The 1925 Allotment Act introduced the distinction between “temporary” and “statutory” allotments, which still exists today.
Statutory allotments are those where the land was acquired specifically for the purpose of allotments. A change of use requires the approval of the Secretary of State (SoS) (currently this is SoS for Communities and Local Government) under section 8 of the 1925 Act. The SoS must be “… satisfied that adequate provision will be made for allotment holders displaced by the action of the local authority or that such provision is unnecessary or not reasonably practicable”.
Reading’s recent loss of Cow Lane, a statutory allotment site, to the Reading Station Area Redevelopment Programme illustrates this process in action.
On 1 and 2 July 2009, a public inquiry was held under S 11. of the Transport and Works Act 1992. The inspector’s report summarises that there had been 24 objections to elements of the scheme. Of these there were 20 from owners of land affected by compulsory acquisition proposals and these had all been withdrawn by the time of the inquiry. The four remaining objections were from Cow Lane allotment tenants, two of whom attended the inquiry. Consequently, the allotments remained the one contentious issue of this proposal. A whole section of the Inspector’s Report (8.5) covers, “The effect of the proposed compulsory acquisition of allotment sites at Cow Lane on the availability of allotments in the Reading area” (1).
Reading Borough Council had already given the allotment holders notice to quit, which expired in April 2009, before the inquiry took place. Compensation was paid by Network Rail. The site was abandoned and looked very lonely and desolate in 2010 when building of the new depot had not yet started.
Cow Lane allotments before the building of the new depot started
The transport logistics, both road and rail around Cow Lane were important to the rail redevelopment proposals. There are two rail bridges at Cow Lane and they represent road travel bottlenecks. Two options were considered for this area. One involved the closure of Cow Lane; the other allowed Cow Lane to remain open and to be improved as a thoroughfare. The latter was included in the final proposal, but the first would also have impacted the allotments site. In the final proposal, the allotments were required for the building of a new train care depot, which could accommodate longer trains than the existing High Operating Output Base, (HOOB), at Reading. There were other possible sites for this base, Swindon, Oxford, Didcot or Southall; but Reading was preferred (2).
The allotment holders objections centred around the options for siting of the train care depot, the environmental impact of the closure of the allotment site and the impact on allotment availability in Reading.
In relation to allotment availability in Reading, allotment holders from Cow Lane were largely accommodated on land brought into use at Scours Lane, where 63 additional allotment plots were created within the existing boundary to enable this. First, does this really constitute a replacement, and second, against a backdrop of lengthening waiting lists in the borough should new land have been designated? New plots on existing land, are often a possibility and this is not without an overhead to Reading Borough Council, although Network Rail paid for the cost of these replacement plots. The Inspector’s report considered that the matter of overall allotment provision in Reading, and whether the replacement plots were “genuine replacement plots”, were “not matters either for NR or for the SoS” and goes on to state, “There is no net loss as a result of the proposed acquisition.” Later the report goes on to say, “Even if it were concluded that there would be a net loss…..fall significantly short of outweighing the very clear public benefits…” (3).
Application had been made to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to sell 1.99 hectares of allotment land, (of which 1.5 hectares was required for the Programme); and approval was given on 15 June 2009 (4), before the inquiry took place.
Cow Lane was a large site with 52 plots, 50 full plot equivalents (5) when the closure was planned. It was probably the 5 acre site that the Allotments Committee resolved to purchase as permanent allotments in 1955 (6). It is adjacent to the Reading Festival site and this caused some security and vandalism issues (7). Plot holders (the site is not specified) were not slow to see the possibility of damage from the Festival of Reading which commenced in 1971 and requested compensation from the committee should this arise (8).
The new train care depot being built in 2012
In the light of the loss of the land, the council considered other allotment options including new sites on Portman Road and Richfield Avenue, very close to Cow Lane, providing up to 41 plots (9). Apparently no tenants were interested in this option (10). The pressure on allotment provision in the borough was also recognised.
The experience of Reading and Cow Lane allotments is illustrative of the various facets of the termination of allotment tenancies: notices to quit, the provision of compensation, as well as the planning process and the procedure for approval of sale of allotment land.
Protests against the closure of the allotments were reported in the Reading Post in September 2007 (11). Allotment owners met surveyors at the site, erected a banner and handed out leaflets. There was another reported protest in October which also covered wider housing and green space issues when the Thames Valley Innovation Conference at Green Park was gatecrashed (12).
The example which made the national media in the last few years, related to Manor Garden allotments, in London, a similar sized site which was required in 2007, as part of development of the site for the London Olympics (13).
In 2011, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham decided to make all its existing allotment sites Statutory Allotment Land, the council issued a press release, “Allotments in Barking and Dagenham are safer from the threat of redevelopment after the council decided to give them extra protection” (14).
While there is no doubt that statutory allotment land is more protected than temporary allotments, the marginal nature of the land on which many allotments are situated can put it at high risk of redevelopment despite this.
(1) Network Rail (Reading) (Land Acquisition) Order, Report to the Secretary of State for Transport.
Ref TWA/08/APP/08. 28 July 2009, published 28 September 2009, available at: webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20091002212923/http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/twa/ir/.
The accompanying decision letter, published 25 September 2009 is available at:
(2) Section 3.7 of The Report.
(3) Section 8.5 of The Report.
(4) Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government decision letter, 15 June 2009.
(5) November 2008 Report to the Green City and Open Spaces Forum, 19 November 2008. Allotment Provision and Plan Update. Director of Environment Culture and Sport.
(6) Allotments Committee 18 July 1955. R/AC1/3/119. (BRO)
(7) November 2008 Report to the Green City and Open Spaces Forum, 19 November 2008. Allotment Provision and Plan Update. Director of Environment Culture and Sport.
(8) Allotments Committee 23 June 1971. R/AC1/3/151. (BRO). The Festival first took place in Reading in 1971.
(9) April 2008, Report to Cabinet by Director of Environment Culture and Sport. Allotment Provision and Plane Update.
(10) November 2008 Report to the Green City and Open Spaces Forum, 19 November 2008. Allotment Provision and Plan Update. Director of Environment Culture and Sport.
(11) Reading Post September 17 2007.
http://www.getreading.co.uk/news/s/2015224_protest_over_allotment_land. Accessed 4 June 2012.
(12) Reading Post October 17 2007.
http://www.getreading.co.uk/news/s/2016457_business_hears_voice_of_the_people. Accessed 4 June 2012.
(13) See http://www.lifeisland.org.uk for a full list of links to national media and press coverage and more.
(14) http://www.barking-dagenham.gov.uk/News/PressReleases/Pages/AllotmentProtection.aspx. Accessed 4 June 2012.
© Evelyn Williams 2012
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