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Monday, 28 November 2016

Brighton & Hove Council Threatens to Sell off its holdings of South Downs National Park Land

Brighton’s New Labour Council Displays its Hostility to Publicly Owned and Controlled Assets  

Plumpton Hill -  FOR SALE
Those who believe it is better having a ‘Labour’ council, despite it being dominated by New Labour, should think again.  It is clear that the current administration is seeking to sell off to private landlords, with the Duke of Devonshire’s Estates having first option, the 12,500 of  Downland that the Council owns.  Ironically, what a Conservative Brighton Council purchased in the 1920’s and 1930’s a ‘Labour’ Council will privatise today.

On the 8th December a Council committee will take the decision as to whether or not to begin the process of privatisation.  This was a process that was initiated by the previous Green administration which also bought into neo-liberal free market economics.  If the sell-off goes ahead it will have devastating implications for the future of the National Park.

In the email exchange below, Progress Labour Councillor Tom Bewick, who doesn’t seem to realise that all the land is part of the National Park ,asserts that ‘The council has no business owning non-national park downland.’   Private profit as oppose to public ownership seems de rigeur with these Tories in Labour clothing.

There is a campaign which has sprung up to ensure that Council land stays in public hands.  Join the KEEP OUR DOWNS PUBLIC (BRIGHTON) CAMPAIGN.

Tony Greenstein
Eastbourne Downs Combe Hill
KEEP OUR DOWNS PUBLIC (BRIGHTON)
PRESS RELEASE
BRIGHTON COUNCIL HALTS DOWNLAND SALES
24/11/16. Contact: Dave Bangs, T. 01273 620 815 bangs682@btinternet.com    Chris Todd, ecochris.todd@googlemail.com

We greatly welcome the reports that Brighton Council has withdrawn the remaining at-risk Downland sites from sale. These are: Plumpton Hill, an iconic high point on the South Downs Way commanding views of the Weald north to Ashdown Forest. It is an SSSI (nationally protected wildlife site) and has a Scheduled Ancient Monument (Bronze Age burial barrows) upon it, and Poynings Field which provided the traditional landscape setting for the Devils Dyke.

This is good news for all lovers of the South Downs. It is good news for Poynings Parish Council, who are not now faced with a threat of built development on the edge of their village. It is good news for lovers of nature, and all people who love Downland history, who can now rest assured that the ownership of these sites will remain democratically accountable

We now wish to engage with Brighton Council in a re-think of the way in which our 12,500 acre Estate is managed. We need to end the distant, unknowing, arms-length attitudes which have seen the Downland Estate as no more than a second rate commercial asset, and re-connect to this democratically owned public landscape, which can offer all of us good fun, healthy recreation, companionship in nature, solace, wonder, peace, education...and good, locally produced food!
We urge the Council to:
  • Commit to keeping all of its Downland estate and redrafting the Council's Asset Management Plan to say that no future sales should take place. 
  • Fully involve the public in the Estate’s management. 
  • Ring fence the Downland Estate revenues for the estates’ conservation and for public use, including sustainable access to the estate (the latter point a Labour manifesto commitment).
  • Designate all of the Downland Estate as statutory access land as the opportunities arise.
  • Adopt a long term strategy of landscape restoration for the whole estate for the social, health and economic benefits that this will bring.
Plumpton Hill
Flogging off the Sussex Downs

Text: 800 words.  27.11.16. Dave Bangs, Tel: 01273 620 815.   bangs682@btinternet.com

In the past months major storms have arisen on the Sussex Downs because of threatened large scale sales of local council owned Downland. On the Brighton Downs the City Council has been ‘reviewing’ its ‘non-core assets’ and attempting to dispose of a series of sites. These include part of a 50 year old nature reserve which is the last county site for the little native Juniper conifer (present on the Downs since the Ice Age); a cave with four resident species of bat; and iconic Plumpton Hill, commanding huge views over the forested Sussex Weald. On the Eastbourne Downs behind Beachy Head the Council has been moving towards the disposal of over 3,000 acres of public Downland which forms the backdrop to the town. It includes numerous prehistoric burial mounds and field systems, a Neolithic hillfort, and large, nationally important wildlife sites for orchids and rare flowers such as the Moon Carrot, which glows white in the darkest night.

On these Downs the local councils are major landowners, having acquired large tranches of land cheaply in the 1920’s, ‘30’s, and ‘40’s during the long agricultural depression. They did so to protect them from rapidly expanding urban sprawl, to protect the chalk aquifer which is the source of their drinking water, and to protect the ancient open sheep walks which walkers and naturalists loved. Whilst they largely failed with the latter objective (because agribusiness farmers ploughed up much archaic grassland that was tractor-accessible) they succeeded with the two former objectives.

The legacy of these conservation purchases is huge. Brighton Council owns some 12,500 acres, Eastbourne Council has 4,200 acres, Worthing Council has c. 500 acres, East Sussex County Council has about 700 acres at Seven Sisters, and Lewes and Adur Councils have several hundred acres between them. This 18,000 acres-plus public Downland forms the backbone public asset within the new South Downs National Park, together with the Forestry Commission’s estates. The National Park Authority itself owns no land. It doesn’t even own a public toilet.

