organisation to protect Worthing's downland is to be set up,
following a successful meeting in the town on Friday night
unanimously agreed to set up a new volunteer group to act as a
public watchdog or defender of the local countryside, including
Cissbury Ring and Highdown.
Chris Hare, a former councillor, who was one of the original members of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board when it was established in 1992, looked forward to a time when the Downs around Worthing would become sacrosanct. He recalled that on several occasions local people had protested in large numbers when the Downs were seen to be under threat, most notably when Worthing Borough Council was pressing for an A27 by-pass route close to Cissbury in the 1980s.
Dave Bangs, a well known author and campaigner on downland issues, highlighted the massive erosion of the ‘downland mantle’ or original greensward in the years since the Second World War. He provided maps, showing how this loss, caused by intensive ploughing, was especially marked around Cissbury Ring, leaving only isolated pockets of the original grassland remaining.
Mr. Bangs believed that a golden opportunity had now arisen for Worthing Borough Council to restore this ‘fractured landscape’ and create downland of which the people of Worthing could be proud.
was an agreement that a permanent organisation should be created
to keep a watchful eye of the Downs around Worthing, and
particularly the land owned by Worthing Borough Council.
A provisional committee of the new organisation is expected to meet before the end of the month, to agree a name and a constitution.
Working to preserve Worthing's Downs
Friday February 12th at 8pm
Sidney Walter Centre, Sussex Road, Worthing
AMPLE FREE PARKING - PLUS BAR AVAILABLE ON NIGHT
Councillor Steve Waight (Cabinet member for
A high-profile emergency campaign by Stop Cissbury Sell-Off forced them to reconsider their scheme.
But what has happened since December's council meeting when the pledge was made to retain and enhance the downland?
Is the council living up to its promises? What progress has been made so far?
This meeting is your chance to come and question council leaders and debate the future of our public downland. Do you know what other downland our council owns? Is it best managed at present?
We will also be discussing the transformation of Stop Cissbury Sell Off into a broader oversight and watchdog body to defend and improve all the council’s downland. Perhaps you’d like to take part?Contact: info@ scso.co.uk. (07968) 042646 www.scso.co.uk
4th December 2009
Worthing to retain its Cissbury Downland
Leadership Councillor Steve Waight supports the improvement of public access and the enhancement of this public downland
Worthing Council’s Cabinet unanimously agreed to withdraw the Council’s Cissbury downland from sale yesterday, December 3rd.
Councillor Steve Waight, the Cabinet Member for Resources and Business Modernisation went further, though, and, in a prolonged exchange with questioners, conceded most of what protestors have been calling for.
120 protestors had turned up to demonstrate on the steps of the Town Hall and crowded into the Cabinet meeting. Their numbers amply corroborated Cllr Waight’s statement that “more local people had responded to him on this issue than any other in his 18 years as a councillor”.
Retaining control not just ownership
In his responses to SCSO supporters Cllr Waight categorically stated that, in addition to retaining the freehold, the Council “will also retain control over the land”. He stressed that the primacy of the issue of public access had been heard and understood by him and that he had heard the call both to protect the land as it was and to enhance it.
Cllr Waight and Steve Coe, Worthing Council’s Estates Manager, reported that a meeting had taken place earlier in the day with officials from Natural England, the South Downs Joint Committee (SDJC) and the National Trust. In this meeting there was discussion of the nature of the external funding that Natural England could make available to the Council, chiefly through the agri-environmental Higher Level Stewardship scheme (HLS), and the support that both the National Trust and the SDJC were able to offer.
Steve Coe indicated that they will have further meetings with these bodies to address the options available to the Council.
No sale of long term leases
Cllr Waight said that the length of any new lease was yet to be determined, but indicated a positive attitude to the idea of new leaseholds coterminous with the ten year duration of each HLS agreement. He stated that there had been interest expressed from farmers and landholders neighbouring the Council’s downland. He said that it was necessary for the Council to address immediate legal technicalities with regard to the cessation of the past agricultural tenancy, as part of the process.
There was no mention by Cllr Waight of the idea of the sale of long term leases which had been a feature of both the Report to Cabinet and the accompanying press release[i].
Continuing public concern and sense of exclusion
Questioners repeatedly stressed their suspicion of the Council’s intentions and their opposition to the truncation of the review that had earlier been announced (circa 10th November) by Cllrs Waight and Yallop, the Council Leader. They urged that the final proposals for the downland should be made fully public and consulted on widely, and criticized the opaque nature of these events. Cllr Yallop reminded the meeting of his action a year ago to make public the details of the sale. Cllr Waight stated that the review had been on the issue of sale alone, not on the wider management concerns, which did not quell questioners concern at their exclusion from the process of considering this issue.
A good first step
This result is a good first step, though taken within the context of these ongoing concerns.
Stop Cissbury Sell Off will continue to press the views of residents and users of this downland, and to press for the democratic accountability of future management decisions over Worthing’s public downland.
A public information meeting is being arranged by us early next year, when details of progress will be discussed. It is planned to invite Worthing Council representatives to brief us on what they are doing.
[i] ‘Agricultural Land at Tenants Hill and Mount Carvey’. Report by the Executive Head of Technical Services, Cabinet 3 December 2009, Agenda Item 9, Para 3.2, and Worthing Council press release ‘Cissbury farmland withdrawn from sale’ 26/11/2009.
There has been a lot of favourable media attention towards the campaign, and this is in no doubt attributable to the response by local people and those from further afield.
We must keep up the pressure on Worthing Council until they withdraw the threat to OUR Downland permanently!
Further Protests/Meetings will be publicised on this website and by a follow-up media campaign.
Click on the Images from the protest for a bigger picture:
BBC coverage of the protest can be found by clicking here
A link to the Worthing Herald's video coverage can be found by Clicking Here
Coverage from the Politics Show can be found Here