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Opinion: Allotment Holders Rights Must Be Balanced With the Need for Affordable Houses

Published on: 24 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 25 Feb, 2021

Cllr John Rigg

By Cllr John Rigg

I would not want the readers of the Dragon to gain a wrong impression about the proposed allotment relocation at Weyside and this council’s unhesitating support for allotments across the borough.

Guildford Borough Council has a proud history of supporting allotments and allotment holders. We have 16 sites and more than 800 plots, and they all occupy valuable sites.

We subsidise the Guildford Allotment Society every year yet this is the first occasion we can recollect where we have requested some allotment holders to relocate to a new location nearby. We are actually also excited about improving and extending this provision in coming years.

But, while we do wish to help the 86 allotment holders at Bellfields by relocating their plots nearby, readers will understand that, as a council, we also have an obligation to deliver new and affordable homes for families.

The allotments at Bellfields.

Weyside Urban Village is a perfect opportunity to realise those ambitions, and this riverside site is ideally placed to deliver these proposals. The council housing list has more than 2,600 families waiting for various accommodation within the borough and this need will only grow as the true long-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are realised.

While we do support and, in fact, finance the Guildford Allotment Society (GAS) we are also mindful of the 1,500 families this scheme can accommodate by relocating our own council depot, the sewage treatment works and the SCC dump as well as some allotments which occupy a part of this site.

The need to relocate is not new to this allotment group. The development has been in the pipeline for more than 18 years and has been subject to extensive consultation both through the Local Plan process and more recently with our engagement with allotment holders and GAS.

This included three dedicated consultation days, five allotment-focused newsletters, as well as the seven public exhibitions held over Summer 2020 where we spoke with more than 700 residents about the wider Weyside Urban Village (WUV) project.

To deliver WUV and the much-needed homes Guildford requires, a relocation either partially or in full is required to allow us to proceed.

We appreciate the strong attachment allotments bring and the work allotment-holders have invested, and therefore the quality of facilities and growing soils are important to get right. The new allotment site at North Moors and the extension of the Aldershot Road site are less than a mile from Bellfields Road, and in many cases are closer to where many of the Bellfields Road allotment-holders live.

The new sites, designed principally by GAS, are soon to have construction started, ensuring they are delivered in plenty of time for a calm relocation programme. They have been designed with all their requirements at heart, including new meeting rooms, toilets, greater parking ratios and new soil enhancement to provide tenants with the quality required.

The new allotments will be delivered in their entirety, meaning the only work for tenants is the actual move and the council will provide help with this too.

The consultation on the allotment relocation is important and the response from the tenants is invaluable. For more than 12 months preceding the Secretary of State’s decision, the Weyside team held almost weekly meetings with GAS to truly understand the requirements of the tenants.

Meetings of GBC and GAS have been held monthly since 2004 and the allotment relocation formed part of the discussion regularly. The Weyside team were unable to know the allotment-holder names or contact them directly due to GAS’s stated data protection issue so all consultation had to be done through GAS only, at their request.

Under present legislation, relocating allotments is challenging. Following objections by, we believe, three correspondents, the Secretary of State withheld permission for the relocation of the allotments which we admit has created costly delays.

But after GAS resolving their data protection issue and allowing us access to allotment-holders we can now communicate directly with all those listed, using the council’s Community Wellbeing Team, to fully understand each holder’s specific needs.

This requires completion of the questionnaire via post, email or on the telephone and is essential to inform the quantum of plots to be retained at Bellfields Road We will continue to engage with GAS, the National Allotment Society and allotment-holders when the results of the consultation are received and have been evaluated. Only then can a true understanding of their requirements be established.

I hope the allotment-holders and the wider community can see huge time resources and costs are being applied to help allotment-holders move nearby and this is only to provide new homes for the families this wonderful site can accommodate.

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