A valuable swathe of chalk grassland overlooking the South Downs National Park has been saved from developers.
The four-hectare Meadow Vale site just south of Ovingdean Road had been earmarked for 45 houses after Lightwood Strategic submitted a revised blueprint last year.
But Brighton and Hove city councillors threw the plans out by a narrow margin on Wednesday (May 10) amid concerns from ecologists and resident groups.
“It was a passionate debate and feelings were running high,” said Deans Preservation Group chairman John Richards. “We recognise the need for development, but it was almost construction against conservation in the end.”
Protesters gathered peacefully outside Hove Town Hall before the meeting to highlight the threat posed to an eco-system that includes nearly 400 species of nationally notable invertebrates, as well as a substantial population of the critically endangered Red Star thistle.
City authorities want to build 13,200 homes by 2030, and councillors acknowledged sacrifices would have to be made to confront the housing crisis. But the decision ultimately turned on two contradictory surveyors’ reports.
Arbeco, hired last year by opponents of the project, argued that council surveyors Aspect Ecology had given ‘a false account of an ecologically important site’. It added that the area, which had been in line for inclusion in any bid for UNESCO Biosphere status, ought to be ring-fenced for protection.
Reservations ranged from the adverse effect on air quality on Rottingdean High Street, which already falls below EU recommended levels, to the risk of greater strain on already over-subscribed schools.
Some 627 objections had been lodged since the project was first floated, with government minister and Conservative candidate for Brighton Kemptown Simon Kirby warning the individual character of Rottingdean, Ovingdean and Woodingdean could be eroded by urban sprawl.
A representative of Rottingdean Parish Council pleaded with councillors to prioritise brownfield sites over what Ovingdean Residents and Preservation Society called ‘one of the few green fingers left in the city connecting the South Downs to the coast’.