Tragically, the loss of the open sheep walks (depriving the public of traditional access) and the conservative commercial management of the estates by arms-length land agencies like Savills and Strutt and Parker, has meant that the cultural memory of these free and open landscapes has been much eroded. Twenty years ago Brighton’s Labour Council tried to sell their Downland, but was forced to abandon the proposal by a vigorous campaign. Five years ago Tory Worthing Council abandoned similar sales proposals in the face of militant opposition.

Both councils, with Eastbourne, then ‘came good’ and designated huge tranches of their Downland as statutory ‘freedom to roam’ land. Major changes in Downland management brought in much wildlife and heritage conservation and partially re-created the great sheep walks which gave the South Downs its character. In some areas, such as behind Beachy Head, this amounted to superb measures of finely crafted landscape restoration. This was just what Labour Environment Minister Michael Meacher had in mind when he announced the creation of a South Downs National Park at Party Conference and proposed it would be of a ‘new type’- dedicated to the restoration of a landscape which had lost over 90% of its archaic grasslands.

Within the last two months ‘Keep Our Downs Public’ groups have kicked off in Brighton and Eastbourne. In Brighton we have secured a temporary STOP on the sales, and the policy will be reviewed on 8th December at the key council committee. There we face the current opposition of the Labour leadership (though the sales policy was initiated in 2014 under the Green Party leadership) but are hopeful that this can be reversed. In Eastbourne we face the opposition of the Lib Dem leadership. However, the new KODP group organised a feisty 120-strong town hall picket and a lively semi-public meeting with the Council Leader within its first fortnight. Activists face the task of helping the Council recover the lost memories of its progressive past.

If we lose the Duke of Devonshire Estates (the old property developers who built Eastbourne) will have a legal right to first refusal on much of the sold land. Rich new owners may exclude us, damage vulnerable wildlife habitat, turn the farms over to game shoots  and excluding land uses (like vineyards, solar arrays, private ‘parks’ and horseyculture, with their CCTV cameras and high fences) and press for incremental built developments .

If we win we can drive forward more huge gains in public access (over 2000 acres of new access land already around Brighton) and stitch back together the historic landscape’s shattered tapestry of archaic wildflower grassland in a sustainable pastoral economy.

Across the country similar battles are being fought in defence of public land – parks, open spaces and county council small holdings. The stakes are high.    

Thus does a Labour councillor announce his hostility to public ownership. 

What is "non-national park downland"?...this for-sale land is ALL in the National Park. The backbone of the National Park is the the local authority-owned Downland estates: of Brighton, Worthing, Eastbourne, East Sussex County Council, et al. The National Park Authority doesn't even own the public toilets.

Without those Council estates the NP would lose its main non-commercial partners to carry through it's main projects. Private owners chop and change, exclude the public, manage by private whims and fancies (or not manage at all) and wreck key habitats and features...often without even knowing they are doing so.

On its own, National Park status DOESN'T protect the Downs. It is merely one brick in the wall. Hands-on, accountable, democratic public ownership is the KEY tool we have for driving through the project of landscape restoration and full public access which Michael Meacher (in his speech to Party Conference announcing the South Downs National Park) put at the centre of his dream,

Dave Bangs
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Email Exchange Cllr. Tom Bewick to Various

----Original message----
From : Tom.Bewick@brighton-hove.gov.uk
Date : 24/11/2016 - 20:43 (GMTST)
To : Leslie.Hamilton@brighton-hove.gov.uk, bangs682@btinternet.com, Warren.Morgan@brighton-hove.gov.uk, Gill.Mitchell@brighton-hove.gov.uk
Cc : Karen.Barford@brighton-hove.gov.uk, Tracey.Hill@brighton-hove.gov.uk, Kevin.Allen@brighton-hove.gov.uk, Saoirse.Horan@brighton-hove.gov.uk, Daniel.Chapman@brighton-hove.gov.uk, michael.inkpen-leissner@brighton-hove.gov.uk, Peter.Atkinson@brighton-hove.gov.uk, Julie.Cattell@brighton-hove.gov.uk, Emma.Daniel@brighton-hove.gov.uk
Subject : Re: Downland sales: please make THIS STOP permanent

Thanks, Les

I'm pleased to hear that. The council has no business owning non-national park downland.

The whole point of the Labour Govt giving us National Park status was to protect the habitat that legally needs protecting.

The complete grandstanding and nonsense from the Greens is typical. We need to remind them it is Labour we have to thank for protecting the Downs in the first place.

T
Councillor Tom Bewick
Lead Member, Children, Young People and Skills
Labour and Co-operative Councillor for Westbourne Ward, Hove
@Lab_Westbourne
www.westbournehove.org

 
From: Leslie Hamilton
Sent: Thursday, November 24, 2016 07:00 PM
To: bangs682@btinternet.com <bangs682@btinternet.com>; Warren Morgan; Tom Bewick; Gill Mitchell
Cc: Karen Barford; Tracey Hill; Kevin Allen; Saoirse Horan; Daniel Chapman; michael.inkpen-leissner@brighton-hove.gov.uk <michael.inkpen-leissner@brighton-hove.gov.uk>; Peter Atkinson; Julie Cattell; Emma Daniel
Subject: RE: Downland sales: please make THIS STOP permanent
 
You are mistaken. The selling of  land at Poynings and Plumpton has not been put on hold. This land was put up for sale by the Green administration in July 2014 and there is no change in the decision taken at that time.
Les
 
Plumpton Hill: -  FOR SALE               
Plumpton Hill 

Eastbourne Downs Combe Hill                                         

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