There’s an old saying, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’ And an old joke that goes
Q. ‘When do you know a politician is lying?’
A. ‘His lips are moving!’
Well, sticking with the quotes, this one from The Who, ‘We won’t get fooled again‘
As you’ll know, I posted about an e-petition to stop Eric Pickles, Communities Secretary from examining plans to make it easier for local authorities to sell off allotments.
Then I was tweeted a link to the government web site where, on 15 April, they said the government had no plans to do this and the e-petition was completely untrue. So I posted that and apologised for wasting peoples time.
Then I found that on 17 April the Press Association had, thanks to a freedom of information request, posted about Mr Pickles approving allotment sales. Of course he’s not making it easier for councils to sell off allotments, it appears it’s quite easy to do already.
The last line of defence for allotment holders is the secretary of state, Eric Pickles. He’s supposed to approve or refuse sales of allotments.
Between 2010 and 2013 he had 83 requests to sell off allotments. 12 were withdrawn, leaving 71 and 10 are pending leaving 61 applications. How many did he approve? 10? 20? 40? No, he refused 2 and approved 59.
Now I’m willing to believe that there are times when it is in the communities interest to sell off a site so I’d expect him to approve some sales but 59 out of 61 is 97% That’s hardly an obstacle in the way of councils.
Of course the government points out they provide replacement allotments. Experience shows these are often green field sites and the plotholders are starting afresh. When I took on my allotments, they had been worked in the past but it still took me years to get them into good heart. In fact I only felt satisfied after 8 years of hard work digging and adding loads of manure, compost and leafmould.
Some people have had their plots for 30 years or more – telling them to up sticks and start again is not something to take lightly. A new bit of land is not the same as a cultivated plot.
I’ve got to say, it appears the government is talking the talk, but it’s not walking the walk by any means.
I am not a fan of politicians in general, and definitely not of Pickles. However, he is almost certainly being maligned in this instance.
The law says that councils cannot summarily close allotment sites that have statutory allotment status. Statutory allotments are simply those where the land contract states that it may only be used for the purposes of allotments.
The councils have to apply to the Secretary of State who currently has allotments as part of his remit (this has changed over the years) for permission to change the use of the land.
The figures that you quote for 2010-2013 indicate that it is to a large extent just a rubber-stamping exercise. I also have figures which are somewhat depressing …
“a question in parliament revealed that in the period from April 2007 to March 2009 there were 98 applications to the Secretary of State to allow statutory allotment sites to be closed. Actually it is not to close them per se but to permit a change of usage, as a statutory site is one where the land contract states that it can only be used for allotments. 56 applications succeeded, 2 were refused, 5 were withdrawn while the remaining 35 were in a mysterious bin entitled “approval not required or not taken further”. Approval not required means that the sites did not in fact have statutory status and so approval from the Secretary of State for a change of usage was not necessary. The above numbers only apply to sites that have (or think they have) statutory status. There are no doubt sites without statutory status that have also been closed.”
This law has been around for a very long time, and has obviously nothing to do with Pickles or the current government. Pickles does not need to change anything. He can simply use the current legislation to rubber stamp applications from councils to change the use of the land.
To my mind the issue is, and has always been, how rigorous the process is .. ok we probably both know the answer to that. Who, if anybody, has the opportunity to contest applications. My guess is that it is limited to the few sites who are switched on enough to be aware of the law and who are prepared to fight their corner.