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Anger at plan to lock up community garden for private use

Fears that 'tremendous' community asset in Bassett Street will be lost

18 July, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

John Langan and Keiran Proffer at the allotment

A GREEN space packed with vegetable plots lovingly tended by a community gardening club could be flattened and turned into a space reserved for private residents.

The allotment, in Bassett Street, Kentish Town – on land owned by the Town Hall – looks set to be dug up after the council asked residents in a neighbouring block if they would like the space exclusively for themselves.

Now members of the Bassett Street Gardening Club, many who do not have gardens of their own, are calling on the Town Hall to reverse their decision and not lock them out.

They say the move was made in secret and is based on a flawed consultation that the gardeners say has “come out of the blue”.

The council told the gardeners early this month they had just three weeks to quit the site – a decision which was later delayed until the end of the summer growing season.

Gardening club member Keiran Proffer told the New Journal how, late last year, the council held a consultation with users about the future of the space – and never revealed what the results were. Instead, a fresh survey asked people living in the block next door what they thought of the site – and the decision was then made to spend £8,000 removing vegetable beds before then having to earmark further funds to create a new private space with access limited to residents in one block on Bassett Street.

Mr Proffer added: “This decision goes against just about every single policy the council have. Added to that, the Town Hall have asked us for suggestions where we could all move to in order to continue. It makes no sense.”

The gardening club was established in 2010 and has flourished, with around 80 regular members using the space. Once earmarked for housing, it has become a beacon of community co-operation, say members.

Plots are used by nearby Rhyl School and the nursery Woodentots. Many members of the areas Bangladeshi community also have vegetable beds, and the club say it helps with social cohesion as well as encouraging healthy eating. They add that the people living in the block next door either have large gardens or balconies, and that many, when asked, said they had no wish to see the garden closed.

Many of the homes include short-term renters in flats owned by private landlords who have no long-term interest in the garden.

One landlord who owns two homes in the nearby block and rents them out, has told the club they are baffled by the decision and have no interest in paying a fee to maintain the space if it was handed over to the block.

Gardening club member John Langan said that the project, which was funded solely by its members, had united the neighbourhood.

He added: “We don’t understand how this decision could be made. The council employed a private consultancy, who asked 27 residences about a space near them. A third said they were not interested. Around 14 people who replied said that they’ would like it as a private garden for themselves. But this a tremendous community asset.”

Labour councillor Meric Apak, the Town Hall’s housing chief, said: “Following the end of the three-year licence granted to the community garden project, we became aware of a number of differing opinions on how to best use this location for the benefit of all of the local community. To better understand this, we undertook a door-to-door survey with the tenants and leaseholders, whose block the garden belongs to.”

He added: “This showed that a majority of residents living in the block would like the location to be available for a wider range of activities, with areas to relax and play, as well as a garden which they can enjoy as neighbours. We are committed to continue to support this successful community garden and believe we have located a suitable site in the Gospel Oak area to enable them to continue their good work. We now plan to work with our tenants and leaseholders to redesign the site.”

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