The battle of Whitehawk Hill escalates with warning over floods
The battle over whether to put new homes on Whitehawk Hill has intensified as the Conservatives warned that any building there risked worsening the flooding that already happens in rainy weather.
The warning came from the former leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, Mary Mears, who grew up in the area.
She was joined by fellow Conservative councillor Dee Simson as the pair spoke out about green spaces that they said were threatened by the Labour-run council’s plans.
Councillors Mears and Simson vowed to fight to save Whitehawk Hill, Ingleside Stables and the South Downs Riding School and Reservoir.
They said that all three “greenfield” sites were at risk of being concreted over as a result of a planning blueprint known as City Plan Part Two.
The plan is due to be debated by councillors next week and proposes building 75 homes on the three sites.
The Conservative group said that it had put forward 30 amendments to the far-reaching City Plan document.
The group wants to delete a whole section of the document which would allocate 16 greenfield sites on Brighton and Hove’s “urban fringe” for housing.
It has also put forwarded a more targeted amendment aimed specifically at removing three sites from the plan – Whitehawk Hill, Ingleside Stables and the South Downs Riding School and Reservoir.
Councillor Mears, deputy leader of the Conservative group, said that she had fought before to protect Whitehawk Hill from development.
She said that the City Plan Part Two would “damage an iconic part of Brighton, create a flood risk to nearby communities and result in precious recreational green space being lost for ever”.
She added: “Previous proposals for Whitehawk Hill have been rejected and for good reason – the sites are unsuited to development.
“Whitehawk Hill is situated at the back of Whitehawk with a very steep slope and when it rains water pours down the hill causing flooding by the flats below.
“Any development on this site will cause untold misery to residents below, not only by flooding but also by removing a special place of peace and tranquillity for residents of the vast development already in Whitehawk, the majority of which have no gardens.
“As we are often told, access to green space and being able to enjoy the natural environment is good for people’s physical and mental wellbeing.
“The benefit of protecting this green space for the city was understood historically. Going back, the then Duke of Norfolk ensured that no building would be above the view line from the start to finish of the racecourse.
“It is an iconic part of Brighton and the views from the top for locals and tourists are amazing. We must continue to heed this advice and protect the area for the community.
“Whitehawk Hill is considered by many a special nature reserve. The community have worked together, generating recognition of the wildlife, historical and rich cultural heritage.
“It is much loved by locals and visitors alike and all three sites must be retained as an asset for the community.”
Councillor Simson said that in addition to Whitehawk Hill, other greenfield sites listed for development were threatened by City Plan Part Two and that she would also fight the proposed greenfield development at the South Downs Riding School and Reservoir and Ingleside Stables sites.
She said: “The stables are particularly sensitive, especially Ingleside, which sits adjacent to my ward.
“Any development would have a devastating impact on the South Downs National Park which completely surrounds it and on strategic views from the Racecourse right across the South Downs.
“Development on any of these sites would be detrimental to the open green spaces residents use for their health and recreational activities.”
The Conservative group spokesman on the council’s Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee, Robert Nemeth, who is co-ordinating his party’s amendments to City Plan Part Two, said that his colleagues had fought hard to protect local green spaces.
Councillor Nemeth said: “Mary and Dee should be commended for working to protect green spaces in our city and all Conservative councillors stand together with them.
“The Labour administration has been unable to deliver on its housing targets across the city over five years and now is turning its attention to greenfield land.
“Labour broke their manifesto promise to build 500 council houses, delivering only 88.
“This proposal also continues Labour’s assault on the family home in Brighton, prioritising flats and mixed developments, with 50 per cent or less of the proposed greenfield development sites devoted to traditional family homes.
“All this comes at the expense of our environment which should be protected.
“As the report states, the urban fringe allocations include greenfield land adjoining open countryside and the South Downs National Park.”
Councillor Nemeth said that several sites listed in City Plan Part Two overlapped with or were close to local wildlife sites and underground chalk aquifers.
He said: “We cannot support sacrificing our valuable green space to make up for Labour’s failure on housing policy.
“These sites all have significant environmental value and the Conservatives will always stand to protect them for future generations.”
Friends of Whitehawk Hill co-ordinator David Bangs said: “Friends of Whitehawk Hill supports the Conservative amendment to the City Plan Part Two which seeks to delete the three housing sites from Whitehawk Hill’s Local Nature Reserve and landscape.
“Local people have always known how special this hill is and we need the council to recognise this too.
“Local experts have found more wild plants in this Racecourse landscape than in any other equivalent sized area in Sussex – some 220 more than the next richest area (on Amberley Wild Brooks).
“Whitehawk Hill is the centre of the single richest sub-landscape for higher plants in the whole of Sussex.
“We stand on this hill, where folk have buried their dead for over 5,000 years (and we still do) and the skylarks and meadow pipits that sing above us, sang above the ancient peoples too.
“The gorse that blooms on our hill this springtime fuelled the fires of the people of flint way back before the pyramids were built.
“Tiny creatures and plants that live on this hill today have lived there since way back in the age of stone.
“We have inherited a ‘living archaeology’ of wild things, just as we have inherited the monument of the ancient peoples who brought their dead here.
“No one in Brighton would knock a dome off the Royal Pavilion to build more housing, vital though such housing is. Yet this land of the Racecourse is as important to Brighton as the Royal Pavilion.
“Whitehawk Hill has been sacred for 5000 years. Don’t sacrifice it now.”
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I would add that council housing on whh would not be suitable for those likely to be on council waiting lists for housing. Many will have mobility issues and the gradients on whh mean housing will not be accessible to those who need it. This is already an issue in whitehawk.