17 March 2021

Benfield Valley, Hangleton

 Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2021)

copyright © G. Osborne
West Hove Golf Course in the early 1920s, to the right is Benfield Barn and Benfield Cottages
(This view is from Foredown Hill, Portslade)

(With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection) 

In 1908 Benfield Valley Estate was leased to West Hove Golf Club, and subsequently a golf course was laid out over some 130 acres; it opened in 1910. Therefore the valley remained a green oasis while housing sprang up on either side. However, with the passing of time, the pressure to build on this land grew. By the 1950s some of the land was already in the hands of hopeful developers who must surely have thought it was only a matter of time before they could cover it with bricks and mortar. It seems that their contemporary councillors were also of the same opinion. The 1950s Town Map reveals that there was already provision for residential development on the central part of the golf course north of Hangleton Lane, while the notion of a county college was favoured for the southern part.

But ordinary folk living in the vicinity came to value their ‘green lung’ more and more. Therefore there was the inevitable uproar when plans for Brighton Bypass secured approval. This entailed a link road passing right down the valley from the bypass to Old Shoreham Road. It also meant that the Golf Club had to shift their links further north.

copyright © D. Sharp
A view from Portslade's Foredown Hill of the Brighton Bypass. On the right is the nine-hole Benfield Golf Course and Benfield Barn, and in the background are Hangleton's housing estates.

In 1986 the Benfield Valley Plan was approved by Hove Council and East Sussex County Council. But it seems the authorities had listened to people’s concerns, and they tried to leave as much of the valley as they could as a green space. But they did propose four areas for housing – two next to the Golf Course and Greenlees Recreation Ground, and on the Foredown Hospital site. However, in 1987 the Benfield Valley Plan came under fire from county councillors who objected by eight votes to three the amount of housing proposed – a startling 300 homes. 

copyright © D. Sharp
Greenlees Recreation Ground

Protest Groups

Jack Arscott and Wilf Martin formed a group in 1980 called the Benfield and Hangleton Valley Emergency (BEHAVE) to fight against the construction of the link road; it was their proud boast that their actions had delayed the building of the Brighton Bypass by ten years. They then joined forces with a new group called Leave Our Valley Evergreen (LOVE). It is interesting tp note that in February 1990 Bob Hunt from Hove, a former RAF meteorologist, stated that the proposed Hangleton link road could prove hazardous to users because there were around eight fogs every summer in that area. The mist rolls up the valley and condenses with fog at the narrowest part of the valley. The phenomenon is known as a Venturi tube.

copyright © D. Sharp
The Hangleton Link Road at the junction with Old Shoreham Road


In September 1987 it was stated that Tesco wanted to build a superstore on a site between the by-pass, Hangleton link road, and the Downs Park housing estate. The proposal was for a 67,500 sq-ft superstore with a filling station. Brighton owned the piece of land in question, but it was not situated in Brighton, and Hove councillors refused to grant planning permission.

In August 1989 Tesco had another shot at their project with plans for a superstore and parking for 720 cars. It was said that Hove councillors were fuming because Brighton Council was backing the scheme.

In May 1990 Tesco submitted re-vamped plans, but Hove Council again turned them down.

In October 1990 there came the surprise announcement that Tesco had withdrawn their plans, having secured a site at Holmbush Farm, Shoreham.

Then Brighton Council threatened to build their own superstore on the site. However, in October 1991 an independent inspector recommended that a second superstore should not be built. Brighton Council decided to appeal, and a date for another Public Inquiry was fixed for January 1992. But in November 1991 the council changed its mind, and decided not to proceed.


copyright © D. Sharp
By June 1989 Sainsbury’s had purchased a 12.5 acre site in the south part. Then they proposed a development of both a superstore and a Homebase store, together with parking space for 800 cars. BEHAVE vowed to fight the plans.

It is amusing to note that in May 1990 – the very same month in which Tesco had produced new plans – Sainsbury also submitted new proposals. Hove Council deferred their decision on this so that councillors and officials could hold talks on the subject.

