|VJA Committee meeting - first anniversary|
|Jeevan, Imran and I on the Victoria Jubilee|
Awards for All to construct a sensory garden. There was of course a shop staffed by volunteers on rota, with a supply of compost and sharps sand and access to further products on request, a selection of useful tools for gardeners to borrow including a rotavator, a strimmer, a trolley and hand truck. Finances were in good order. What I noted and enjoyed most was the slightly messy and relaxed banter of a reliable working committee, capable of making and following through decisions, allowing diversions but sticking to the agreed agenda while having a laugh now and then; not dominated by any one personality.
As I expected, the matter arose of plotholders who, for one reason or another, were allowing weeds to mature. I was inclined to keep my head down, though I have cut back on most seed heads and am slowly digging my way north, but one plot-holder, a friend - his largely fallow plot near ours - was swift to remark the subjectivity of the term 'weed', knowing names - Horse’s tail, Oxeye daisy, Japanese knotweed - there's a devil - Bindweed, Yellow toadflax, Ragwort - the famous 'stinking willie' - Creeping Buttercup. Common Chickweed, Ground-elder, broadleaf dock, cushy-cows, kettle dock, smair dock and the prolific thistle family to name just a few - but pointing out that for some Fat-hen - Chenopodium album - an annual covering much of the site last summer and no doubt returning soon - is a cash crop eaten all over the world, expanding, when requested to cut his weeds down even if he didn't want to, or couldn't, dig his soil right now, on the point that some weeds if cut back grew even worse and, if dug up, made way for ones that are even less welcome.
"Will you just cut back the stuff on your plot, please, so the seeds don't fly all over the hard work of people who've been breaking their backs to draw a crop from their garden?"
The chair moved on over muttered interjections. There was an agenda item about a website for the VJA.
blog like mine, which could be searched for references under 'VJA' or 'Victoria Jubilee Allotments', or a set of pictures on a photo hosting site like flickr, with the option of adding links between pictures with texts containing further links to that blog or other relevant sites. At a pinch I suggested anyone could just search under 'Victoria Jubilee Allotments'. The name has a rich web presence because the internet had been so available while we were campaigning. I promised I'd post some links on Democracy Street that would point people to things that had gone on before the new VJA opened on 12 June last year - on the 11 June 2011 entry, the new VJA's first anniversary.
While I and others were campaigning to prevent a private housebuilder winning planning approval for building over the whole site, including our present allotments and the area now reserved for playing fields, we called ourselves, on the basis that information is power, the Handsworth Allotments Information Group (HAIG) and produced a detailed argument for not building on any of the site, that revolved round the fact that there was enough demand for allotments in the area to take up all the plots on the private allotment site that had existed there since the 19th century. The Case for the Victoria Jubilee Allotments - report and appendices on Google.docs.
Around the time we were formulating our case and holding public meetings and circulating leaflets two films were made by the BBc that features the VJA.
1. Victoria Jubilee Allotments: BBC Private Investigations
2. Losing the Plot - Midland Report BBC 2000
|Bobby, Scylla (Hon.Sec) and Joey - VJA 11 June 2011|
Comments by HAIG (Handsworth Allotments Information Group) on application N/01514/03/FUL – Victoria Jubilee Allotments (VJA) - at Birmingham City Council Development Control meeting on 4 December 2003
I’m going to explain why the decision recommended to you is in clear breach of your duty as a Council to assess demand for allotments – not just on the VJA but across the city. I will, in your interests, take you through the key points
1. Para 3.62 of the Unitary Development Plan said “Where it can be demonstrated that the demand for allotments has fallen, consideration will be given to alternative uses for surplus allotments.”
The important words are demonstrate and demand – which refers to evidence of expressed and potential demand for allotments. Furthermore it says there must be “exceptional circumstances” to justify permitting “other forms of development”. Have exceptional circumstances been demonstrated?
2. This application, and your officer’s arguments for it, do not pass the first hurdle set by your own UDP – namely the demonstration of fallen demand.
i. On p.13 of his report your officer says waiting lists in the vicinity of VJA equals 124 plots
ii. And on p.14, acknowledging the City holds no centralised waiting list information, he relies on a population based analysis of demand to suggest an over-provision of 279 plots.
3. Before accepting this “paper exercise” as a legitimate demonstration of fallen demand as required by the UDP, we must understand that by relying on points 2i) and 2ii) for this purpose, the officer is in clear breach of a duty to assess the need of the local community for allotment space. In effect BCC is relying on its own failure to assess demand to show there is no demand.
4. The duty to assess needs for allotments is very clear
• Paras 1,2,3,5,10 in PPG17(see PPG17: Planning for Open Space, Sport and Recreation)
5. Where then is BCC’s assessment of the need/demand for
• allotments on VJA?
• allotments within 1 mile (or whatever is an appropriate minimum travel distance) of the VJA?
• allotments within the district i.e. Handsworth or North B’ham?
• allotments within the city?
6. No such assessment has been made by BCC. Given this clear breach of duty, involving a significant loss of allotment space, BCC cannot approve a project, or defer it merely to pursue a legal agreement with the applicant. It must either
• defer and meet the duty to assess, or
• reject (we note, by the way, that Westbury have not demonstrated fallen demand through an independent assessment (see 3.2. Assessing needs etc in PPG17 companion guide) )
7. In these circumstances the “paper exercises” of 2i) and 2ii) are insufficient. It doesn’t matter whether appropriate minimum provision is 7 plots per 1000, because BCC cannot rely on a paper exercise in the absence of “comprehensive” (3.1. Assessing needs etc in PPG17 companion guide) and “robust assessments” of the “existing and future needs” of the population for open space (PPG17 para 1). If there is an assessment meeting PPG17 duties, why does your officer’s report not refer to it?
9. So that makes 3 breaches in the recommendation before you – two of omission, one of commission. These entail
a) failure to assess need
b) failure to take into account the material consideration that need for allotments has not been properly assessed, and
c) taking account of an immaterial consideration, i.e. inadequate “paper” exercises claiming to prove a fall in demand which those of us who live in Handsworth have gone out on the streets to prove is not the case.
• Planning Officer’s report to BCC Development Control Committee on N/01514/03/FUL – 4 Dec 2003
• Planning Policy Guidance 17: Planning for Open Space, Sport and Recreation: ODPM Aug 2002
• Assessing needs and opportunities - companion guide Planning Policy Guidance 17: ODPM
|January 2007: still waiting for plots|
|12 June 2010: Delith, Jeevan and Rachel wait to register for plots|
|Got the plot|
"They look beautiful"
"Oh I know. In another setting make a meadow, full of the insect-filled diversity that's been so harmed by mono-cropping. I find it ironic that I'm striving to get rid of these on my allotment."
"There's a theory - no-dig gardening - that says you'll never get rid of weeds" said Delith
I mentioned an episode of Old Country my stepfather broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s. Wandering along a downland slope he compared a ley grass monoculture - cocksfoot, ryegrass, white clover, with (at 09.58 on on a 14" clip) an enclosed piece of old common land full of flowers - thirty and more varieties of herbage.and the insects that live on them.