Fringe Box



Bellfields Plot-holders Step Up Campaign To Save Their Allotments

Published on: 29 Feb, 2020
Updated on: 29 Feb, 2020

Plot-holders from the allotments at Bellfields, Guildford, have stepped up their campaign to retain the site.

This is despite Guildford Borough Council moving ahead with plans for a new allotment site on the edge of the Slyfield Industrial Estate.

A view across the allotments at Bellfields. All pictures from the Facebook page of Save Old Farm Lagoon allotments.

The new site for growers, at North Moors, is part of the council’s plan to develop the area it has named as the Weyside Urban Village. It is a 41-hectare brownfield regeneration scheme, planned to deliver 1,500 homes, 2,000 square metres of community space and 6,500 square metres for employment.

The plot-holders at the existing allotments, known as the Old Farm Lagoon, have set up at Facebook page and are arranging a number of events to make their views known.

This Sunday, March 1, at 11am they have Wally’s Walk, and are inviting people to attend. It starts from the horticultural supplies shop veteran grower Wally Young runs at Old Farm Lagoon.

It will go to Wally’s house and is aimed to show the walk he enjoys every time he visits the allotments, and to compare the struggle he will have of travelling to the new allotment site.

A recent press release from Guildford Borough Council outlines the plans it is putting in place.

Sarah Bass is an Old Lagoon Farm plot-holder and is fighting to save at least part of the allotment for people who will be unable to get to the new North Moors site. She is critical of the details the council has released.

The press release states: “Community gardening in Guildford continues to evolve with plans for an environmentally friendly and sustainable new allotment site taking a step forward.”

Sarah makes the point: “The new site is full of perennial weeds and will take a massive amount of cultivation to be at all suitable for planting, and the council have be to advised that will not be in their current timescale.”

The council states: “Following extensive consultation with residents, allotment holders and the Guildford Allotment Society – including two public exhibitions last October – the proposed site will use sustainable technologies, rainwater harvesting, permeable surfaces, dedicated composting and bee-keeping areas and boast recycled buildings.”

Sarah’s reply is: “This is a prime example of the ‘spin’ that GBC are putting on everything. There really has been minimal consultation. No Bellfields tenant have ever been consulted on their thoughts. We are on site pretty much 300 days per year, we only found out the planners involved in person in October [2019].

The existing allotments will be part of the new development. The council’s release adds: “The new site at North Moors is close to Slyfield, Bellfields and Jacobs Well, and less than three quarters of a mile from the current allotments.

Sarah’s view is: “The new site is remote on the edge of an industrial site affecting the security of tenants late in the evening and weekends. It is hard to access, there is no public transport and only accessible by car and not ‘in the community’ as stated allotments should be.”

A post on the Facebook page hosted by the Save Old Farm Lagoon Allotments commenting on Guildford Borough Council’s proposed new allotment site at North Moors on the edge of the Slyfield Industrial Estate. Click to enlarge in a new window.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS asked Sarah why was the campaign not started before now. She said: “Our plot-holders are a diverse range of people but are not typically politically active or at all militant.

“The Weyside Urban Village is a relatively new aspect to the plan. The information that had been given to the allotment holders was that nothing was happening until the water works site had been sorted (up to three to five years) This changed.

“The first they knew was a letter posted on our allotment notice board in August 2019. Although there has been lots of media coverage about the redevelopment, the planners never issued any final decision on the intentions for our allotment site until the last possible moment.

“Our aim is foremost to maintain some sort of allotment provision primarily for those who will not be able to move or access the new site, for the current community and importantly for the new community.

“The council has completely ignored the fact that allotments pass on the ‘art’ of ‘growing your own’ by word of mouth and experiences passed on over years, even decades.

“Growing your own is not easy and the core of the community at allotments is around sharing knowledge, support and advice, and also support when things go wrong ‘there is always next year’.

“The current plans will wipe away 75 years of this word-of-mouth history. For want of a better phrase we are being bulldozed out of existence.

“The Guildford Allotment Society (GAS) are in the difficult position of being the society that manage the allotments (saving GBC a lot of money) on a shoestring budget and are not able to ‘represent’ the plot holders with any public support.

