Sale of Sussex downland halted

11th March 2017

CPRE Sussex campaigned against  the sale of downland by Eastbourne Borough Council and Brighton & Hove City Council.

We are delighted that Eastbourne Council listened to its local residents and halted the sale of 3000 acres of iconic downland behind Beachy Head. At CPRE Sussex we believe that public ownership of this land ensures public accountability and a co-ordinated approach to land management and access.

Even the protective designation of the South Downs National Park would not substitute this. This chalk grassland is not just an invaluable public asset for the people of Eastbourne in terms of ecosystem services such as drinking water. Its landscapes, cultural heritage and natural capital are of great national and international importance.

In these times of austerity, it is understandable that the Council was keen to explore every avenue to income generation. However, we are glad that the importance of this land in terms of the visitor economy as a gateway to the South Downs National Park has been recognised.

Earlier in the year, Councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council’s Policy, Resources & Growth Committee rejected a senior officer’s recommendation to resume the sale of Plumpton Hill and Poynings Field.

The sales had previously been suspended as a result of widespread outrage at the prospect of flogging off these vital parts of the City’s historic 12,500 acre Downland Estate.

They are the remaining unsold sites of a tranche of mis-named ‘non-core’ downland sites which earlier PR&G Committee meetings had agreed to sell in 2014 and 2016. The sales were intended to part-fund the controversial Stanmer Park Project and to contribute to the alleviation of the Council’s debt.

All the downland that has been sold or was threatened with sale is within the South Downs National Park.

Poynings Field is a 25 acre site which lies between the base of the Devil’s Dyke and the edge of Poynings village. It buffers and ‘frames’ the Dyke and is partly vulnerable to built development, if sold. Plumpton Hill is an SSSI (nationally important wildlife site) with Bronze Age burial barrows upon it and views north across the Weald.

Keep Our Downs Public is a coalition of local people which was formed in 1994-5 to successfully fight the proposed privatisation of the whole Downland Estate. Another KODP group was formed in Eastbourne to fight the similar Downs sell-off proposals by Eastbourne Council.