The Committee received a report of the Corporate Director of Neighbourhoods and Climate Change which provided an update on Durham County Council’s allotment policy (for copy of report and presentation see file of minutes).
Delivering the presentation, the Head of Environment, Oliver Sherratt, presented a progress update since the report of the Environment and Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the findings of its review of the service, which was presented to Cabinet in 2020. The Committee noted a summary of the recommendations which were outlined in full, in Appendix 2 to the report.
The Head of Environment reminded Members of comments in response to the Cabinet report which had been received from allotment holders and Allotment Associations which included that some controls may be too prescriptive and concerns that large animals would not be permitted. Members noted progress on the uncontentious recommendations and the Head of Environment provided information on suggested safeguards.
Concluding the presentation, the Head of Environment outlined the next steps for a further report to Cabinet to implement the recommendations, engaging with Allotment Associations, tenants and town and parish councils.
In response to a request from Councillor Townsend for clarification, the Head of Environment advised views are being sought from town and parish councils with respect to allotments being transferred from the council to town and parish councils.
Councillor Adam congratulated the good work of the team and the progress from 2020 to date. He referred to the allotment site visits undertaken during the review activity and he raised concerns that a number of these were legal allotments, however, businesses were being run from the sites, for allotment rents and he requested an update on the issue. The Head of Environment responded that a considerable amount of work had been done with regard to identifying the sites and as a recommendation of the Committee was a rent review, that there may be scope to address non-allotment sites, in the future, through that review. The Head of Environment confirmed that the council cannot dispose of registered allotments without approval from the Secretary of State.
Councillor Adam said the report acknowledged the demand for allotments and therefore the sites should be used for their primary purpose ie for the growth of vegetables and fruit and as the council is looking at ways of increasing income, these sites should either revert to being used as allotments or they should be considered to be fully rateable sites.
Councillor Sutton-Lloyd welcomed the report and expressed the view that that allotments are important to the wider county plans to improve the environment and health and wellbeing and he spoke of local initiatives to encourage allotments and gardening within the community.
Councillor Elmer acknowledged the balance of the report, in particular the contentious issues for example the grazing of animals. He added he would like to see a strategy in place for the establishment of new allotment sites, in compliance with the Allotment Act and re-establishment of sites which are currently not used as allotments and the identification of new plots of land for the purpose of allotments. He recognised the conflicting demands on land and the balance to be achieved. The Head of Environment pointed out that, overall, there is an increase in demand for allotments, however, there are areas where there is a surplus of allotments. The service is endeavouring to provide smaller plots from within the provision wherever possible and returning unused parts of sites to allotment sites. As new sites are the responsibility of town and parish councils in the first instance, the proposal is to support towns and parish councils to increase their capacity. The Committee noted that if a group of residents make a request to the council to provide an allotment, the council has a duty to provide it.
(a) Reconfirmed the position on the original ESCOSC policy recommendations, that would in due course result in new tenancy agreement.
(b) Noted the safeguards which would:
(i) Exclude those sites, which although managed by the allotment service are currently used for other purposes.
(ii) Provide flexibility for Associations in consultation with the Council to come to bespoke arrangements for their site.
(iii) Provide a transition period for tenants, to be detailed in future reports to Cabinet.
(c) Noted that allotments held by higher tier authorities should transfer to lower tier authorities set up after 2009 and consistent with this with engagement with Parishes where this applies.
(d) Noted the recent investments in allotments and infrastructure capital grant scheme for which budgetary provision already exists.