ECC Scrutiny Committee – Community | Review of Exeter’s Allotments Service

Last night, Exeter City Council Scrutiny Committee: Community approved the recommendations in this report on Allotments Service Review

2.1 That the results of the consultation set out in Appendix A are noted and appreciation recorded to those that participated in the process.

2.2 That all new tenancies be restricted to those living within the city and for as long as they continue to do so.

2.3 That all new tenancies be restricted in size to a maximum of ten rods (approx 250 m.) per household.

2.4 That the payment arrangements for allotment rents are brought into line with the range of payment options available for other council services, subject to such arrangements complying with the statutory provisions relating to allotments.

2.5 That discounts applied to current tenancies remain for the duration of the individual tenancy and are not transferrable, and that no discounts are applied to new tenancies.

2.6 That changes are made to the service to reduce maintenance costs and bring the service into line with the projected budget for 2015/16 as set out in Section 9.

2.7 That greater service user participation is encouraged and that the authority to enter into management agreements with duly elected Allotment Associations as laid out in Appendix B be delegated to the Assistant Director Public Realm in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Environment, Health and Wellbeing.

2.8 That the changes in the Allotment Gardens Rules and Conditions set out in Appendix C are approved and that the Service Manager with overall responsibility for Allotments be delegated responsibility to interpret the Rules in the case of a dispute.

2.9 That the Allotment Gardens Rules and Conditions are issued from 1st October 2014 and thereafter reviewed annually and that authority to approve or amend the Rules is delegated to the Assistant Director Public Realm in consultation with the Council’s Monitoring Officer and the Portfolio Holder for Environment, Health and Wellbeing.

2.10 That a rent free period of up to a year may be authorised by the Service Manager where a new tenant is willing to accept an untidy plot or where a tenant is prepared to be the single representative overseeing the allotment site on behalf of the council.

Some of the notes that used in my contribution to the debate follow:

It was good to see that Portfolio Holder, Cllr Keith Owen, overseeing this consultation acknowledge that the process could have been “better handled” and in his personal opinion it would have been “smoother with some preliminary discussions with representative allotment holders”.

What this consultation has unearthed is that the Allotments Service is archaic and dysfunctional.

It’s patently clear that we need a root and branch overhaul of the service…and I’m seeing the start of that process in this excellent report.

As a consequence of discussions, it appears that by cutting costs within the service, there will be no need to consider raising rents (other than occasionally in line with inflation), and senior offices felt confident that “current rents reflect the market value of the land”. This renders the question from John Lloyd about accurate accounts somewhat academic for now.

As Member Champion for Community Engagement, I welcome the question from Christine Fraser about channels of communication to:
– highlight best practice;
– ensure information reaches all tenants; and
– establish a representative user-group to assist in the monitoring of the proposed changes

With these points in mind, I would like to propose an additional recommendation:

2.11 To set up an Allotments Forum
(duly seconded by Cllr Rob Newby)

and I appreciated the follow-up on this idea from Cowick colleague, Cllr Heather Morris, who wanted to know more about the remit of the Forum. PfH Cllr Owen replied that he wanted to start with a blank piece of paper, with the ideas coming from allotment holders.

I’ve received a long document from Justin Olver from Trew Weir Allotments about the problems they have faced there with self-managment.

I believe that he may has misunderstood the thrust of Appendix B on Self- and Shared Management models. Throughout this document, the phrases used are “might” and may, rather than WILL.

These are options that allotment holders on various sites might like to consider…it will not be imposed on them by ECC.

It’s been questioned whether the report gives enough information about ECC legal responsibilities and whether cllrs fully understand the role, function and social welfare value and impacts that allotments have in the community health and well-being of citizens in the City. [Q from Mark Robbins about legal responsibilities]

Much of this has been covered in earlier discussions, but I am convinced that I personally am prepared to admit I am aware of the Council’s legal responsibilities – and nothing in the report puts those in jeopardy.

I (and many other local cllrs) have spoken to many allotment holders over the past 3 months and so am aware of the value of allotments in the health and well-being to those that use them. I’ve walked around allotments and seen how they work (and don’t work).

That’s why the Exeter Labour Party manifesto for the local elections in May 2014 had the commitment:
“Protect existing allotments, look for opportunities to provide new allotments and explore the use of public open spaces for community food production.”

Along with Cllr Margaret Clark, I am aware what ECC’s Core Strategy says about allotments and I am pleased that the Alphington Development Brief has identified a site for new allotments to add to those already in the ward.

I’m appy to say all recommendations, including my 2.11 on the setting-up of an Allotments Forum, were approved unanimously

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