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Saturday 12 June 2010

'Got the plot' - loss, rediscovery and restoration

Noon in the heart of Handsworth. An attentive assembly, many I know, listen to Adrian Stagg welcoming them to the first new allotments in Birmingham for thirty five years. Adrian and his colleague Mohamed from the City Council had stuck small numbered flags at the edge of each of the 79 plots on the Victoria Jubilee Allotments. Shortlisted applicants strolled around picking a flag from the plot of their choice; taking it back to the community hut to sign a contract and pay rent to September. At last. Some began digging and planting at once.
The entrance to the Victoria Jubilee Allotments is to the east between plots 79 and 77, via the Parklands estate, entered off Hamstead Road via Victoriana Way, opposite a children's nursery and almost opposite Wellesbourne Road in Handsworth, Birmingham. On the west side of the plots the railway to Walsall runs through a cutting, to the south are the new playing fields - not ready yet - and to the north, Handsworth Park. The plots lie on a gentle north facing slope, overlooked on the east side by new houses. The gardeners' communal hut is close to the entrance between plots 25, 35 and 36.
Plan of plots on the VJA
From Nick Booth for the BBC: :-)
Losing the Plot - Midland Report BBC 2000 from Simon Baddeley on Vimeo.
...and VJA slideshow including images of the old Victoria Jubilee Allotments and here are some of Birmingham photographer Luke Unsworth's images on YouTube taken in 2004 just before the site was cleared.
Luke Unsworth's images of the abandoned Victoria Jubilee in 2004
Originally the Victoria Jubilee Allotments were private - plots provided by the church to working men at the end of the 19th century, who joined together in a Provident Association or Friendly Society. Plots covered the whole 17 acre site. Clark Homes, then Westbury Homes, succeeded by Charles Church and finally Persimmon Homes persuaded the committee of the private plotholders to sell their plots and take the profits. Nick Booth's BBC film - Losing the Plot - documented this process in 2000, showing how allotment sites were being lost all over the country, as ageing plotholders, tempted by the cash offered by developers, sold up. Not all wanted this but they were overruled by a majority. The Victoria Jubilee Allotments Association being a Friendly Society, were prohibited by their constitution from selling plots, but the VJA Committee with the aid of Midland solicitors Challinors Lyon Clark changed themselves into a holding company which were able to sell the allotments and take the substantial profits that went with selling them for building.
The developer's initial masterplan involved covering the whole 17 acre site with unimaginative housing - a plan that met with prolonged, skillfully orchestrated and well argued opposition both locally and from green space defenders across Birmingham over nearly 15 years. Eventually the developers 'won', but resistance to the loss of the site helped Birmingham City Council negotiate a planning gain agreement (S106A) that saved two thirds of the site for greenspace, that would include the largest new allotment site in the UK since WW2, and the first new allotment site opened in Birmingham since 1975. The developer built private houses on just one third of the site. Under a planning application, finally approved in April 2004, two thirds of the site was allocated to playing fields and allotments paid for by the developer under a S106A - or planning gain agreement. The houses that were eventually built weren't ticky tacky, but handsome Victorian style houses laid out in a creative way, overlooking a restored Handsworth Park. A good few residents have taken up plots just outside their back door.
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In 1999 journalist Miles Blackley produced and directed a seven minute film for the BBC Community Programme Unit about our campaign to save the Victoria Jubilee Allotments (VJA). Miles' brief included playing up the role of the individual activist in local campaigns which is why the 'I' word gets such an airing, belying the swell of local community support for our campaign to prevent or reduce building over the VJA.
Victoria Jubilee Allotments: BBC Private Investigations 1999
By 2003 we'd assembled, with the help of fellow campaigners, especially John Richfield, Liz England and our lawyer Phil Shiner, a cogent written case to Birmingham City Council planners, proposing that the whole 17 acres (6.8 hectares) of the original Victoria Jubilee Allotments to allotments be saved for allotments. This included making what I still believe to be an irrefutable evidence-based argument that local demand for allotments was enough to ensure that all original 240 plots would, if the site were properly maintained, be taken up, This bundle also contained information about just how much private plotholders no longer living in the area would be likely to make if the site was sold to a private developer, given the numbers of plots some had accrued to themselves and their families some of whom had never been near a plot, while allowing the site to become run-down (what we termed 'malign neglect' or 'constructive non-maintenance' [NB: HM govt publication links seem slow or not working - 14/06/10]); refusing to let plots to those asking for them, including me, while at the same time arguing publicly that they had no option but to sell because there was "no demand for plots".
The case for the VJA made by The Handsworth Allotments Information Group (HAIG) (appendices in a separate file or via links below)
Appendix 1: Single Regeneration Budget (SRB6) showing VJA unit 8
Appendix 2: Edwardian 'fringe belt' - hard & soft surfaces in the city
Appendix 3: 3 views of the VJA site
Appendix 4: HAIG’s alternative proposal
Appendix 5: Survey of allotment demand
Appendix 6: VJA shareholdings
Appendix 7: VJA wildlife survey
Support in the Unitary Development Plan 1993 for allotments. Para. 3.62
Slides of the Victoria Jubilee Allotments
12 June - receipt for our plot on the VJA (photo: Richard Baddeley)
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30 January 1972. Saville Inquiry into the events on Bloody Sunday delivered this Monday afternoon


  1. Ref Bloody Sunday, it reminds me of Experiencing Dominion, oddly. You know the thing about applying the 'lessons of Ireland' to Corfu? 1 Para had undertaken IS duties in Aden during the scrag-end of Empire there, pulling out in '67 (the first Bns in NI waved 'disperse or we will shoot' banners- IN ARABIC- in Belfast)*. Essentially, their flaw was to have treated white quarrelsome British subjects as they had done brown quarrelsome British subjects- only with vastly different legal sanctions and media interest. Only connect...

    *this sounds apocryphal, but isn't. See:

  2. Yes!
    '...Ionian Greeks were "Mediterranean Irish" who should be treated like European savages.' But a key book for me was Mazower's history of 20th century Europe:
    Mazower argues that what Stalin but especially Hitler did was to visit upon Europeans what they had been delivering to the rest of the world throughout the 19th century
    See for instance our thoughts on Sofia -and Bulgaria was an axis ally!


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Simon Baddeley