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Opinion: Council’s Failings Were Reason Behind Allotments Campaigners’ Victory

Published on: 3 Sep, 2020
Updated on: 5 Sep, 2020

Following our stories Secretary Of States Rules In Favour Of Growers In Battle To Keep Allotments and in response to Bellfields Allotments Decision ‘May Have Major Implications On Plans For Weyside Urban Village’ Say Council, the spokesperson for the Save Bellfields Allotments campaign, Alastair Watson, responds…

The allotments at Bellfields.

I must own up to a slight feeling of schadenfreude reading the hysterical comments made following the decision by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, on his refusal to accept the request made by Guildford Borough Council (GBC) for the disposal of the Bellfields Allotments. I would like to make some observations.

The Bellfields site is eight acres (a bit over three hectares). The total area of the proposed Weyside Urban Village (WUV) is around 100 acres (41 hectares).  The proposed 1,500 homes implies a density of 15 homes per acre but the claim is that the removal of the three-acre Bellfields site would result in the loss of 200 homes, implying a density of 25 per acre. The claim is also that the site is for essential infrastructure but, under the guidelines, “housing” is not infrastructure.

The Secretary of State was guided by policy and criteria relevant to the disposal of statutory allotment land as governed by UK law. His decision was that the submission by GBC (Section 8 of the Allotment Act 1925 revision) failed to meet the policy and two of the criteria. So it is nonsense to put forward an argument that this decision was only the result of actions by tenants of Bellfields Allotments, although our objections were clearly considered in the Secretary of State’s judgement.

The Local Plan, of which WUV is a part, was developed over either 14 years or 18 years and involved huge expense, funded by Guildford residents. It involved not only highly paid professionals, directly employed, but also consultants. This latterly included specialist communication companies to promulgate the messages from GBC. Allegedly this was “defeated” by a collection of “gardeners” with no resources, in six months.

Throughout much has been made of “consultation” and “discussions” with residents and tenants. The “consultations” were actually presentations of decisions already made. The “discussions”, particularly with the Guildford Allotments Society (GAS) were against a fait accompli, and non-negotiable where the volunteer officers were forced to obtain the optimum outcome they could for the totality of allotments in the borough. They did an outstanding job to make the best of an impossible task.

The development group at GBC were advised by GAS that their submission (delivered two months late) did not meet policy or criteria guidelines. The “Save Bellfields Allotments” campaign pointed out that the proposals from GBC were unacceptable and probably did not meet policy and criteria. Most importantly the advice from the National Allotments Society (NAS), given in November, warned that the submission probably did not meet policy or criteria.

NAS is the advisory body to the government on allotment matters for England, established for 90 years. The patron is the Prince of Wales. The advisor was their chief operating officer, a solicitor who has spent her working life dealing with legal issues relating to agricultural and allotment land governed by UK Law. She is probably one of the leading authorities on allotment law in the country. All this advice was ignored by GBC.

So was the “grand plan” derailed by some scruffy gardeners on their tawdry site? No, the plan was derailed because of the inept management by GBC and its unwillingness to listen.

The comments made in The Guildford Dragon News implying that allotments in Guildford will be penalised in the future as a result are shameful. Local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide and manage allotments. To threaten them is incompatible with that requirement.

The Save Bellfields Allotments folk had the temerity to exercise their rights under the law to protest against duress from those in authority.

Nothing new there. As Gerard Winstanley, founder of the True Levellers said in 1649 “Was the earth made to preserve a few covetous, proud men to live at ease; or was it made to preserve all of her children?”

Allotment holders want security of tenure. GAS wants a return to the excellent open working relationship between the society and GBC. The development group need to progress essential house building. Perhaps discussion without entrenched positions could provide a way forward?

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test 2 Responses to Opinion: Council’s Failings Were Reason Behind Allotments Campaigners’ Victory

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 3, 2020 at 4:13 pm

    It is sad that this is not the first monumental failure of the present and previous regime at GBC to truly listen to residents. Maybe they will now understand that “consultation” is not merely a sham, box-ticking exercise. The 80,000 objections to the local plan were totally ignored, although most were well-founded arguments, cogently presented.

    Now is the time to go back to the drawing board, and challenge the legacy of the now practically extinct Tories, and so assiduously followed by the current Lib Dems.

  2. Winifred Paine Reply

    September 3, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    Why am I not surprised that GBC acted this way. Good luck to the allotment holders.

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