Sale of downland farms a ‘betrayal of past and future generations’

Protest against Brighton and Hove City Council's sale of two downland farms (photo by Brenda Pollack)
Protest against Brighton and Hove City Council's sale of two downland farms (photo by Brenda Pollack)

Sale of two downland sites by Brighton and Hove City Council has been delayed after Green and Conservative councillors voted for a review of the proposed decision.

The Labour-controlled council is looking to dispose of agricultural land in Poynings and Plumpton Hill, but campaigners who held a protest outside Hove Town Hall last night (Thursday January 19) argued that councillors should not ‘be flogging it off for a quick buck’ and labelled it a ‘betrayal of past and future generations.

The sale of ‘non-core assets’ would help fund the restoration of Stanmer Park, but opposition councillors have raised concerns that the decision could set a precedent for getting rid of other downland.

Greens and Conservatives on the Policy, Resources and Growth Committee voted to set up a policy review panel to look into the proposed sales before a final decision is made.

Labour councillors warned that the hold up could put at risk a £3.8 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant towards the £5.83 million Stanmer Park project.

The council is expected to contribute £1.42 million, and is counting on half of the £360,000 proceeds of the two sales to go towards its share of the costs.

Labour councillor Les Hamilton said: “The price of the land is quite small because you can’t use it for anything else. It’s a long-term secure agricultural tenancy and it can’t be used for anything else.

“The public will not notice any difference. But from the emails I’ve had, you’d think we were selling off the whole of the Downs.

“We are selling non-core assets to put money into core assets. That’s our policy and why we can’t keep to our policy is beyond me.”

But Geoffrey Theobald, leader of the Tory group on the council, told councillors that people were concerned that this could be the first of a number of sales of downland.

And he said that there were alternative sources of money, including the proceeds from the sale of King’s House, the council’s former headquarters.

Green councillor David Gibson expressed a degree of scepticism about what he said could be described as a privatisation, and felt that more information was needed before councillors could reach a proper decision.

The Green group convenor, Phélim Mac Cafferty added: “There are a number of other alternatives. We laid out some of them at previous committees.”

He said that the plan to split the proceeds of the sales between the Stanmer Park project and other capital projects failed to respect the previous decisions of the committee and was why he was calling for a review.

Gill Mitchell, Labour’s deputy leader of the council, said: “We’re obviously content that this proposal has been brought forward in a totally sound way and in agreement with policy.

“Opposition councillors are now trying to lead us into what I hope will not become a rather uncertain position.

“We have partners. The council is not doing this in isolation. If they see us arguing at this very early stage, they might start to lose trust in us.”

Meanwhile Labour council leader Warren Morgan said that he was at a loss to understand why the latest delay was being introduced by the opposition parties.

A policy review panel is expected to meet as soon as possible. The panel will either recommend the sale of the sites or that funding should come from another source.

Its recommendation will come back to the next Policy, Resources and Growth Committee meeting or, before, to an urgent sub-committee meeting.

Chris Todd, from Brighton and Hove Friends of the Earth, said: “It is premature to be trying to press ahead with the sales again until there has been a full review of the downland estate.

“Local residents have a great affinity for their Downs, which some councillors appear to have forgotten.

“This land was bought for conservation purposes and bequeathed to us to look after for our children and grandchildren.

“We should not be flogging it off for a quick buck. That is a betrayal of both past and future generations.”