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Redbridge Allotments Saved
THE BATTLE TO SAVE REDBRIDGE ALLOTMENTS – A VICTORY STORY
The text below is an extract from the NSALG (National Society for Allotment & Leisure Gardeners) magazine covering the struggle of Allotment tenants vs their local Council. It sounds horribly familiar to those associated with the Aldershot Road campaign. Luckily for the Redbridge folk, it ended well – a link to the NSALG article including photos is at the foot of this page.
For Redbridge, it all kicked off c.2007 and they’ve had a much quicker resolution than us here in Guildford
And WBDRA is pleased to have helped support their initial petition & to respond with what advice we could.
See also the related item in the Library “Scandal of our Allotments
IT COULDN'T HAPPEN HERE?
"You might not believe that at a time of rising demand for allotments a Council would try to sell two flourishing allotment sites. But that's what Seven Kings and Goodmayes Allotment Society faced in a long and hard battle to save sites from threat of sale by the Conservative controlled London Borough of Redbridge. Like many other allotment societies we lost members from a peak in the mid- 1970s to a low in 1999. Yet over the past ten years our efforts succeeded in gaining members, successfully bringing many empty plots back into cultivation. Though we still had uncultivated plots on our sites the threat came out of the blue - our Vicarage Lane South site was 100% occupied and Goodmayes was substantially let.
There were warning signs. In late 2006 Goodmayes was visited by the Council Cabinet member for Leisure with senior officers, the first visit from a councillor anyone could remember. We had a hint, no more, from an officer that we should be "very concerned". But we also heard that the Council was to start consultation on an Allotments Strategy - a welcome development given that some allotments had been previously neglected.
Secrecy rules In one of the most disturbing examples of secrecy by a local authority a tip off from a friendly Labour councillor revealed Council Cabinet had met and decided to sell the two sites. The public weren't admitted, allotment sales were not on the public agenda and elected councillors were forbidden to talk about items for discussion. But according to the Leader of the Council this wasn't secret! 'Double speak' came to Redbridge.
Ironically, after this decision had been made the Council announced it would consult on the Allotment Strategy. It spent £4000 on consultants to send out and analyse a questionnaire but as we found via a Freedom of Information Act request not one reply favoured selling allotments. The Council held a public consultation event. As one allotment member put it "the food was scrumptious" but allotment holders repeatedly pointed out it was a mockery of consultation when decisions had already been made. It was obvious the Council would face a hard fight to sell allotments.
More bizarre, the Council's own direct let sites include several almost completely empty. Not one was suggested for sale. Sites chosen for sale were those run by voluntary allotment societies, which had better road access, were outside Green Belt and easier to sell to developers. The only Councildirect let site, the fully let Chigwell Road, was dropped from sale plans after the convenient discovery that it was on a flood plain, which just happened to follow a stormy meeting attended by local residents.
As a committee we met and agreed plans of action. We alerted our members who protested to councillors. Our chair wrote to all councillors - few replied. We picketed Council meetings, supported by members of the local Labour Party and concerned residents worried about loss of open space and over development in a heavily built up area. We arranged for members to speak and ask questions at Cabinet and Council meetings. Yet our protests fell on some very deaf ears. Early in the campaign one plot holder told me "I've been made redundant three times in my life and I don't see how you can fight this one". Thankfully, we were to prove him wrong. "Even now it is hard to explain why councillors chose to carry on a fight they couldn't win."
"We had a hint, no more, from an officer that we should be 'very concerned' . "
Help from the North Along came the equivalent of the US Cavalry in a John Ford film. Our colleagues in North Hainault Allotment Holders Society had also been threatened with the loss of two of their sites. Unfortunately the then society leadership was caught napping and failed to alert their members. Thankfully, protests by members brought others in who were more dynamic in fighting sales. They used the most effective tactic of all, mobilising members en masse to go to the solidly Conservative Area Committee meetings. Perhaps mob handed is too strong a term but it was effective in securing a split in the Conservative ranks. They also lobbied their Conservative MP who was clearly concerned by his constituent's fears and possible loss of votes in a marginal constituency.
In fairness to the Conservatives, some councillors genuinely supported allotments and others were concerned about excess development. We received strong support from a former deputy Leader of the Conservative Group.
At a Council meeting in February 2007 a Labour reference back to Cabinet of sale plans was narrowly agreed, several Conservatives abstaining. The billboard for the IIford Recorder summed it up "Allotment Sales split Tories".
Stories and editorials in the IIford Recorder were equally supportive as were reports in other local papers. We received coverage on BBC London news and Radio Essex, plus articles in the Sunday Express and Evening Standard, the most media coverage anyone could recall. Indeed, members became almost blasé about requests for press photo opportunities!
Members arranged an open day and two Allotment Garden Festivals on the threatened sites. These were very popular, attracting 400 and over 1000 visitors respectively. We found that despite much press publicity many local residents were unaware and shocked to hear of plans to sell allotments.
Tragedy and Farce
If the threat to allotments was tragic there was a farcical side. Leisure Scrutiny committee was supposed to examine objectively the case for selling sites. This ended in chaos with voting on party lines and the Chair of the Committee was reportedly briefed by (male) officers in the ladies toilet, the only place where they could discuss unobserved.
Conservatives seek a way out
With splits in their ranks the Council solution was to have an all-party committee looking at capital funding. They agreed to hold a public "conversation" about land sales to fund future developments. This was largely Internet based voting on selling various parcels of land owned by the Council. Anyone with '0' level Statistics knows self-selected samples are not valid, but this didn't stop the Council promoting it as a major piece of public participation. It was open to manipulation and there was evidence that schools with building plans as well as developers encouraged voting en bloc to sell non-school sites.
Despite this the "conversation" voting was narrowly against selling allotments, enough to persuade councillors this was not a good idea. In October 2008, nearly two years after the saga began, Cabinet agreed not to sell allotments. The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners helped us. They advised us early on to keep a record of all that was said and done by the Council and advised on legal points. Had sale plans gone to the Secretary of State they would have given powerful evidence to support us. So we were pleased we'd rejoined the NSALG after several years gap.
Eventually we won our case, but it was demanding, and a strain on Society officers and many members who were worried about threats to their carefully cultivated plots. Looking back we did some things well and others not so well. I hope no other Society has to face such threats but there are some lessons for other societies: · Nothing is absolutely safe! Even full sites can be threatened. Unfortunately we had empty plots on other sites that could have been used to take displaced members. So keep your sites full if possible. · Act on early information - if there is a rumour ask for an official denial. Go to the press early. We didn't. · Try to identify political levers - are there council or government policies that support allotments? ……………………"
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Page Last Updated - 29/01/2016