City Hall rule changes have gone too far, claim allotment holders

Undated Handout Photo of an allotment. Allotments provide a sense of community. See PA Feature GARDE

Undated Handout Photo of an allotment. Allotments provide a sense of community. See PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout/National Allotment Society. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature GARDENING Gardening Column. - Credit: PA

Allotment-holders are digging in for a battle over 'draconian' rule changes that are seeing scores of people at risk of losing their city plots.

Marlpit Community Garden Open day. Local allotment holder Louise Curtis digging up potatoes. Photo:

Marlpit Community Garden Open day. Local allotment holder Louise Curtis digging up potatoes. Photo: Steve Adams

More than 100 people have signed a petition calling for a rethink by City Hall – as the number of people giving up allotments or having them taken away has soared.

Council bosses have defended their crackdown, saying it has freed up plots for people more committed to using them.

But allotment holders say the move is turning what is meant to be a relaxing hobby into a source of stress and anxiety.

The city council has more than 1,800 allotment plots on 18 sites across the city and used to have waiting lists of more than 1,000 people to take on plots.

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However, in 2012, it brought in a new allotments officer and since then, allotments have come in for close scrutiny, with thousands of plot inspections and a surge in notices to people accused of not working their plots according to the rules.

From October 2011 to October 2012, there were 216 terminations at the city's allotments, with 177 given up or transferred, six terminated by the council because of non-payment and 33 ended because plots were not being worked.

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The number of terminations soared to 356 over the same period in 2013. Plots were given up or transferred 290 times, with 13 terminations because of non-payment and 53 terminations because plots were not being worked.

And from October last year to the start of this month, it rose again to 370, with 284 giving up, 42 terminations because rent was not paid and 44 because plots had not been worked.

Martha Goddard, from the Norwich Allotments Association, said the council's approach had gone too far. She said she had been served with a termination, which she had fought.

She said: 'This is affecting people who have had their allotments for decades. People are now so worried about getting notices that it has taken the enjoyment out of having an allotment. It's really sad.

'Allotments are a place where people like to go to get away from stress, but they are ending up giving up their allotments because they cannot work out what they are supposed to be doing, with all these notices being sent. They just seem so inconsistent.'

The petition is specifically to do with new rules around allotments, which Ms Goddard said were 'draconian', including restrictions on trees, what can be used to make paths and when allotments can be tended.

Keith Driver, cabinet member for neighbourhoods and community safety, said the council had met with representatives from the allotment sites and the Norwich Allotment Association.

He said it was important that allotments were used appropriately and that assistance was available to those who needed help and advice on the upkeep of their allotments.

He said: 'If people want help they can phone up the city council. If their allotment is too big and they want a smaller one they can talk to us. We are not there to chuck people off allotments.'

• What's your experience of tending an allotment in Norwich? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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