Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Loss of Allotments Officer


HARPERS LANE ALLOTMENTS RESPONSE TO THE PROPOSED LOSS OF THE HORTICULTURAL (ALLOTMENTS) OFFICER

As part of its plans to make Budgetary Savings Bolton Council has proposed two measures (at least) which impact on plot-holders.

The first is to ‘balance’ the Allotments Budget. This means that the only monies available for the maintenance and management of allotments and allotment sites in Bolton will be that which is raised as rents from plot-holders (i.e. there will be NO Council subsidy – since about three years ago the subsidy was approaching £120,000 p.a., this shows clearly how funding for allotments has been cut). Effectively the amount raised by rents is just sufficient to pay the charges on the authority for water and toilets on sites. A substantial element of this is the provision of portable toilets on some sites during the summer months. We understand that initiatives to save money by replacing these with composting toilets (for which grants were available) have previously been blocked by elected members. The result is that there is no money for routine maintenance etc. and the only work which can be attempted will be in cases where Health and Safety issues are involved. 

The second measure is to remove the post of Horticultural (Allotments) Officer. So far as we are aware no proposal has (as yet) been provided by the Council as to how Site Secretaries (in particular) and existing and aspiring plot-holders in general will communicate with the Council on key issues such as Permissions to Erect Structures, Permissions to keep Livestock, Matters relating to water and toilet supplies. Mal-cultivation Notices and Notices to Quit, Maintaining the Waiting List and registering new tenancies – the list is very long. Unless some mechanism is proposed and resourced by the Council then we are heading for chaos.

The present attitude of the Council is not practicable since it does not provide any long term structure through which allotments may be provided and managed.

Effectively we believe that the Council has to choose between three models of management / provision for allotments in Bolton.

TRUE SELF-MANAGEMENT – Site Societies are granted long leases and a contract to operate their sites. They would then set their own rents (based on what services they wished to provide), collect their own rents and pay their own bills (e.g. for water) and make their own decisions. There are issues here about the transfer of responsibility for the ‘infrastructure’ (drainage, fencing, site roads etc.).

PROPER COUNCIL MANAGEMENT – a return to a ‘golden age’ with a dedicated Allotments Officer with the resources to provide a proper management, maintenance and improvement service to the allotment sites. Given the statements on Council funding by e.g. Malcolm Russell, such a situation would almost certainly require a significant rise in rents (similar in effect to the measures proposed and defeated a few years ago).

TRANSFER – It would be possible for the Council to transfer ownership / management of the allotments sites to private sector or other commercial organisations. Similarly the Community Assets and Community Right to Bid legislation provides an opportunity for appropriate community organisations to take over the ownership / lease / management of Council-owned sites. We have had contacts with Blackpool and Leeds Allotments Federations and have received information on how this is working / might work in a number of other areas. While this could provide new opportunities it also provides serious threats.

a)      Allotments could be transferred to a private sector organisation – Blackpool cited an example of transfer to a firm with extensive building interests. Following transfer the allotments were then run down to the state where the operator could claim that there was no interest, and the land was released for housing development. We should resist such a solution (‘privatisation’) at all costs.

b)      Management could be transferred to a 3rd Sector Trust – Leeds Federation has looked at a number of trusts and feels that such Trusts would not see the promotion of allotments (as we traditionally view them) as their primary objective. Any attempt to move management to a Trust needs very careful scrutiny of that Trusts objectives and resources.

c)       Transfer to a collective formed by the Allotment Sites in the area - in Bolton this might mean that Management would be vested in a (reconstituted) Association of Bolton Allotment Societies along the model adopted between Blackpool Council and the Blackpool Allotments Federation. We think this would be better than single site self-management because larger, stronger sites can support smaller, weaker ones etc. Interestingly the Blackpool Federation refused to move to this situation until they were assured that all matters relating to the incumbent Allotments Officer had been resolved.

 

As an Allotments Society, Harpers Lane Allotments believe that in the medium to long term collective self-management offers the best way forward. Failing that we would pursue our current aim to become self-managing as a stand-alone site.

We further believe that in the short term until such time as the Council puts forward clear, resourced and workable proposals for liaison and effective decision-making between Site Secretaries and Council Officers the post of Horticultural (Allotments) Officer must remain.

 

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