Over 150 people walked the Eastbourne Downs on Saturday 3rd December to protest against Eastbourne Borough Council’s decision to sell their Downland farms. The Council claims that these farms will be protected by covenants. Most of Eastbourne is covered by similar covenants supposedly restricting everything from hanging out washing to preventing all commercial activities on Eastbourne seafront. They were drawn up in a different world and have little relevance in the modern planning system. Councillor Tutt also claims that, because the land is within the South Downs National Park, it is protected from change in use. While National Parks do carry more weight than most planning authorities, they do not exist to prevent development but to limit and influence it and they have no jurisdiction over many changes to land use. The South Downs National Park’s CEO, Trevor Beattie has expressed concern at the proposed sale.
On Saturday Tony Whitbread, CEO of Sussex Wildlife Trust outlined his concerns for the ecology of the area, as well as explaining how the chalk grassland contributes to the provision of clean water to Eastbourne. He also highlighted the ongoing erosion of the Coastal strip (which EBC is not selling) and how the farmland is essential to maintain the biodiversity in light of the ever-declining coast. He feels that the current relationship between the Council, the tenant farmers, Natural England and the NGOs is critical to preservation of this unique habitat.
Eastbourne resident Jenny Shorter expressed her dismay at the secrecy and lack of public consultation regarding the Council’s decision. Many agreed that they felt “betrayed” by those elected to represent them. David Bangs explained complex story of the mysterious and rare Moon Carrot, for which parts of the area have been designated as SSSI. A statement of support was also read out from the Open Spaces Society who worked with Eastbourne Corporation to achieve its initial purchase of the land to hold “In perpetuity” for the people of Eastbourne in 1929.
Another Eastbourne resident Catherine Tonge said “Today’s demonstration shows the deep concern and betrayal that Eastbourne people feel over this back-room decision. To get a crowd like this out on a Saturday just before Christmas, at such short notice is remarkable. We hope the Council will listen to those they represent and halt this sale”.
This sell-off is not unique to Eastbourne. Campaigners in Brighton are also fighting the sell off of publicly-owned downland farms. A demonstration will be held at a meeting of the Policy & Resources Committee at Hove Town Hall on December 8th.