A £5 million plan to turn back the clock at Brighton’s Stanmer Park has been unveiled. Tim Ridgway looks at the ten-year project to restore the historic open space to its 18th Century roots.

“When I go into town and tell people I live in Stanmer, they ask ‘where’s that?’

“There are quite a few people in Brighton who do not know it exists.”

Val Little is speaking from her home, perched at the entrance to the largest park in Brighton and Hove.

Her comment is not unfamiliar. Thousands of the people who live in Brighton and Hove are completely unaware that 5,000 acres of protected downland, woodland trails and historical buildings are on their doorstep.

To boost interest and preserve it for future generations, Brighton and Hove City Council is now drawing up a bid to bring £5 million into the park.

The dream is everyone – from picnickers to ramblers, mountain bikers to villagers – will benefit as steps are taken to restore it with a nod to its 18th Century roots.

Among the suggestions to “maximise its potential” are:

  • Bring Grade II listed Home Farm back into use;
  • Better accessibility with separate cycle and pedestrian paths;
  • Reintroduce livestock to slow down traffic;
  • Create offices for South Downs National Park.

If successful, most of the money will come from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which recently supported the restoration of The Level in Brighton. But not everyone shares the council’s optimism.

Ann Markwick, who moved to the village in 1957, said: “If they think they can bring it up to the 18th Century standards then I’m a Spanish onion.”

There is currently only one route into the park which meanders up towards the 18th Century Stanmer House and adjoining village of cottages. It is shared by motorists, buses, cyclists, coaches and pedestrians.

Once they have arrived, the huge swathes of open space are often filled by people picnicking or walking their dogs.

Informal sports fixtures are also popular while some opt for a gentle stroll or afternoon tea.

Throw in a beautiful church and some of the best mountain biking trails in the south east, it is not hard to see why access is one of the biggest gripes with those visiting.

Mrs Little is one of a small number of people who live in the 23 homes in the village, most of which are populated by people whose families worked on the estate.

It is one of few public parks in the country to have such a collection of homes.

Mrs Little, who has lived in the village 44 years, said: “It’s not like it used to be.

“There used to be an orangery and when I used to sit in my garden there was very little noise. Now they have built two new roads nearby, not to mention the stadium, but that’s progress I suppose.”

Properties only become available in Stanmer when existing residents die.

Most are rented out with one of the smallest houses in the village costing about £1,200 a month.

Ms Markwick said: “We don’t have any facilities as such. We do not have the village shop or post office that used to have.

“If you want anything you have to go over to Coldean, the university or drive into town.”

She added: “Quite frankly I do hope people do forget about us.

“It’s an amazing village. If anyone is in trouble, everyone rallies round.”

Sarah Aldenhoven, who lives in New Church Road, Hove, is one of hundreds who use the trails for mountain biking.

She said: “It’s like a green oasis on your doorstep. It’s only ten minutes from town and I can combine a long ride with afternoon tea in Stanmer House. I absolutely love it.”

Local millionaire businessman Mike Holland sees the potential of the park.

He secured Stanmer House, the beautiful building at the heart of the estate, on a long term lease from the council in 2004.

He has since spent £5 million renovating the 18th Century manor house which is now a restaurant and wedding venue.

Mr Holland said: “A lot of people love it as they can get out and about and have a nice cream tea or stroll in the village, which is looking less tatty than it did before.

“But what really puts people off and is turning people away is that you cannot park anywhere.

“This would immediately mean people do not get muddy walking to their cars while travellers would not be able to enter.

“All they need to do is put in height restrictions and ensure there is proper enforcement.”

While some are calling for more parking, others are calling for less – or, at least, for the existing spaces to be patrolled.

For many years there has been an issue with students and staff leaving their vehicles in the park rather than pay in the nearby universities.

The addition of the American Express Community Stadium has also increased the pressure on spaces at weekends.

To ensure there is widespread public support, thousands of households will be asked their views on the park’s masterplan over the coming weeks.

This will then form the basis of a £60,000 bid for Heritage Lottery Funding under the Parks for People fund next August.

If successful, work could start in 2017.

Green councillor Pete West, chairman of the council’s environment, transport and sustainability committee, said: “Stanmer Park Estate is well loved by residents who are keen to see it restored and enhanced for future generations.

“With its beautiful setting and historic buildings, the park has huge potential to become an exciting and vibrant gateway to the new national park.

“We know there is widespread support from local people keen to contribute to any plans and I am keen to move forward with a bid to attract vital funding to support this exciting project.”