Quietly in December, Bristol City Council released a consultation proposing 35 pages of rules plus a slew of additional charges for allotments in the city. This was to be accompanied by rent rises significantly above inflation (over 400% for some plots).
The rule proposals included restrictions on ponds, removing hedges, replacing all greenhouse glass with plastic. No trees were to be allowed on site apart from from dwarf fruit trees, with no trees at all on small plots. A maximum of 3 trees were to be allowed on the biggest plots (I have no idea what the council thought would happen to community orchards) and tenants breaking this maximum, or any other rules would not only be evicted but also barred from the allotment waiting lists.
There were also a slew of proposed additional charges, from fees for setting up a tenancy, registering a co-worker and getting a key, to fees for digging your own pond or putting up a fruit cage or greenhouse. A rent reminder or site inspection was due to cost £50 and if you gave up your large allotment you could be hit with a bill of £1358 for the council to come and strim it after you’d gone.
In my outrage, I got involved with Bristol Allotmenteers Resist , a community led campaign set up to fight the changes. We are concerned with the new rules and rent increases and the negative environmental and social impact they could have. A meeting and protest mid January both attracted 100’s of people and our WhatsApp community has over 500 members. Gardeners are rising up!
The protest placards were amazing. “Bees not Fees”, “Resistance is Fertile”, “pollinate not legislate” and my personal favourite was the chant “You can stick your proposals up your asparagus”.
The consultation itself has been a mess. I am a lowly co-worker on our plot, with no actual rights on our allotment. (The fact that there is no mechanism for a couple or family to jointly own an allotment is a whole extra issue!). My husband is the registered tenant however he received no notification of the consultation. He’s had zero contact from the council about it, and yes we did check his junk email folder! I set up a poll on facebook and we found that 33% of the 60 tenants who replied had not been notified by the council, I’m hoping we’ll get some more data on this soon.
The consultation was released just before christmas and was due to close mid January. For the first few weeks some of the reference documents were unopenable. The proposals had not gone properly through scrutiny committee or through the allotments forum, who when they did meet in January declared the whole consultation void.
Unfortunately with the mayoral model of governance it is just the mayor and his hand picked cabinet who make decisions. My local councillors were supportive of our campaign but there is currently no mechanism for them to formally object. Luckily bristol city council i moving to the committee system of governance in may so it should be harder for stuff like this to be pushed through.
A petition which has gathered over 6000 signatures, including enough local signatures to trigger a full council debate has run into a couple of problems. Firstly the council is threatening to not accept the petition as it contains only postcode data, rather than full addresses, secondly the way the consultation was timed means that the next full council meeting is after the cabinet meeting when they want to push the changes through!
We’ve been making a lot of noise and the consultation was extended until 5pm on January 31st to allow more people to complete it. It did then get accidentally closed early on its final day due to a ‘technical issue’ but was only down for a short time after several people complained. Maybe that was a genuine mistake?
Also in response to the noise, the council proposed a very badly timed ‘workshop’. however this appeared to be a check box exercise rather than anything useful as there was no way that it could actually have any effect or tie in with the consultation results. We requested it be delayed and clarified!
In positive news, the consultation received thousands of responses and on 2nd February Cllr Ellie King who is responsible for the proposals announced in a letter to stakeholder that the workshop would be postponed and the rules would be dropped for now.
It was less clear what would happen with the additional charges and rent rises. Reading the letter it seems that the additional charges would be dropped but the rent rises will still be pushed through. On Monday 5th Feb the additional fees and rents were added to the cabinet meeting agenda, so it does appear the council is pushing both forward. We are still seeking clarification of exactly what we star still fighting!
The fees, as I outlined above, are obviously just ridiculous.
The rent rises proposed are massive, and as far as we can see totally random. Some plots have very little increase, others enormous rises. They are way above inflation and not in line with other ‘leisure services’. The council has also not done an equalities impact assessment.
I understand that all councils are desperate for cash. Years of cuts from central government have left Bristol close to bankruptcy. But charging Joe Blogs £15 to put up a shed is not going to help anyone.
Large rent increases are going to drive people away. We reap what we sow and allotments and green spaces generally are an investment in our future. They are not only about growing vegetables. Getting outdoors, exercising and connecting with nature is great for physical and mental health. It takes pressure off health services, which are already at breaking point. Personally, my allotment has been a sanctuary, its given me a focus and a space to breath and achieve when other aspects of life were overwhelming.
Making allotments more expensive and thus more prohibitive is a bad long term strategy for our city. The rent increases need stopping or at the very least significantly reducing.
You don’t need to have an allotment to help!
Resistance is fertile!