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TALKS GIVEN TO LOCAL GROUPS

 MAY 2013

 

WBDRA CHAIR ADDRESS TO THE GUILDFORD ALLOTMENT SOCIETY AGM

Aldershot Road Allotment Site

I just want to take few minutes of your time to explain - or in some cases remind you - what this housing business on the Aldershot Rd site is all about.

First a little bit of history. This site is approximately 7 acres in area and has been used as Allotments since way back in the early 20th century & possibly before that. Certainly some of us have met very ancient Gardeners in the recent years – some have now gone to that great Allotment Plot above - who could remember allotments in the early 1900s and some of the old cinder paths from that time are still there.

From personal experience, we moved to Guildford in the mid-80s and the site was fully let. Some people even had livestock on there, there were even horses on there which you could feed near the Woodside Road Gate. A local farmer in Wood St learnt his farming craft on there – raising pigs & chickens.

But sadly Allotmenting went out of fashion nationally and by the mid-late 90s, the AR site was looking in pretty poor shape. The old Allotment Society which ran the site at that time seemed not to care too much & let it go to rack & ruin. Lots of overgrown plots, no-one being encouraged to take up a plot, vandalism & theft was rife.

In 2000, GBC appointed a new Community Worker who in the course of her good works found out that GBC had plans to build on the entire site – that’s the whole 7 acres.

Plotholders were stunned by that and some decided to band together to tidy up the site themselves and attempt to reverse the process of dereliction and blighting.

At that time there were discussions with Councillors, the then MP (Sue Doughty) and in 2001 those Volunteer plot-holders had a meet scheduled with the then Head of Parks @ GBC who had agreed to the discuss self-management of the site. Sadly he reneged on that promise.

The decision to build on the whole site then seemed to be quietly dropped and that Community Worker eventually lost her job shortly afterwards.

A year or so later one of our local councillors told local Broadacres  residents - who were totally unaware of all the dealings I’ve just skimmed over - that the Council had a plan to build Houses on the site and the penny dropped – 2 acres of Allotment land had gradually been taken out of cultivation and without any public consultation.

The Councils 2003 Local Plan document said Planning permission will be granted for Housing on the 2 acre part. And we later discovered that this development was to comprise of 45/50 houses with roadway access likely to come through Oakfields or Broadacres – for local residents a nightmare scenario!

I won’t dwell on the sense of outrage many local residents felt at how this had been handled by the Council.

An organisation called WASHA was formed in 2003 - all plot holders and volunteers - whose main aim was to continue to reverse the process of on-site neglect and dereliction started by the earlier volunteers. Which they were pretty successful at – despite the efforts of the old Allotment Society to thwart them - and a couple of years later, the site looked pretty good with a high rate of occupancy.

And to add weight to the anti-Housing Development lobby, local residents with the help of CPRE and other RAs, set up a Residents Association to do just that. This is known as WBDRA.

I should also tell you that this Allotment site is the only site in Guildford with a Self Help Group and a Mentoring project for new/inexperienced gardeners plus we have a plot run by one of the local schools. WASHA actually won a National Lottery grant to help set all that up.

The Council Planners told us that House building would start in 2006 – well I’m pleased to say it’s 2013 and no houses yet!

And apart from several hundred local residents, there is the support of several local elected representatives, the local Parish Council, most of the Residents Associations across Guildford – and of course the local & national press love a story about Houses being built on Allotment land – there have been a few published about Aldershot Road!

So the campaign locally and for GAS is about getting the whole site back for Allotments & Open Space.

GBC held their one and only proper Public Consultation on such issues in 2008, and GBC received a massive thumbs down for Housing on the site. Normally responses to such consultations struggle to exceed a dozen or so. The Aldershot Road item had over 260 saying Yes to Allotments and not 1 vote recorded in favour of the Housing option. 

There is a sizeable waiting list for Allotments in Guildford, it varies annually between 40 & 60 on the official waiting list to get a plot on the Aldershot Road site (and a lot more locally not on the official list, our guesstimate about another 50). Many local people have to travel to Bellfields just to have an allotment!

And don’t forget Bellfields is threatened with closure and development as part of the Slyfield Regeneration plan when that comes live again.

There are 39 plots on Aldershot Road that are currently doing nothing and have been fallow for some years because of the threat of Housing.

Local people can’t understand why the land is vacant and why they can’t get a local allotment plot.

What’s more we keep pointing out the unsuitability of the land for Housing. It’s a steep gradient something approaching 30 degrees from bottom to top. It is heavy clay which sits on sand which sits on chalk with natural waterways. If you tamper with that geology, you’ve got massive landslip/subsidence issues to look at, the deep piling needed for stable house building would damage Guildford’s main reservoir and the good folk of Oakfields would also have to contend with massive water run-off flooding their gardens and garages!

With help of CPRE, the local Residents Association has identified another site nearby – brownfield land available in about 18 months – it’s flat, has roadway access and easily connectable to mains services - an ideal alternative site for housing. CPRE are with us on that one and we hope our local councillors will be too. We don’t have to be continually negative – here is a constructive positive solution solving the extra housing issue and the re-leasing of those 39 plots for allotment use.

Summing it all up it beggars reasonable belief that the GBC Planners still persist in wanting to let this land go to Housing.

So what next?

WASHA & local volunteers have been ready to go and get those vacant plots back into cultivation for some time – we only need the Council to grant the lease for those plots to GAS and we’re ready to go – ready to grow even!

Over the next 3-4 months GBC will be asking the public for their views on certain plots of land identified as possible development sites – this is part of their work for the 2013 Local Development Framework which becomes the Local Plan for the next 10 years. If anyone took part in the 2008 consultation all this required you to do was to fill in a simple form and send it back to GBC. We understand this years’ consultation will be pretty similar.

