Why we are lucky to have kept allotments

By Richard Wright

Friday, September 5, 2014

 

Why we are lucky to have kept allotments

Prolific plots at the Sandlands allotments at Seaview. Picture by Nathan Lewis.

GARDENING

THIS Garden Isle of ours may have its faults but we should truly count our blessings our allotments are not in the sights of a council desperate for cash to fill ever-emptier coffers.

Because they certainly are elsewhere.

Unlike many local authorities on the mainland, which held on to land assets, the IW Council completed its mission a few years ago to transfer to town and parish councils and autonomous allotment associations the hundreds of acres of land that made up its portfolio — and that, hopefully, makes them pretty safe from the clutches of developers.

Most, including my plots at Sandlands, are in the hands of little councils which see allotments for what they are, assets for the community, cherished by those communities.

If that were not so it would be easy to see a housing estate enveloping the 69 prime Sandlands plots and another sprawling off Quarry Road in Ryde and similar sites the length and breadth of the Island.

It’s not so relaxed in many towns and cities elsewhere, where councils want to cash in the gold of prime building land and provide allotment holders with replacement plots acquired at a fraction of the cost.

One important victory was won two years ago when Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, uncharacteristically rolled over in the face of opposition and gave up his idea to remove the obligation for councils to provide proper replacement land for allotments they sell.

Having to provide replacement land was one barrier standing in the way of councils cashing in their chips.

Not so in Watford, where plotholders have been offered allotments a couple of miles away by a council desperate for the £7 million it could get for selling the land for development.

Mr Pickles gave permission for change of use of the land and the Watford campaigners are now pinning their hopes on a judicial review deciding they were misled over intentions for the land.

What the plotholders point to is the fact it’s not just any old land, it’s a special place where generations have gardened.

Similarly, at Sandlands, generations have manured the soil, tilled the land, taken the sweet air and cherished the gentle stillness of the place. The likes of Roy Henley and Gerald Caws, from the past glory days of showing, to today’s Malcolm Reed, Wight in Bloom chairman Peggy Jarman and many more.

They are among a rag tag collection of young and not-so-young gardeners working under the parish council’s stewardship.

Some allotments have been halved, or even cut in three from their traditional ten rod, or 250 sq metre size, by agreement, giving a blend of sizes for people to manage.

How different to Brighton where the city council — on which, paradoxically, the Green Party had a big influence — tried a 70 per cent rent hike and has for more than four years insisted new gardeners taking on a plot can only have five rods.

That led to formation of the Don’t Lose the Plot campaign group. Luckily, no need for all that down here.

Ten rods, by the way, was the amount of land deemed sufficient to grow food upon to adequately supplement the family diet. The 1908 Smallholdings and Allot-ments Act eventually enshrined the right to allotments into law as a replacement for the right of people to use common land.

Most allotments spread across the Island have healthy waiting lists but at Seaview, perhaps because there is only a tiny resident population, the waiting list is small and the parish council is keen for more people to come forward.

"Out of 69 plots, 66 are let, the remaining three are under offer, but we are interested in building up a waiting list. There’s nothing like that for driving up standards among plotholders," said parish clerk Mark Pink.

One example of a plot where standards do not need driving up is that tended for several years by Sue Garner and her other half.

"This is our garden because we don’t have one at home. We come here to grow all manner of things and relax from busy working lives as do other gardeners — from youngsters to three octogenerain plotholders.

"We had one allotment holder take over too late to manure and prepare the soil, so he hit on the idea of all manner of containers in which to grow his produce and it has worked really well for him," observed Sue.

Sue spent some months, several years ago now, slowly taming what was a completely overgrown plot and now enjoys putting in as many hours as she can spare from her job.

But she points out that while having a plot is a commitment, people can choose how they garden to fit it in around often busy lives.

Professional people, both retired and active in business, a retired policeman, technical and artistic types, local hoteliers, all manner of people are in the Sandlands mix.

If people take over a completely overgrown plot the parish council has the power to make the first year rent free — and there’s usually a neighbour with a strimmer prepared to help too.

Information about Sand-lands can be obtained from Mark Pink on 867112 or using the Nettlestone and Seaview Parish Council on-line contact form on its website.

Gardening tales, tips and questions can be sent to me at richryde@tiscali.co.uk or Brannon House, 123 Pyle Street, Newport, PO30 1ST.

Reporter: richardw@iwcpmail.co.uk

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