Dear Allotment Holder
Since Monday we have been recommending that allotment holders follow the instructions by central government to stay at home. As you know, the government instructions say ‘stay at home, go outside only to buy food, or for essential health or work reasons’. The issue of access on allotments has been ambiguous; limiting access was done in good faith as an interpretation of central government instructions.
The issues explained on Monday about managing access, water supply, and personal health and safety – plus the obvious COVID 19 issues remain. The Council are now opening our allotments, with the caveat of a reduced maintenance service, due to the current health emergency. This means we cannot provide a water supply because we cannot maintain it or repair it, due to the difficulties of servicing whilst government restrictions are in place. Grass is unlikely to be cut for the same reasons, so we would ask tenants to self-help on grass cutting around their plots. We cannot secure the sites and we echo the national instructions of social distancing, restrictions on use of motor vehicles, as well as the overall coronavirus instructions for which allotment holders should be taking responsibility in their daily lives.
Our 3-strong Town Council staff are working from home, so, we cannot provide support on site, nor can we, in good conscience, ask them to visit, or to provide other services. Please try to curtail non-urgent communications so we can focus on essential work. This situation will be reviewed as the current health emergency continues.
We cannot enforce our requests, and the situation will continue to be reviewed, in keeping with the current restrictions during this period of national emergency. Importantly, we have not yet asked for the 2020 rents from our tenants. These are to be reviewed when the council meets in the future.
Stay Home – Protect the NHS – Save Lives
Greg Luton, Town Clerk
03 April 2020
Since 2006 the Town Council has been responsible for the management of over 295 allotment plots on five sites at Barn Lane, Cotton Lane, Nowton Road, Sicklesmere Road and the Vinefields. This may seem a relatively straightforward area of service but allotments bring with them many issues, not only to be found in Bury St Edmunds but also in other parishes and towns.
Frequently asked questions within this part of the website are intended to explain some of these issues and to help people who might be thinking of taking up an allotment.
I'd like an allotment but how long will I have to wait?”
When the Town Council took on the management of the allotments there was already a small waiting list - this grew to over 180 people but is now down to approximately 30 and people have been waiting just over one year.
“Why don't you provide more land?”
This is not a simple solution for the Town Council because allotment land is scarce - if you have any suggestions then let us know.
In March 2011 Council leased from St Edmundsbury Borough Council (now West Suffolk Council) an area of land at Cotton Lane which provided an additional 38 allotment plots thereby helping to ease the waiting list for allotments. It decided not to proceed with the purchase of additional land at Sicklesmere Road as it was felt that the potential contamination of the land and the cost of determining this, as well as the costs of developing the site made it less attractive.
“Why don't you make the existing plots smaller then there would be more to go around?”
This is where past practices make change difficult - many tenants have enjoyed relatively large plots since before the involvement of the Town Council and are unwilling to give them up. We do try to encourage those who find it difficult to cultivate large plots to reduce their size and this has led to a small number of additional plots. New applicants are now only allocated plots equating to a maximum of five square rods - please note that plot sizes are approximate as they are based on the information provided by the Borough Council at the time the Town Council took over the management of the allotments from it - inevitably over the years plot boundaries will have moved in one direction or another.
“Why do some non-residents of the town have an allotment?”
When the Council took over the allotments from St Edmundsbury Borough Council on 01 April 2006, existing tenants who on that date did not live in Bury St Edmunds were allowed to remain as tenants within the other terms of their tenancy agreements. Except for these few people, the allotment tenancy conditions require that "during the continuation of the tenancy the tenant shall continue to be resident in the parish of Bury St Edmunds".
“How do I apply?”
Click here to download the application form.
“How much does an allotment cost?
From 01 April 2019 the cost per square rod (approximately 25 square metres) on all sites except Barn Lane is £9.50 which means that an average plot on the sites with a water supply (all except Barn Lane) costs £47.50 per annum. Putting this into context, it is an outlay of £3.96 per month which probably puts it at the cheaper end of leisure and recreation. From 01 April 2020 the cost per square rod on all sites will increase to £9.75.
“How often does the cost go up?
Charges for allotments are annually reviewed. In 2009 Council consulted tenants about charges and agreed with the majority of respondents that the costs for tenants will continue to be equally applied without concessions.
“That seems to be a lot of money - where does it all go?”
Unfortunately services are not cheap and a lot of staff time is also involved. Expenditure in the last financial year was in the region of £9,350 (not including staff time). For example, maintaining hedges and trees does not simply incur the cost of cutting them - health and safety considerations, site clearance and labour mounts up. Cutting grass roadways costs in the region of £800 per year. A recent quotation for erecting new fencing was £2,500 and for resurfacing one of the car parks was £1,960. Water bills added up to more than £2,000 last year (representing a significant increase on previous years).
Behind the scenes administrative and related costs occur, despite the desire to keep them to the minimum. It is necessary to personally deal with calls from people with queries about allotments, the waiting list or their tenancy agreements. Where neglected plots are identified a considerable amount of time is consumed in contacting tenants and encouraging improvement or taking more severe action. It is necessary for members of staff to visit all five allotments to resolve issues regarding plot size, non-compliance with conditions, to deal with ‘on the ground' matters and to provide information to Councillors. On average this takes 3 days per week (an aggregate of time spent by the full-time Assistant Town Clerk, the part-time Town Clerk and the part-time Allotments and Administration Assistant). Ideally, establishing a long-term programme of how the allotments will be managed will keep administration to the bare minimum and will ensure that repairs and improvements are prioritised.
“Can I put a shed, greenhouse or fence on my plot?
Tenants wishing to erect any structures (for example a shed, greenhouse or polytunnel) or fencing must firstly seek written approval from the Council.
“How secure are the allotments?”
While the Town Council endeavours to ensure that the entrance gates to Cotton Lane and Nowton Road remain secure and that fences and hedges afford some protection, the security of outbuildings and crops is the responsibility of the tenant. Suffolk Constabulary can advise on crime prevention measures that can be taken.
“Is there anyone who can tell us the good and bad of an allotment?”
The Cotton Lane Allotment Holders' Association (CLAHA) covers the Cotton Lane allotment site and is the largest allotment garden in Bury St Edmunds, with just over 100 plots and roughly 150 people garden there. There is a thriving Allotment Holders' Association - Fred Gibbons is the Chairman.
"What happens if I cannot continue to cultivate my allotment?"
There may be justifiable reasons why you have difficulty in keeping your plot cultivated, for example ill health, bereavement . The first thing you need to do is let us know of your problem. Unfortunately some people find that they cannot tend their allotment as they should do and end up in breach of their terms and conditions. We endeavour to allow these situations to be put right but there comes a time when it is in the interests of everyone for us to take action - to have weeds or an overgrown state extending to nearby allotments is not fair to fellow tenants nor is it reasonable for those who are on the waiting list.
We hope that the above information will be of help to you - it is our aim to work with allotment holders and to assist their enjoyment of a centuries old tradition. If you have any other questions please contact the Allotments and Administrative Assistant.
For more information on allotments please see:
Allotments Regeneration Initiative www.farmgarden.org.uk/ari
National Society of Allotment & Leisure Gardeners Ltd www.nsalg.org.uk
The council is not responsible for the content or views of these outside sites and accepts no liability for material within them.