Meanwhile, the Government had entered the controversy, and Cecil Parkinson, Transport Minister, decreed that neither option could be approved until the traffic impact had been properly assessed. 

copyright © D. Sharp
Benfield Barn
The talks between Hove Council officers and Sainsbury proved productive. If the council allowed the superstore to be built, Sainsbury would undertake to keep most of the rest of the valley green, Greenleas Recreation Ground would be retained, Benfield Barn would be restored, and moreover they would donate the south part of the old golf course, including the Clubhouse, to Hove Council for recreational use. The following month Sainsbury increased their offer by saying they would donate 77 acres to Hove Council.

copyright © D. Sharp
Portslade C.C. clubhouse and cricket ground, with Sainsbury's petrol station and superstore in the background.
At this point, it might be relevant to include some information about Sir Tim Sainsbury, Hove’s M.P. from 1973 to 1997. During his political career he held no executive post with the firm, but his family was incredibly wealthy. It is pleasant to note that he made a generous donation to Hove Museum, but only after he ceased to be Hove’s M.P. so that nobody could accuse him of bribery. The money came via the charitable Hedley Trust to the Friends of Hove Museum and involved some £85,000. It was thus possible to purchase the Barnes Collection of early photographic equipment to strengthen Hove’s important position in the history of early film making.

According to Adam Trimingham (Argus 23/12/20) Sir Tim Sainsbury was involved in saving Benfield Valley from a deluge of housing. It seems that house-builders Wimpey owned most of the valley that was used for a golf course but ear-marked for housing, and Sir Tim purchased the land from them, and apart from the superstore, donated the rest of the land to Hove Council. We have became accustomed to the term Planning Gain, but surely this gift far exceeded any moral obligation. (However, instead of hanging on to the land, Hove Council later leased it back to R. Green Properties, the original freeholders. This only resulted in more battles to keep the valley green. By 2000 the lessee was Steve Callow.)

Hove Council decided that they were never going to receive a more generous settlement, and gave planning permission for the Sainsbury superstore. Then East Sussex County Council threw a spanner in the works by turning down the plans. The matter was then returned to Hove Council where it turned out to be a more closely-fought battle than expected. The final vote was twelve in favour, eight against, and three abstentions. Leslie Hamilton, junior, stated the superstore would take up 22 acres (the equivalent of fourteen football pitches) and occupy the best part of the valley.

copyright © D. Sharp
The footpath near Sainsbury
On 23 October 1990 a Public Inquiry was held before Charles Hoile, Government Inspector, with David Keene QC acting on behalf of Sainsbury’s, and the Government gave its approval for the superstore in March 1991. But Hove Council’s permission was not forthcoming until September 1991 after further talks resulted in Sainsbury agreeing to plant more trees in the car park, and provide a wider footpath to the store.

copyright © D. Sharp

Benfield Wildlife Group

This group was formed to help protect the wildlife in the green parts of Benfield Valley with particular reference to Benfield Hill, which is home to historic chalk grassland, a comparative rarity these days. Benfield Valley certainly needs people to be vigilant, particularly when it transpired that a new track made to bring building material to the new site of West Hove Golf Club had wiped out a rare colony of glow-worms – there are fewer than one hundred colonies in the whole of the country, and conservationists were furious. 

copyright © D. Sharp
Benfield's grassland in 2021
 In 1999 Hove Council produced a special report on the wild life to be found in Benfield Valley, as follows:

The bird-life included dove, wren, dunnock, chaffinch, greenfinch, linnet and yellow hammer.
There were some rare species of butterflies, and a high number of grassland plants.

copyright © D. Sharp

In January 1993 Benfield Wildlife Group wanted a right-of-way order put on the footpath around Benfield Farm south paddocks. The group produced evidence from 47 people who have used the path regularly, including one man who had walked upon it for 80 years.

copyright © D. Sharp
A Section of the footpath around Benfield Farm's south paddocks

Hove Council produced an Environmental Audit in 1994. It stated that the south-west paddock area of Benfield was identified as a wildlife corridor. The four northern fields have very short turf, but further south there is a large field with some ancient anthills that indicate the grassland has been undisturbed. It was an important area for butterflies such as the meadow brown, gatekeeper, small copper, common blue, small white, and the uncommon brown argus. There was also a small area of woodland in the south.

copyright © D. Sharp
Footpath through the woodland
 In the winter of 1992/93 some 6,335 trees were planted in the valley, and in the winter of 1996-97, some 500 more trees were added.

