and recreation gains made since the downland was bought has united not only Eastbourne residents but all those with a love of the South Downs,” says Steve Ankers, Policy Officer for the South Downs Society. “This would be a betrayal of the far-sighted vision shown by the Council nearly a century ago.”
Eastbourne Borough Council says that if it is sold the land would still be protected by the planning restrictions imposed by the National Park Authority and by legislation covering its public rights of way. However, the campaigners say this won’t go far enough and have warned that landscape enhancement, archaeology and visitor access will all be in jeopardy.
“For Eastbourne, it is a short-term and rather desperate ‘family silver’ sale, seeking to rob downland Peter to pay for urban regeneration Paul,” says Phil Belden, former Director of Operations at the South Downs National Park.
“Public ownership provides the opportunity to influence the way our land is managed. As constituents we can engage with our councillors/officers to achieve commendable conservation and access gains. Unless there is a benign private owner, there can be no assurances.”