Two members of the BLAST Committee, Geoff Southgate and Philip James Wilson, were invited to attend a meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee on Tuesday 28th October 2008.
They presented the case for more allotment provision for Leamington residents. The full presentations can be read at the end of this introduction.
The Council were warm and understanding to our requests despite the snow outside! The Councillors in turn gave their views and showed their support and discussed specific issues such as:

1.  The cost of land with planning permission is thought to be in the region of £1 million an acre - so is there any land available that the Council can afford.

2.  Locality - councillors asked did the land need to be within the Leamington area or would people be prepared to travel – Geoff Southgate answered that it would be better within the Leamington area for all the obvious reasons such as carbon footprint, many allotmenteers walk or ride bikes to their allotment, a more distant location would require car usage and dependency on local transport availability.

3.  Security - councillors asked about security of allotments particularly if they were to be located outside Leamington – Geoff Southgate answered that security is a big problem for all of us, St Mary's and Leamington North East (Back Lane, Campion) both suffer with vandalism and even Binswood  and New Milverton have been broken into and suffered thefts recently.

4.  The big question is when because there is no time limit on our requests being granted so we would need to maintain pressure, pressure, pressure to get a result.   Philip Wilson took this opportunity to remind the Council of their legal obligation (see his full presentation)

5.   The Chairman suggested that the submission would need to involve other council committees and WDC committees so BLAST will have to pursue this line of action.   

Finally, the Town Clerk Robert Nash, who has been very helpful told us as BLAST Committee members to raise a petition of people who want allotments and present it to the Council.   In simple terms it would take 6 Leamington Council Tax Payers from each Society’s Waiting List, which at the moment would amount to 36 people, who would make representation on behalf of the almost 200 people waiting for allotments.

BLAST committee will progress this action over the next few weeks and bring it to everyone’s attention on the Welly Walk on 23rd November 2008.

Dear Councillors,
I am Geoff Southgate a committee member of BLAST (Bringing Leamington Allotment Societies Together).
We represent several allotment societies in Leamington who decided to join forces after the successful Wheelbarrow Walk in the summer.
Let me please give you a few figures to consider:
Cliffe Allotments Society has 50 members 20 waiting
Old Milverton Society has 36 members 16 waiting
Binswood Society has 160 members 30 waiting
New Milverton Society has 90 members 40 waiting
Leamington North East (Back Lane Campion) has 120 members 15 waiting
St Mary’s Radford Road has 300 member 57 waiting

Together that’s over 750 members. If you recall, the premise for an allotment was to be of a size to provide fresh fruit and vegetables all year long for a family of 4, that would mean that Leamington Allotments are providing fresh, wholesome food to nearly 3,000 local people.

So what have all these people got in common? They like to grow things. You can’t beat putting a seed into the warm earth, watering it, feeding it, nurturing it, weeding it, watching it until it becomes a strong plant that goes on to produce a healthy crop.

You’ve never tasted real food until you’ve grown your own broad beans, picked them fresh and cooked them within an hour with some new potatoes – delicious! The same with runner beans and peas, you’ll not find anything so fresh and tasty in Tesco. You will also find the same freshness and flavour in allotment grown strawberries and tomatoes.

That’s what these people have in common, a desire to meet, socialise, exercise and grow fresh, wholesome food. As important today as it was for the returning heroes from the First World War and vital for tomorrow, with the world’s resources coming under more pressure the need for self-sufficiency will grow and grow.

So what else have these allotments got in common?   I’ll tell you:  Waiting Lists – every society is under pressure to find plots for an ever growing waiting list.    Across the six allotment societies mentioned the total waiting list is 198. That’s more than enough to open a new allotment the size of  Binswood today  and you would still have people waiting.

Waiting to grow, waiting to exercise, waiting to get out in the fresh air with their families and friends to dig. Why are they on a waiting list, it’s because they are living in flats or have little or no garden.    As most new housing today prefers to provide parking for cars and garages, with decking, outdoor rooms with no place or space for a vegetable for kitchen garden.

With future plans to build more homes and maximise dwelling space, gardens will inevitably diminish or disappear. Therefore Councillors I ask you to consider the people in Leamington, on a waiting list, who would love to get digging and get growing so they too can sustain themselves longterm. You have the power to protect our existing allotments and make provision for new allotments.

That is the why, and now may I please introduce my fellow BLAST committee member, James Philip Wilson, to say how...........

We live in harsh economic times with many people finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet.
The mandarins in Whitehall and in Number 10 are particularly adept with words as is evidenced by the Prime Minister’s response in September of this year to a petition from the South West Counties Allotment’s Association to make it compulsory that local authorities and developers make provision for allotments and community gardens on every new development.
The PM’s response can be read in full on the BLAST website and provides a very helpful opening statement - however it conveniently sidestepped the request and I quote:-

‘Allotments are valuable green spaces and community assets. We are entirely committed to allotments for all the benefits they provide communities, including the opportunity to grow fresh produce in line with current thinking on healthy eating, organic food, exercise, fostering community cohesion, enhancing biodiversity, and providing educational opportunities and health benefits.’

The PM’s response is also helpful in that it provides local authorities with a timely reminder of their statutory duties and powers under Section 23 of the Smallholdings and Allotments Act of 1908, especially with regard to petitions for additional allotments – the sting in the tail being that there is no time limit for provision of allotments once it has been established that there is a demand.
Not a very satisfactory state of affairs and one may well ask how many unmet petitions have there been in recent years and what mechanisms exist to ensure that any such unmet petitions are reviewed and included in the Leamington Town Council’s Annual Report.  For when all is said and done this Council like others is answerable to both Government and the local electorate.
The PM’s response also covered statutory allotments which are protected via Section 8 of the Allotments Act 1925 which requires that local authorities seek the Secretary of State’s consent for disposal or appropriation to another use. Consent cannot be given unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that certain criteria are met. Clarified criteria were issued to local authorities in February 2002 and these can be seen in the BLAST website also

The PM’s response concluded in addition to the legislation, the planning system through Planning Policy Guidance note 17 Planning for Open Space, Sport & Recreation, 2002 (PPG17) and Planning Policy Statement 3 (PPS3) provides a robust framework for the protection and provision of urban green spaces including allotments.

 PPG17 requires local authorities to make provision for all types of open space that may be of public value.  It also requires local authorities to undertake robust assessments of local needs and audits of existing open space, sports and recreational facilities and to establish standards for new provision.  It is expected that by implementing the guidance in PPG17, local authorities should make adequate provision for allotments, which are specifically included in the PPG17 typology. On the basis of these assessments and audits, local authorities should plan to meet future needs of their population (e.g. linked to new housing developments) and can place standards of provision in their development plan.

As for the local development plan this has to be far more joined up in terms of environmental and sustainable energy and I know there are those in this room who share my concerns that housing developments in future involving more than ten houses should include provision for open space, with space also provided to grow food ideally in allotments. Thus encompassing the spirit of living villages within our towns, further helping to enhance and improve self sufficiency and  local community spirit, for regrettably not everybody identifies with their local community.

Great care needs to be taken to protect our precious green open spaces so that future generations may continue to benefit from them. To allow planners, developers and builders to flatten allotments and our precious green belt could well be seen by others as vandalism at its worst and this should be fervently discouraged. In conclusion the numbers on waiting lists for allotments in Leamington are quite substantial and whilst the Allotment Associations are doing their level best to reallocate any vacant  or under used plots - demand far outstrips supply.

Philip Wilson

28 October 2008