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South Downs (Requisitioned Areas)

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 5 April 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware of the anxiety of those who live in the area of the South Downs, due to the fact that barbed wire, much of it concealed, slit trenches, many of them overgrown, and unexploded shells are still interfering with public amenities and right of access to the South Downs area; how many men are employed on restoring the Downs to their pre-war condition; and by when such work will be fully completed.

If there is any anxiety among those who live in the district I am not aware of it, and I would point out that the public has no access to the areas which have not been derequisitioned. Fifty civilians are employed under military supervision on clearing unexploded missiles; restoration is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Works.

Does not the Secretary of State for War appreciate that the fact I have put this Question down and written to his Department on numerous occasions, as have all other Sussex Members, is the answer to what he has just said; is he aware that there is grave anxiety in Sussex, and that the fact that the public are not allowed into derequisitioned areas is one of their chief causes of complaint?

The right hon. Gentleman having said that the local inhabitants were not saying anything about it, might I ask if he is aware that the tourists and people who come down to that part of the country are in a particularly difficult position because they know nothing about the problem?

On the other hand, the public have no access to these areas, which have not yet been derequisitioned.

Why have these areas not been derequisitioned, if they are not wanted?

For the reason that we have been unable to clear away these unexploded missiles and barbed wire entanglements, because there has been great difficulty as regards available labour for this purpose. We shall remove these encumbrances as rapidly as circumstances permit.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that, while of course the public have never had legal access to these areas they have had actual access to places in which people may walk; and that as long as the present situation continues it does much to create bad feeling, which does harm to the whole cause of the War Office?

As the noble Lord is well aware, it was necessary to requisition this and other land during the war. We are anxious to derequisition as rapidly as possible, but when we do derequisition the question of restoration is not a matter for my Department.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that there are only a dozen or two men in the whole South Downs area employed on this work of restoring the Downs to their normal condition; and cannot he take much more active steps to do something more about it?

I am receiving the same demands from all over the country, and I simply have not the labour available. I will expedite this matter as much as I can.


asked the Secretary of State for War what acreage of the South Downs is still requisitioned for military purposes; by when the whole area will have been derequisitioned; and what acreage of the South Downs has been made available to the East or West Sussex Agricultural Committees, respectively, for restoration pending derequisitioning.

Of 32,313 acres originally requisitioned in the South Downs Training Area, only 11,918 are now under requisition. The whole of this area has been made available for restoration, 5,323 acres to the East Sussex Agricultural Committee and 6,595 to the West Sussex Agricultural Committee. Derequisitioning depends on the rate of progress of restoration, and areas are derequisitioned as and when they are restored.