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19th January 2017.

Contact: Dave 01273 620 815  Phil 01273 608 786 Chris 01273 553 044



City Councillors on BHCC’s Policy, Resources & Growth Committee rejected a senior officers’ recommendation to resume the sale of Plumpton Hill and Poynings Field[i] at their meeting tonight, 19th January. The sales had been suspended at last December’s PR&G meeting 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[ii].


The sales were intended to part-fund the controversial Stanmer Park Project and to contribute to the alleviation of the Council’s debt.


Tonight’s composite motion was passed by Conservative and Green councillors, with Labour abstaining. It requires that the 2 vulnerable sites “be referred to a new Policy Review Panel with the outcome referred back to the PR&G”[iii].


Councillor Theobald (Conservative) commented that the language of the officer’s report made him fearful for the future of the estate, because of the way it emphasised the commercial aspect of the estate at the expense of its environmental value.


Councillors MacCafferty and Gibson (Green) challenged the reports fiscal conclusions and supported the motion’s requirement for “a separate report to be brought to Committee outlining alternative options for meeting the match funding requirement” of the Stanmer Park Project (which is part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund).


Councillor Les Hamilton (Labour) passionately supported the officer’s recommendation to flog off the two sites and supported the notion that the Downland Estate was made up of core and non-core Downland (i.e. first class and second class Downland...or to-be-kept Downland and disposable Downland).


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


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 by the then ruling Labour Party. A new KODP group has now been formed in Eastbourne to fight similar Downs sell-off proposals by Eastbourne Council over 3,000 acres of Downland behind Beachy Head.

[i] 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.

[ii] Councillors were poorly instructed in the nature of the for-sale sites by senior council officers. One PR&G member comments that there was a collective “failure of oversight” by themselves as a result of this advice. The sold sites include part of a 50 year old nature reserve and a bat cave with 3 scarce species, which has been monitored by experts for many years.

[iii] Two new panels will now be set up: an Asset Management Panel and a Policy Review Panel. The Policy Review Panel will ‘consider governance and policy with respect to the city’s urban and rural estates’. It will work alongside a ‘permanent cross party Asset Management Panel to be established to enable greater member oversight of the delivery of the asset management plan’. (Agenda item 110 PR&G Committee 19th January 2017).

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