CAMPAIGNERS are celebrating after plans to sell publicly owned downland were put on hold.

Brighton and Hove City Council’s policy, resources and growth committee voted last night to stall any sales of the remaining sites which had been earmarked.

A joint amendment from Conservative and Green councillors admitted the plans should have received greater scrutiny and changes to council policies were required to prevent such sensitive sales going under the radar in the future.

It followed an intervention by the Keep Our Downs Public campaigners who have been fighting the proposals.

Pressure has been mounting on Brighton and Hove and Eastbourne councils to back down over controversial plans to sell publicly owned downland.

South Down chief executive Trevor Beattie this week became the latest environmentalist to call on the councils to rethink their plans while campaigners have again made their voices loud and clear at a public meeting.

Brighton and Hove City Council is in the process of selling more than a dozen buildings and downland farm sites to help fund its project to restore Stanmer Park to its 18th century roots.

The sale of sites at Plumpton Hill and Poynings have been put on hold until January while alternatives to fund the Stanmer Park project are drawn up.

Eastbourne Borough Council is looking to sell more than 3,000 acres of its downland holdings to farmers to finance its development of Devonshire Park.

But moves have come under increasing pressure from environmentalists.

Mr Beattie’s intervention may be the most significant intervention yet as both councils have defended the sell-offs by claiming the land will still be protected by the national park.

He said: “They are not just local assets, they are national legacies.

“In every case we have made our concerns clear and called for a rethink about these countryside sales.

“We urge councils to consider their responsibilities and, if they believe that there really is no alternative, put in place covenants or conditions to protect the land from damaging uses which might not be caught by the planning system.”

At the committee meeting Keep Our Downs Public campaigner Dave Bangs told members there had been “a major failure of vigilance” in allowing the majority of sales to go through already.

He called for a permanent stop on all downland sales, redefining of downland as core assets and to begin a public discussion as to the future of the authority’s 12,500 downland estate.

Meanwhile Chris Todd of Friends of the Earth has said it was not enough for Eastbourne Borough Council to give assurances the land would remain as farmland.

He said: “When the council received the downland it was on the understanding that it would remain open chalk downland.

“It was not ploughed up until after the Second World War.

“What the council really wants to be doing is considering how they can restore some of that open access.

“People love their downlands which politics seem to forget at their peril.”