An aerial view of the Bellfields Old Farm Lagoon allotments. Click to enlarge in a new window.

“When the notice went up in August 2019 there was dismay, shock and many tears especially from long-standing tenants. No one from planning had the decency to talk to the plot holders face to face. It was only via word of mouth and interaction at the site that people came together.

“Many do not use email or social media; and in this short space of time we have managed to bring them together by meetings and activities and over 50% of the plot holders are fully engaged.

“The new alternative site was acquired and included in the new plans with no knowledge of the allotment tenants. The discussions between GAS from the outset were that the discussions were in confidence and not to be discussed.

“We were notified of the exhibition only two weeks before it took place.

“Throughout the active development of this plan, GBC have completely ignored the allotment community established for over 75 years. They presented their two proposed versions of the Guildford Borough Plan at an annual meeting in 2014 and in 2015, and the question was raised about why in either plan there was no mention allotment provision or retention of any kind of the current allotment.

“The question was asked and never answered. However, they have always implied that there would be provision maintained. They have never fully consulted on the impact of total closure before their public presentation of the new Weyside Urban Village launch, at late notice in October 2019. They asked for feedback comments and have never responded to anything.

“There have been actions and activities to demotivate and dishearten the Bellfields plot-holders ongoing over the past 18 months including sending out termination of tenancy notices at the end of January.”

In asking whether the plot-holders believe it is not too late to save their allotments, Sarah responded: “There has been constant requests made over the past 15 years about the fate of Bellfields [Old Farm Lagoon] allotments, but never answered. It has been over a decade since the [Slyfield] plans were first proposed.

“In that time a lot has changed. GBC have shown that they do not truly value the allotments ‘within the community’. They have no GBC plot on any of the sites and from my enquiries there are no GBC employees who hold a plot. They invest no money and have not truly promoted the allotments or cared for them.

“We are now a ‘coffee culture’, mental health and wellbeing are, at last, out in the open, plus moves towards more organic food, reducing our meat intake, and more respect for food.

“It is not the number of people at the allotments – there are about 90 plots but what they represent to the wider community in terms of wellbeing, good health and community.

“There are people of all ages, including babes in arms, grandchildren, families form all ages and backgrounds who come to the site,” said Sarah Bass.

“The ‘message’ that allotments are for senior retired people is not accurate. I can assure you that there are people of all ages, including babes in arms, grandchildren, families form all ages and backgrounds who come to the site. It is also about the natural habitat and wildlife.

“The Bellfields allotments is a statuary site, which means GBC have to apply for a change in law from the Secretary of State. The building of homes is not necessarily a reason for this. We are trying to stop the complete disposal of the whole site. We are not talking about stopping 1,500 homes being built. We have a surveyor’s estimate of about 40 homes that need to be reallocated for the site to remain open.

Slow worms can be found on the Old Farm Lagoon allotments.

“We can only take the democratic way and this cannot now be done until the plans go in. We are putting in an objection made up from letters, representation from doctors, wildlife and conservation experts.

“We can only hope that people make enough of a stand at this time to be heard and a possible compromise considered.

“Since we started to raise our voice we have begun to gain wider support and this is heartening. This will only make a difference if people act when the plan is issued.”

Click here for the Facebook page of the Save Old Farm Lagoon Allotments.

Click here for page about North Moors allotments project on Guildford Borough Council’s website.

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Responses to Bellfields Plot-holders Step Up Campaign To Save Their Allotments

  1. Sarah Bass Reply

    March 8, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    Thank you Guildford Dragon NEWS for publishing our story.

    We are so proud of our allotment community for coming together and raising their voices.

    The contribution from our plot holders has been amazing and their support has been truly humbling.

    Despite all the negative activity around the process of our eviction from our plots they have continued to come together, tidy and cultivated their plots and prepare for this growing season. There are even new tenants on plots.

    If you could support the Facebook page. Like, comment and share posts Our reach is over 20,000 with over 200 followers which is amazing. We would love to see your own pictures and comments about what it means to have your own plot and grow your own. Please tag #savebellfieldsallotments wherever you can

    Visit Wally’s shop Open Sundays 10am to noon where there is information about activity happening in support of our site.

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