COUNCIL bosses have called a halt to the sale of Downland after a backlash from the public.

Eastbourne Borough Council announced the decision yesterday after revealing the results of the Eastbourne Review consultation which asked residents if they wanted to sell the land or make cuts to frontline services.

Councillor David Tutt, council leader, said: “This was not an easy decision for anyone to make but reflects the difficult financial challenge facing the council as a result of relentless cuts in the Government grant to local authorities and I would like to thank everyone who took part.

“The decision of the public is that they wish us to maintain council ownership of the farms and those who opposed the option to sell campaigned hard and I congratulate them.

“I gave a pledge that we would honour the public decision and so as from now the potential sale of the farms is cancelled.”

The council has been locked in a dispute with campaigners for weeks over the sale of three-quarters of its downland portfolio.

It said it wanted to sell the farms to raise £30 million to pay for new projects within the town, including a new Sovereign Centre and the refurbishment of Devonshire Park.

Campaigners were celebrating yesterday following the council’s decision.

Brenda Pollack, Friends of the Earth’s South East campaigner, said: “This is fantastic news and we’re delighted that local people have shown they care passionately about their local countryside and nature - and that the council has listened.

“The vote showed that residents wanted these farms kept in public ownership, giving the council ultimate control on how the land is used and hopefully this will make Brighton Council think twice about selling facilities.”

Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East, said the decision was the result of passionate campaign.

Addressing the u-turn, Cllr Tutt said: “This does however leave us with the tough challenge of cutting services in our next budget which will take place in February 2018.

“The items we published in the Eastbourne Review are all things which have already been cut in other parts of the South East and are those which are currently in the frame to be cut next year.

“Cuts have also hit other councils very hard and so I am therefore launching a petition today calling for Government to halt these crippling cuts.”

He said local government has already suffered from national austerity which has seen Eastbourne’s government grant reduced by £6 million or 60 per cent in recent years. The net budget of the council now stands at less than £15 million.