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Civic Trust public meeting on allotments

On Thursday, 25th February 2010, a public meeting was held in the Town Hall, Hebden Bridge, to discuss various aspects of allotment availability, ownership and management in Hebden Royd.

The meeting was called by the Calder Civic Trust and chaired by Gwen Goddard who started the meeting by explaining that this was the second in a series of public meetings to enable the local community to discuss and explore issues of common interest. The first public meeting, held on 19th November 2009, had been on the subject of tourism in Hebden Bridge and was well attended. There were three speakers.

Cllr Chris Sawer, Chair of Hebden Royd Town Council’s Allotments Committee, explained that Hebden Royd Town Council has a duty under the 1908 Small Holdings and Allotments Act to provide allotments where there is a need. This duty lies with Town Council and not Calderdale MBC. However, this duty does not include responsibility for existing allotments, which are managed by whoever owns the land. Hebden Royd Town Council fulfils this duty in three ways:

  1. logistical and financial support for existing allotment organisations;
  2. working with an organisation/landowner to develop and allotment;
  3. developing its own allotments, where the landowner’s agreement can be obtained.

Hebden Royd Town Council is currently involved in three allotment projects:

  1. Red Acre, Mytholmroyd - This proposed new site next to the canal, owned by Calderdale MBC and British Waterways, is being developed by the Red Acre Allotments Group. The Town Council is providing financial and logistical support to the Group, for example £1,000 for soil samples.
  2. Mytholm Meadows, Hebden Bridge - This proposed new site, owned by Pennine Housing 2000, is in the early stages of development. The Town Council and Alternative Technology Centre are working with Pennine Housing and have got an agreement in principle. These allotments will hopefully include raised beds which are more easily accessible for people with disabilities. It has been requested that these be ‘smart’ allotments.
  3. Sandy Gate, Hebden Bridge - This proposed new site, between Sandy Gate and Dodnaze, is owned by Calderdale MBC and the Town Council has gained provisional agreement that it can develop the site as allotments. When consulted, nearby residents gave a mixed reaction, citing concerns about traffic, overlooking, spoilt views and the pollution of the watercourse. Calderdale MBC’s Highways Department has given agreement in principle for parking on the site. Planning permission will be needed as this is a green field site. A horticultural consultant has provided a report advising what needs to be done to set up the allotments.

Cllr Sawer finished his talk by stating that whilst the £7,500 in the Hebden Royd Town Council's budget for allotments this year was much more than last year (£500), it wasn’t enough to buy land. The three sites above would be ready by 2011 at the earliest.

Mark Simmonds set up an allotment on private land owned by the Heptonstall Bowling Club. Mark had attended the packed meeting at Riverside School, called by the Town Council back in January 2007 and saw there was a great need for allotments, but realised they were not going to come to fruition quickly, so in 2009 he organised a public meeting in Heptonstall to gain expressions of interest in setting up allotments in Heptonstall. He then approached Heptonstall Bowling Club and obtained their agreement in rent their land for allotments.

As there were more people requesting allotments than there was land available for rent on Bowling Club land, he approached landowners in the area, but they were all unwilling to allow their land to be used for allotments, citing the reason as spoiling the view. The issues of supply and demand were solved by the Bowling Club offering more land and accommodating all those wanting allotments by offering half size and quarter size plots.

Plot sizes are measured in rods, an old Anglo-Saxon unit so-called because it was the length of the rod used to control a team of eight oxen. The size of a standard allotment is 10 rods. A 10 rod allotment is actually 10 square rods in area, that is 10 x 5.5 x 5.5 = 302.5 sq yards (253 sq metres). This is a rather large area and can be rather daunting/time consuming, particularly for a new allotmenteer, so smaller allotments are often preferable to full-size allotments.

The Heptonstall Parish Council was very helpful in terms of advice and support, but it was unable to run the allotments. So the allotmenteers formed an unincorporated association based on a constitution downloaded from the internet. In retrospect, Mark thought that a constitution drawn up from scratch by its members would have been better because it would ensure that all members fully bought into the rules and regulations they adopted. It is important to have a constitution, rules and regulations set out from the beginning so that they can be referred to as and when issues arise, as they surely will.

Each allotment member pays £80 per annum to rent an allotment, which includes membership of the Bowling Club. This is a good source of income for the Bowling Green. The group joined the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardens because of the benefits of cheap insurance and legal advice (eg setting up a tenancy agreement with the Bowling Club and also individual tenancy agreements for each allotmenteer). Two separate funding applications for £500 and £1000 each were successfully obtained, the latter being to harvest water from the Bowling Club’s roof. Mark has found that the setting up of these allotments has brought members of the community together. They are about to work with Heptonstall Junior Infant and Nursery School on a potato growing project.

Kerry McQuade, allotmenteer at Birchcliffe Allotments and former gardening correspondent for the Hebden Bridge Times, spoke about her enthusiasm for allotments and passion for growing both vegetables and flowers on her allotment. She was originally on a waiting list to get onto a waiting list to get an allotment and eventually got an allotment at Birchcliffe. The Birchcliffe Allotments were originally set up with a Sports Grant from Calderdale Council and the constitution states that if the allotment association is disbanded, the allotments would go back to Calderdale Council but must continue to be used as allotments. She enjoyed gardening as part of a community of gardeners, including their children.

There then followed a period of general discussion during which it became apparent that whilst good work was being done to create and manage allotments, there was no central point of information, co-ordination of waiting lists or action taken to ensure that allotments are actually being used or passed on to the next person on the waiting list. Other points made included:

  • A resident near the allotments at the back of Albert Street in Mytholmroyd said that some of these were not being used and as a result had become a dumping ground for rubbish.
  • If someone has to pay a reasonable sum to rent an allotment, they are more likely to use it rather than let it become overgrown.
  • Half and quarter size allotments would ensure more people could get growing more quickly and would be more able to keep on top of the work involved in growing on an allotment.
  • Where an allotment is not being used, action must be taken to get it back in use as quickly as possible.
  • Hebden Royd has very little open space available for possible allotments within its boundaries, so it was suggested that the Town Council liaise with adjacent Parish Councils to see if they could come to some agreement.
  • Penny Eastwood, on behalf on Treesponsibility, offered to provide match funding to plant trees in a wet area that forms part of the proposed Sandy Gate allotments site.
  • A lot of people have been on waiting lists for a long time, but have found it difficult to get information about the availability of allotments on the various private, Hebden Royd Town Council and Calderdale MBC allotment sites. One person had rung Calderdale MBC two months ago and was told they had no allotments!
  • Whilst it agreed that cars were not part of a sustainable future, it was felt allotment sites needed at least a drop-off point for large loads such as manure.

Cllr Chris Sawer, Chair of Hebden Royd Town Council’s Allotments Committee agreed to take the points raised at this meeting to the next Allotments Committee meeting and to visit the allotment site at the back of Albert Street in Mytholmroyd. In addition, it was agreed that the Calder Civic Trust, in its role as facilitator of the discussion and lobbying organisation (where appropriate) would ask for the discussion to be continued via the Hebden Bridge Web and take further the suggestion that the Town Council liaise with adjacent Parish Councils regarding the identification land for allotments.

The meeting closed with the Chair reminding attendees for the Calder Valley Organic Group’s Potato Day, to be held on Saturday, 27th February 2010, at which forty varieties of potato would be on sale.

Thanks to Hannah Nadim for this report

Contact Calder Civic Trust

See also

HebWeb news: Civic Trust public meeting on Tourism (Nov 09)

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