copyright © D. Sharp
A section of the footpath south of Hangleton Lane in 2021

 In 1992 Benfield Wildlife Group were again in the spotlight. In October 1992 they opposed a proposal to create a new tee and fairway on a paddock north of the superstore. Unfortunately, the site was close to a badger sett and it would be right across a footpath from Hangleton Lane. But in March 1993 Hove Council decided they were in favour of the proposal. 

copyright © D. Sharp
A section of the footpath south of Hangleton Lane in 2021

Hangleton Link Road Tunnel

copyright © D. Sharp
The tunnel links Hangleton to Portslade via the woodland footpath

More Threats

In June 1992 there were plans for 62 parking spaces near Benfield Cottages.

In March 1993 R. Green Properties produced plans for 28 driving-range bays for golfers, together with lighting and an administration annexe on land south of Hangleton Lane. Hove Council threw out the scheme the following month. In 1994 Green’s decided to launch an appeal against the council’s decision, and then applied for permission to build 100 parking spaces.

The appeal resulted in a Public Inquiry held in April 1995. Councillor Ivor Caplin stated that 85 per cent of local people were opposed to the driving-range, which would entail high fences being built. In July 1995 John Gummer, Environmental Secretary, threw out the appeal. However, he also ruled that the car park for 100 cars could go ahead.

copyright © D. Sharp
The 'blot on the landscape' car park that John Gummer
(Environmental Secretary) allowed to be built.
Meanwhile, in May 1995 Sainsbury submitted plans for a warehouse at the south end of the car park, and in November 1995 Amey Homes were said to be interested in building 30 homes on a site north of Benfield Barn. About the latter project, the Chalkhill Badger Group wanted that development would affect an active badger sett. Hove Council said they would call in an independent expert from English Nature.

In August 1995, Ivor Caplin, by then leader of Hove Council, appealed to Sainsbury to not contest the council’s refusal to grant planning permission for a new store. He said attempts by developers to encroach on Benfield Valley must stop now.

In September 1996 Sainsbury applied to put a car wash centre near its garage at the superstore. 

In the winter of 1998 Benfield Wildlife Group organised a public meeting because developers wanted to build eighteen houses on the Benfield Farm site. The meeting was held on 10 December, and people voted unanimously against the proposals. Ken Fines, former Brighton Planning Officer, said this green finger of land must be kept as an open space. There were some ancient hedgerows and elm trees.

copyright © D. Sharp
There had already been a scheme put forward by Sainsbury in April 1994 for 22 houses north of Benfield Barn.

Benfield Wildlife Group were soon in action again when horrified neighbours discovered workmen clearing the site. Council officers were obliged to apologise, but people feared the development might take place by stealth.

In 2000 Steve Callow, lessee, stated that maintaining the valley was very expensive; for example, it cost £120,000 a year to keep the nine-hole Benfield Golf Course in good order. He would like to see the lower half of the valley used for outdoor leisure, and he would be happy to discuss Hove Park Lower School’s ideas for sports pitches; there were seventeen acres of land, and he would sooner help the community rather than the birds, bees and butterflies.

copyright © D. Sharp
The nine-hole Benfield Golf Course next to Benfield Barn

In September 2000 Callow announced that the plans to build five houses, and to turn the Barn into a pub and restaurant were being dropped. Instead he proposed that the Barn should be used as a countryside centre, and that Benfield Cottages, and three other derelict listed buildings should be restored. Moreover, he was prepared to offer five acres to Hove Park Lower School for a playing field.

copyright © D. Sharp
Hove Park Lower School's playing field.
 In December 2000 Brighton & Hove City Council said they were spending some £30,000 on preparing A Vision for Benfield Valley. Happily, the money came from part of the compensation deal for the disruption caused by the new gas pipeline installed by South Coast Power. Some of the money would be spent on a survey to find out what local people thought should be the future of the valley.

copyright © D. Sharp
The foot path entrance to Benfield Valley via Old Shoeham Road

See also the history of Benfield, Hangleton.



Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade

Mr G. Osborne

Links :-
Benfield Wildlife and Conservation Group

Copyright © J.Middleton 2021
page layout by D.Sharp