We’ve just received the text of a letter written by Sussex Ramblers, urging Eastbourne Borough Council not to sell off the local downland:
Cllr David Tutt, Eastbourne Borough Council 1 Grove Road, Eastbourne
2 March 2017
Dear Cllr Tutt
On behalf of Sussex Ramblers, I am objecting to the proposal by Eastbourne Borough Council to sell about three-quarters of the downland currently owned by the Council as widely reported in the media.
Whilst it is recognised that Public Rights-of-Way and Open Access land are legally protected, we are very concerned that the downland farms currently afforded protection by being publicly owned would be adversely affected if transferred to private ownership. The argument over whether this land was gifted to or purchased by the Council is irrelevant. The fact is that it has been in public ownership for nearly 90 years and has greatly benefitted as a result.
For these farms to be sold now for short-term gain would be shameful as it could undo the protection and enhancement of this landscape already achieved. If current financial revenue from tenant farmers is considered insufficient, then the same will surely be the case with any new owner(s) who will then want to change the use of these farms to maximise financial return.
Although the South Downs National Park Authority may ensure that this land is not built on, if managed differently it may harm wildlife habitats in addition to changing the landscape appearance which visitors have come to appreciate. These Downs are not just an Eastbourne asset, they are a national treasure.
The current referendum offers Eastbourne residents an unrealistic either-or choice, both of which may well be considered unacceptable. If current Council funding is insufficient to provide essential services, it should look to other means to meet this shortfall.
If the Council sells the freeholds there can be no guarantee how the land is managed in the long term. With public ownership there is democratic accountability. Therefore, I urge you and the Council to stop this proposed sale.
John Harmer, East Sussex Countryside Officer