Country Park ‘gift’ is a myth

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IN THE debate about proposed car parking charges in Hastings Country Park there is a widespread belief most, if not all, the park was a gift to the town from the Milward family. This is incorrect.

About 90 per cent of the country park’s 853 acres was acquired from the Milwards, but only about 30 acres was actually either given by the family to Hastings Borough Council, or sold to it at a token price.

The largest single deal comprised the 394 acres of Fairlight Place Farm and 51 acres of Church Farm, sold by the Milwards to the council in 1963 for £90,000.

The common misunderstandingt the Milwards ‘gave’ their land to the council comes from the 1951 presentation by Princess Elizabeth to the council of the Milward’s deeds for 215 acres of the glens and clifftops.

As the council only presented the Milwards with £10 in cash for that land, it was reported at that time as being a gift, and has been remembered as such ever since.

However, these 215 acres comprised unworkable land expensive to maintain: Ecclesbourne Glen, Fairlight Glen, much of Warren Glen and the clifftop paths.

The council was ‘given’ this loss-making land on condition it fenced off the large amount of Milward’s land adjoining the 215 acres, and diverted several paths.

This cost the council about £2,450 and at the same time enabled the Milwards to use their farmland more intensively, thereby significantly increasing the value of Fairlight Place Farm.

So the council has paid for most of the country park, but in addition it also has to spend large sums annually on the maintenance: more than £200,000 in 2010/11.

Many opposing the parking charges live in Rother (less than five per cent of the houses at Fairlight are in Hastings) and have therefore never paid a single penny for either looking after the country park, parking in it or using it as a doggyloo.

As the charges will be the result of cuts imposed on Hastings Borough Council by the Tory-led Government, perhaps the two Rother Fairlight councillors - both Tory - could include in their manifestos for the May local elections a promise Rother will pay the £40,000 per annum Hastings must find somewhere. Then the people of Hastings who can afford a car could carry on parking for free, alongside the residents of Rother.

STEVE PEAK

Collier Road