The Independent London Newspaper
24th May 2017

The right to peace and harmony on the allotments is under threat

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    John Sadler

    Published: 5 January, 2017

    • WITH regard to the Fitzroy Park allotment site, for the past 18 months Camden Council has been transferring this green space into the care of a management agency. 

    Two choices were given to the allotment committee. First, to have a private company become the management agency or second, for the committee to become the management agency itself.

    This ultimatum was not met with any particularly militant opposition by the majority of plot-holders. There was a sense by many that self-­management would be a good idea, particularly by those who have been active in promoting community schemes and a greater profile within the local neighbourhood. 

    A greatly reduced proportion of plot holders (and I include myself in this group) identified with the baseline right to garden in peace and harmony within council control, to ensure equality and a fair hearing in the event of any discontent. Never has there been a time, in all my years as a plot-holder, where inhouse fighting, power struggles, over-the-shoulder gossip, factions created and general ill-will proliferated against those who do not conform to some notion of good gardening. The signs are that this self-management will pitch people against each other as a certain section, the power brokers of the new management committee seek to make their mark and demand those around conform to their ideas.

    This is not simply delusioned fears but is based on increasing evidence, ever since the council decided to sell us down the river. 

    I do not wish to imply that there were never any problems on site, but a committee, without an agenda, was the first port of call and, if it was not resolved, then on to the council. I cannot see that a management committee cannot itself be continually blighted by problems as the strong personality fights to get his or her way. And we have a few of those at Fitzroy. As an example, I will just say that some plot-holders are liked more than others, some resent the way others garden, when they garden, how often and in what “style”. Personally I’ve always seen Fitzroy as a community of different people celebrating the common act of gardening… however this may be. Making fair decisions is a remit of the council based on objective fact (for example, non-payment of rent) and not on vendettas etc.

    This is the first thread of an argument against the council relieving itself of direct control in the name of budget-slashing. 

    Yet it is to an even more worrying concern that I turn and is with regard to the new tenancy agreement that has been offered to be signed as part of the change around. In some of the initial meetings Camden refused to entertain the belief that by chang­ing the old tenancy agree­ment it would be easier legally to change the status of the land as a green space for allotment use. It is a little unclear what the statute states as no one has ever seen a copy. At one meeting, when asked whether the land was protected in its use as an allotment site, a councillor insisted that the solicitors said it was, although he could not furnish any of the paperwork the solicitors had seen to make their promise so certain. And no statement has been given on paper that the Fitzroy site could ever be retracted from its use today. Instead the new tenancy agreement includes a fresh clause regarding termination which in no uncertain terms states that the council can terminate the site if it is needed for building… or for roads or sewers. 

    Put all three together and you have the makings of an estate with all service provisions catered for. It is incredible, when I have asked various committee members why this clause has been put in, to be met with a blank look and told only that the council has demanded it be written so.

    The idea that we are to trust Camden Council’s long-term intentions is foolhardy. We have only been given a verbal promise of sorts by the officer of parks and green spaces whose post will terminate soon after self-management is put into effect. Central government has all but given the go-ahead to strip the last remaining public services, resources and silver away so that councils can meet budget. 

    Fitzroy must seem an attractive asset to strip. Its sale could keep the council running for two years. But what then? What do we have left?

    Expensive private agencies are brought in to provide services that, in turn, leach out more and more of our public wealth as council struggles to pay them. One can be certain that the Fitzroy sale will not happen in the next 12 months. That would be too brazen. But in five years, in 10, perhaps, around about the time when my son may express a desire to take on a plot… we may find none left. The green cupboard bare.

    I am being urged by council and committee alike to sign the new tenancy agreement. I am perhaps the last plot-holder not to do so.

    TIM COLE 
    Agincourt Road, NW3

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