Brighton Downs Alliance Key Points and Principles for the City Downland Estate Plan
Brighton Downs Alliance (BDA)
We are a group of organisations, experts & community, campaigning for the fairer, sustainably managed & accessible public Downs of Brighton & Hove (B&H):
Beacon Hub, Rottingdean; Benfield Valley Project; Brighton Active Travel; B&H Archaeological Society; B&H Food Partnership; B&H Friends of the Earth; B&H Wildlife Forum; Butterfly Conservation Sussex Branch; Coldean Community Organisation; Campaign to Protect Rural England Sussex; Extinction Rebellion Brighton; Friends of Hollingdean Park; Friends of Waterhall; Friends of Whitehawk Hill, Keep Our Downs Public; Keep the Ridge Green; Moulsecoomb Forest Garden & Wildlife Project; Royal Agricultural University (NR); South Downs Society; Stanmer Preservation Society; Sustainable Design Collective Ltd; Sussex Bat Group; Sussex Socialist Environment & Resources Association: Sussex Wildlife Trust; Wild Flower Conservation Society - Brighton & Beyond; Woodingdean Wilderness Group
Key Points and Principles for the BHCC City Downland Estate Plan
(SDNP Whole Estate Plan WEP) - BDA guidance
1 Accountability, Transparency, Democracy
a. The WEP must be founded on a formal council commitment to the integrity of the Brighton Downs Estate, there must be no more sales of land or buildings.
b. The WEP process to be founded on partnership, with a steering group of councillors, officers, local experts and representatives of core interests, operational before the WEP is approved, and a steering committee, drawn from the steering group pool, to oversee the management unit.
c. The Downland Estate should be managed 'in-house' by a unit with its own staff, accountable to the Environment, Transport & Sustainability and Policy & Resources Committees.
2 Landscape & Ecosystem Restoration
We propose the stitching back together of the mantle of species-rich chalk grassland that covered most of our high Downs until less than a century ago.
3 Sustainable, Community-based Farming
a. All new or re-let farm tenancies to be run using regenerative and organic methods of farming,
b. Council commitment to: nurture / incentivise farming and food businesses that create fair farm-based employment, equal opportunity and diversity; improve soil health and biodiversity; connect local producers and local consumers; support community, co-operative farm businesses.
4 Statutory Access Over All Open Land
Statutory open access land designation for every site under BHCC management, subsequent sites coming under council control to be similarly designated for open access.
5 Archaeological & Cultural Heritage
a. Priority should be given to managing high value archaeological sites along with their landscape contexts and settings.
b. Other sites of high archaeological value should have priority for inclusion in landscape-scale restoration projects, permanent managed grassland for sites and settings, deep cultivation ceasing on Archaeological Notification Areas, lighter machinery utilised if / when cultivation continues.
c. All cultural heritage to be recorded and monitored, with the appropriate protection, conservation, information and interpretation, to preserve and celebrate our rich downland history.
1. Accountability, Transparency, Democracy
a. There is a history of covert land and building sales that have damaged the Estate's public potential, even now, farm cottage sales put in train despite council assurances no major sales or decisions would be made ahead of the WEP. In 2016 a potential community agriculture site, Park Wall Farm, sold, as was a nature reserve (bat cave, juniper, meadow), along with cottages and sites on the Dyke Estate. Earlier, Falmer Court farmhouse, cottages and listed thatched barn sold. After the 1995 public protest councillors agreed not to sell the Brighton Downs Estate, then East Brighton golf-course was quietly sold. During the outsourcing of the municipal golf courses in 2020 it was agreed such a process should never be allowed to happen again.
b. Bringing in partners and local experts to help BHCC manage this valuable resource provides real added value.
c. We must end management by an arm's length commercial land agency and Property department, to bring back democratic decision-making in the best interests of the people’s Downs. Any one-off or specialist issues can be dealt with through call-off contracts etc, the most efficient way of doing business. The SDNPA uses its partner BHCC for its financial management and WSCC for its legal services; the neighbouring National Trust, for example, with land agency and other functions, would be a trusted, ethical partner.
2. Landscape & Ecosystem Restoration
This must embrace all the scattered fragments of internationally rare chalk grassland, linking them up to enable species permeability through this precious habitat, helping to reverse the decline in our biodiversity, restore the much-loved pastoral landscape, protect our rich cultural heritage and have positive effects for soil health (and no soil erosion), aquifer safeguarding and carbon storage. See: https://friendsofthebrightondowns.org.uk/ This will involve the restoration and re-creation of permanent grazing pasture, with its high-value scrub, a long-haul commitment to the recovery of this grassland's important wildlife by a variety of techniques. The Brighton Downs Alliance and the predecessor Keep Our Downs Public have both published and presented proposed footprints and ideas for such a restored chalk grassland mantle.
3. Sustainable, Community-based Farming
a. To achieve genuine sustainable farming with an underpinning conservation ethos, all tenancies should be run on regenerative / organic grounds. 35 years of state-supported agri-environment schemes, only one Brighton Estate farm managed on an organic basis! Given our City's dependence on its chalk aquifer and its quality for our water supply, the prevalence of polluting agri-chemical inputs on our farmland must end.
b. The letting process should encourage community-supported agriculture on a whole farm basis, with co-operative operations taking the tenancies. Community agriculture markets its products by retail, avoiding the wholesale level and global commodity control. Many such businesses are organised on co-operative or collective lines, and/or owned by the local community in the form of shares bought by residents; local supply chains and other infrastructure of retail agriculture could be developed over time. In this model, there should be no fragmentation of downland farming into small units, with any multiplication of farmstead building sites, segregated field parcels or plots (as in much poorly managed livery management) or equipment clutter.
4. Statutory Access Over All Open Land
“Gains” in public access that are not statutory cannot be considered permanent or secure. There have been many examples of such access being withdrawn, such as mobility trails on Hill Barn golf-course, Worthing when the municipal club was privatised, withdrawal of sites and routes at the break-clause or end of agri-environment agreements, and ephemeral permissive path licences.
Statutory access land designation should cover all the land, grassland, woodland, arable, all this public land has public interest, not just permanent pasture. Ploughland, fallows and headings, woodland and scrub have historically been considered public space in many places and periods too. Exceptions should only be over growing crops, livestock holding pens, private gardens, farmyards or other premises, which is not permitted on statutory access land anyway (or countries like Scotland and Sweden with a statutory right of general access, allemansratten) and should apply to commercial activities and unconstrained access by dogs. Open public access provides multiple benefits, health and well-being, contact with nature, social inclusion and more.
5. Archaeological & Cultural Heritage
a. The core action must be these notable, designated sites and their settings, which also have high wildlife interest; this double-value, high value archaeological sites retaining high value archaic grassland cover, has long been recognised and needs to be acted on. Examples include Loose Bottom's valley-head entrenchments, Whitehawk Hill's causewayed camp, Hollingbury and Ditchling Beacon hill forts.
b. We think of such sites as Balmer Down field system, Tenantry Hill Mile Oak 'Roman encampment', the Bostal barrow cluster and Bullock Down cross-dyke, both at Woodingdean.
c. The asset audit’s existing records will highlight gaps. Action to be taken on known heritage now plus annual reviews, priorities, resources, timescales, to accommodate any new information.
* This principle should apply across the WEP. SDNP WEP guidance: Vision – Asset Audit – Ecosystem
Services Analysis – Action Plan.
Reminder of why the Downs was acquired: safeguarding our drinking water; development control; public access.