In a charming village in West Sussex, residents are putting up a fight. They are refusing millions of pounds from property developers who want to replace the countryside with a new 10,000-home town.
Recently, farmer Robert Worsley turned down £275m for his 550-acre farm in the village of Twineham. Read more about his land battle: /farmer-turns-down-275m-for-his-land/.
Robert is now the face of the campaign group Locals Against Mayfield Building Sprawl (Lambs), which is fighting the proposals. Around 200 landowners are supporting Robert’s struggle, amounting to 4,300 acres.
Other Lambs explain why they do not want to lose their picturesque landscape:
Veronica Brookes, 72, lives at the 200-acre Sakeham Farm near Henfield – noted in the Domesday Book – with her husband Tony Baldwin, 86. They have lived there for 25 years.
She says: “There have been rumours going around for the past two years, maybe longer, that developers wanted our land; this was followed by a visit from one of the Mayfield team.
“Both Tony and I were extremely negative with them from the start; the proposed scheme is totally inappropriate – we live on a flood plain, 50 acres of our holding is brook land [wetland], which is flooded annually by the River Adur.
“At a meeting I attended last year, their ideas about the town appeared ridiculous – they think people would happily go around on golf carts and be bussed in and out of hubs on the A23 to commute to London. It simply wouldn’t work. Who would want to live like that?”
The Villagers Refusing Millions of Pounds from Developers
Veronica continues: “In total, they came to us about three or four times and offered us about £5m, with the proviso that they would pay us more for an option now than if they got planning permission later, trying to force our hand I suppose.
“Money is important but it’s definitely not everything. Your mode of life is far more important. We have a lovely home; we work extremely hard, Tony still works, and anyway we don’t want to move or see this area of outstanding beauty spoilt for future generations.”1
Pauline and Paul McBride, 32, created the Sussex Prairie Garden near Henfield on the farm where they live with their extended family.
Pauline says: “I just cannot come to terms with the sickening idea that our garden could be bulldozed by developers and all this could be torn up. This garden is our dream: a wild and naturalistic space with big swathes of colour and texture, open to the public. It is a wonderful place.
“We get visited by gardening enthusiasts form all over the world, including coachloads of Russians, as well as British families. And yet we started this beautiful garden from nothing. I was born here on the farm and it was an idyllic childhood, so it was natural to want to come back.
“And now the garden teems with wildlife – insects, birds, mammals and amphibians. Visitors find it restorative. The pleasure and enjoyment everyone gets is immeasurable.
“So although I have sympathy for people needing to live somewhere, thanks to our burgeoning society, and I fully understand there are pressures for councils to find places for people to live, I believe this beautiful Sussex countryside is a sacred haven and we shouldn’t be wantonly destroying it.
“The first time the developers came knocking I sent them straight away – I couldn’t bear the thought of it, even though they were offering us £5m. I had to send them away a couple of times.”
Pauline stresses: “I can’t imagine this garden being destroyed; that would be heart-rending. And I can’t imagine walking away from the people who love it. Why would you? How could we?
“How can I put a price tag on this? It is impossible to think about it. I wouldn’t sell at any price. I hope the developers give up and accept this people power. Paul and I have given our all for this place. I would die if I had to destroy it.”1
Co-director of the All England Jumping Course in Hickstead, Haywards Heath, Edward Bunn, 54, lives in the area with his wife Julia and their four children.
He explains: “We’ve been approached four or five times now by various agents trying to persuade us to let them put an access road across our land from the A23 to the west. They didn’t want to buy any of our 600 acres, but just for that access, which would have cut our land in half – and which would become a public highway if their plans came to fruition – they were happy to offer us £5m or £6m.
“Of course we turned them down. No one around here wants a new market town built on this land. Yes, there is a need for housing in the South East, but Mayfield wants to put it in completely the wrong place.
“Our family came here in 1958 and it is a lovely bit of Sussex countryside, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with a nice river running through it. This housing would be a blot on the landscape.
“Moreover, it is nowhere near any existing infrastructure, employment or transport. If you look towards Haywards Heath there are towns that could be expanded, and that makes more sense, as that’s where the stations are, that’s where the work is. And no one will object to that at all.
“Instead, Mayfield are chancing their arm by proposing to build here and we’re all living under a cloud as a result. People haven’t been able to sell their homes around here for two years because of this, and everyone from councillors to MPs – as well as locals – is against the idea.
“There’s a lot of feeling in the area against Mayfield’s town, and Lambs will fight tirelessly to stop it.”1
Freelance radio journalist Jane Watson, 51, lives in Twineham with her husband Richard, 52, and their three children.
She says: “Villagers like us haven’t been offered huge pay-offs, but our homes and the beautiful countryside around us have been left under a huge Mayfield cloud, which shows no signs of dissipating despite universal local opposition.
“This is the kind of rural community that is becoming rarer and rarer in the South East of England and it should be valued, not destroyed. But apparently it doesn’t matter what we think.
“Even though every level of local government – from parish to district councils, and both local MPs, Sir Nicholas Soames and Nick Herbert – have objected to the scheme, the developers don’t seem to accept it won’t succeed. Even the official government planning inspector has turned down the housing development. But local democracy has been turned on its head in Sussex.”1