Wednesday 9 December 2009

A victory for people power

Good news to report from the campaign to stop the Cissbury sell-off. Thanks to Dave Bangs for the report.

4th December 2009 Tel: 01903 200 648 Tel: 01273 6290 815 Tel: 01903 263 038

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][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

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