We want as many plot holders from every site and as many local householders to say to GBC ONCE MORE NO to Housing and YES to return the site to Allotments & Open Space.

When the time comes we hope we can count on your support for this campaign. The local Residents Association will ensure GAS members & plotholders have the paperwork and know what to do with it.

It will take 5 minutes of your time to deal with – and from the plot-holders viewpoint - it will be the best 5 minutes you have ever invested in Allotment Gardening!

In closing - Let’s save this site for future generations to enjoy!

Thank you all.

Any Questions?

 


WBDRA CHAIR ADDRESS TO THE WASHA AGM 

Aldershot Road Allotments

 

I just want to take few minutes of your time to explain or some cases remind you what this housing business on the Aldershot Rd site is all about.

Over a third of Aldershot Road Allotment site has been taken out of cultivation - that is plots were stopped being let and the site neglected - a process that GBC began way back in 1997.

I don’t want to spend time bashing GBC this evening but simply to say that the way this major part of the site was taken out of cultivation and the way in which a decision was taken to approve house building was taken did not it endear the Council or their Planning Dept to many hundreds of people in the Aldershot Road and Broadacres area
Put very simply none of the local residents want housing there, a good number want an allotment plot there and several people that do live in the area were obliged to take a plot on Bellfields as the waiting list for Aldershot Road was way too long and at one time closed.

You might have read about the sale of GBC land in Boxgrove Avenue this week – a strip land leased by several houses at the bottom of their gardens. Leader of the Council said land of limited value to us so we’ve sold it! Well the same could happen to our Allotment Site – very easily!!!

You also need to know that GBC told us that Housing would happen in 2006 – well we kicked up one hell of a public stink about that and here we are 7 years later - no Housing yet. So we’ve managed to fend it off so far.

So the campaign is really about getting the whole site back for Allotments & Open Space and following GBCs one and only proper Public Consultation in 2008, GBC received a massive thumbs down for Housing on the site.

If you live within a reasonable radius of the site you can appreciate what the loss of over 2 acres of Green Space to Housing will mean. It is one of the very few open spaces left in the whole of this part of town. If you live in Broadacres or Oakfields you will face the prospect of all the cars/traffic coming through one of your roads as there is no viable roadway access possible at the top end of the Allotment site into Woodside Road or into Westway. And that would be the traffic from a possible 45 – 50 houses. No-one wants this.

So the fight goes on.

There is a huge waiting list for Allotments in Guildford, at last count we have about 50 people on the official waiting list to get a plot on the Aldershot Road site (and a lot more locally not on the official list, our guesstimate about another 50) – many local people have to travel to Bellfields just to have an allotment! And Bellfields is threatened with closure and development as part of the Slyfield Regeneration plan.

There are 38/39 plots on Aldershot Road that are currently doing nothing because of the threat of Housing.

Since our last public meet 12 months ago the upshot is that nothing tangible has happened at all. Again we ask is that a bad thing or is that a good thing?

The good thing is that as nothing has happened (that we’re aware of) then the site remains safe for the foreseeable future – at least until 2014.

The bad thing is GBC have proved extremely slippery on issues like these and it is nigh on impossible to get a coherent & definitive answer on about anything that’s remotely sensitive or controversial – which just generates an air of mistrust.

However the new Council Leader and his deputy said they were keen to talk to & consult with organisations like us – we’ve approached them, spent a morning with them on site but nothing much has happened.  Other than Cllr Juneja saying rather blandly it would be good to hear what local people now think.

But the good news is nothing will happen on site until 2014 (we think), the bad news is we now face another Public Consultation.  And already GBC have wriggled over this! They told us earlier in the year that if we wanted the 2003 Policy about Aldershot Rd housing dropped from the new 2013 Local Plan, we should write in & tell them and so it needn’t go forward. Well dozens of folk wrote in - GBC Planners got rattled and the policy for Allotment Site Housing still stands.

What has WASHA done since? We’ve been busy with the local Residents Association generally gathering support and we’ve joined forces with all the other Residents Assocs in Guildford – this represents a lot of people and it seems that most of the other RAs agree with our case.

We have identified another site nearby – brownfield land available in about 18 months – it’s flat, has roadway access and easily connectable to mains services - an ideal alternative for housing. CPRE are with us on that one and we hope our local councillors will be too.

What’s more we keep pointing the unsuitability of the land for Housing. It’s a steep gradient something approaching 30 degrees from bottom to top. It is heavy clay which sits on sand which sits on chalk with natural waterways. If you tamper with that geology, you’ve got massive landslip/subsidence issues to look at, the deep piling needed would damage Guildford’s main reservoir and the good folk of Oakfields will have contend with massive water run-off flooding their gardens and garages!

Summing it all up it beggars reasonable belief that the GBC Planners still persist in wanting to let this land go to Housing.

So what can we all do together?

Over the next 3-4 months GBC will be asking the public for their views. If you remember the 2008 consultation all this required you to do was to fill in a simple form and send it back to GBC. We understand this years’ consultation will be pretty similar.

We want every plot holder and every local householder to say to GBC ONCE MORE NO to Housing.

When the time comes we hope we can count on your support for this campaign.  We will make sure you have the paperwork and know what to do with it.

It will take 5 minutes of your time to deal with – and it will be the best 5 minutes you have ever invested in the place where you live.

Keep an eye on the Allotment Site notice boards AND please make sure before you leave that we have your e-mail address or home address so that we can contact you when the time comes.

Thank you all.

 


 




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