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September 2008

Questions for Sefton

Southportshow2008 I visited Southport  Flower show last weekend with a view to finding out more about allotments. I was not disappointed there was a great example on display and I could not resist taking a photograph. The allotment garden was the product of the Wirral Federation of Allotments and I was given a great web address to visit -
The section on access to allotments is a real goldmine to enthusiasts seeking to promote the development of allotments. I also met with and sought advice from a local representative of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners.
Acting on their advice I have submitted a long list of questions to the Chief Executive of Sefton MBC seeking clarification on a wide range of questions. I am hoping that before I resort to submitting a petition which will simply be 'put on the back boiler', the usual response, I can encourage Sefton to respond with answers that will help to set out a compelling argument for more provision. I also spoke to Lord Ronnie Fearn, who is the Sefton cabinet member for leisure services, who advised I needed a 'compelling' case if there was to be any change. I hope the answers to my questions will help make the case.

A short aside!

Just as an aside to my last posting, I monitor a number of web-blogs including the following, 'The Observer Newspaper Organic Allotment Blog'  a new story about  National Allotment week has just been published, the story confirms the huge growth in interest in allotments. One of the links to the BBC Magazine web site contains a large number of comments from readers, some of the waiting list stories are disheartening.
It's about time that locally elected politicians started to wake up to and respond the views of their local residents. Let's see how Sefton MBC members address this issue, I hope they're not going to retreat behind the excuse of waiting for a strategy to be written, they've had 34 years to do that!

Allotment Petition

Last weekend was marked by the number of phone calls I received from residents asking to be added to the petition to Sefton MBC requesting more allotment provision in Formby. I am led to understand that once a sufficient number of people make a request the local authority is obliged to respond and that the minimum number required is six. I now have that number of volunteers, and of course there is the current waiting list, which in any case is above 70. This increase in demand is not confined to Formby, nationally there is a renewed interest in allotments, for instance Channel 4 following a series of programmes about food recently  published the following advice on their web site,

'Under the 1908 Small Holdings and Allotments Act', s 23(2), where there is demand, it is the duty of the local authority to provide residents, registered on the electoral roll, with allotment space. The Act even gives local authorities the power to compulsorily acquire land for allotments, if they don't have sufficient already.'

There are also other issues regarding the provision and management of Allotment sites in local District Council areas. According to 'Local Council Administration, Seventh Edition', which guides the activities of Parish Councils,

'In England district councils have allotment functions only in non-parochial places, consequently where a parish is constituted by an order and land in it is held by a district council as or for allotments, the land automatically passes to the parish council....'(29.3) and later in the same guidance the author notes,

'District councils which in England are not allotments authorities may hire land compulsory for leasing to a local council for the purposes of allotments......' (29.6).

The importance of these last two extracts cannot be over-emphasised, on my reading once Formby Parish Council came into being Sefton MBC should have entered into some sort of agreement with the Parish Council recognising the change in local governance and the responsibility for the allotments should have reverted to the Parish Council and funds collected by Sefton in Council Tax transferred to the Parish Council to manage. Given the very recent news in local newspapers about the transfer of services out of Sefton MBC's hands, I think the Parish Council should take immediate steps to clarify their legal rights on behalf of the residents.

When I submit the petition I will seek the views of Sefton MBC's legal services on these matters.