‘We just want to grow leeks’: Camden Council to hive off control of allotments to volunteers
Gardeners say they have no choice but to take on the administration including tricky tasks of rent collection and waiting lists
20 January, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
Ray Long, from the Fitzroy Park Allotments Association
THE Town Hall will end decades of managing allotments from February – leaving reluctant plot-holders to take on the task of collecting rent, resolving disputes and maintaining four sites.
Camden Council say the cost-cutting exercise at allotments at Branch Hill, Hampstead, Fitzroy Park, Highgate Antrim Grove, Belsize Park and Westcroft, Cricklewood will save £20,000.
But Ray Long, from the Fitzroy Park Allotments Association, warned this week: “We are gardeners. We are not here because we want to run a business. We just want to grow things like we have always done. I’d prefer to worry about growing leeks than managing the site.”
She said: “We feel they could have covered their costs of running the allotments through the rent they collect. They had been talking about covering reorganising management for a couple of years, but we had hoped the plans would go away.”
Camden will still own the land but management of waiting lists and other key administration will be handed to gardeners.
It echoes a savings policy introduced for a small number of libraries five years ago, Camden transferred control of three branches threatened with closure to volunteers. The council said it had no choice under the pressure of budget cuts ordered by central government to overhaul the system.
The Fitzroy Park Allotments Association will be handed its new role as early as next month. Ms Long said members had been told by the council that it could take on the management of the land or find a private management firm to do it for them, but staying under Town Hall control was not an option. She added: “We asked them which management company they had in mind and the fact was there isn’t one they could recommend. They could not specify a company – and we decided we did not want that option anyway.”
The Association has elected a committee of eight gardeners to oversee the allotments to ensure they meet the Town Hall’s demands for self management, but add they are doing so because they have been told they have to.
Camden’s environment chief Labour councillor Meric Apak said: “By 2019 our funding from central government will have been cut in half, compared to what it was. Because of this we simply have no choice but to make difficult choices about services, as well as find new ways of working. Our planning policies protect and safeguard our allotments from development and that will remain the case. And with the support of plot holders we need to ensure that the way that they are run is more self-funding, costing the council less.”