In May 2004 Birmingham’s Development Control Committee approved, by one vote, an application to build homes on the Victoria Jubilee Allotments (VJA) next to Handsworth Park – a private site surrendered by a committee cabal keen to profit from development value of their plots. Supported by FoE, people in Handsworth and across the city had campaigned for ten years against this loss of urban farmland. Government guidance discouraged building on allotments, and we presented sound evidence of local demand for plots on the whole site. Disappointment at the committee’s vote was partly allayed by firm promises that the successful applicant would – under a Section 106 Agreement – hand over part of the land to the city to create:
– 80 new municipal allotments with a gardeners’ meeting room
– 3 playing pitches and a cricket square and a sports pavilion with parking
In May 2008, at a site meeting attended by councillors, allotments campaigners and people concerned with local sport, Constituency Planning Officer Alan Orr gave assurances that the ‘trigger point’ – number of homes sold – had arrived; that the S106A would be implemented by Persimmon Homes that summer.
Summer passed. In February 2009, the City Council’s allotments team opened a short-listing process in anticipation of allotments being available by this summer. Applications came in swiftly but, as numbers went over 50%, we heard that undefined problems in the legal arrangements of the land’s acquisition by the city meant no allotments this summer and indefinite delay on the rest of the agreement.
Council staff understand and sympathise with local frustration at yet further delay in honouring a contract concluded 5 years ago. Burdened by recession, the Council has born down heavily on its allotments budget – making cuts, according to the Birmingham Post, of 65%. Front line staff who provide excellent service to plot holders are under great pressure, yet we have a legal agreement in place, at no cost to council taxpayers, to open the largest new allotment site in the UK since WW2. The problem is demonstrably at the highest level in the city.
Simon Baddeley, Handsworth Allotments Information Group (HAIG) TO GET ON THE SHORT LIST FOR A PLOT ON THE VJA WHEN THEY BECOME AVAILABLE PHONE 0121 303 3038, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or complete a form on-line at: http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/allotments