Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


Members present:

Mr Andrew Bennett (Chairman)

Mr Brian Donohoe

Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody

Mr Bill Olner

Dr Alan Whitehead

Ms Elizabeth Payne (Clerk)

Dr David Taylor (Specialist Assistant)

The Sub-committee was met at the allotments site by Mr Derek Allsop, Chairman of the Fulham Palace Meadows Allotments Association; Mr Arthur Wicks, Secretary; Mr Leslie Marks, Assistant Secretary; Mr Norman Edwards, Treasurer; Mr Harry Machin, Trading Secretary; Mr Ian Gray, allotment holder and Mr Stephen Middlehurst, Client Development Officer (Parks), London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

The Fulham Palace Meadows site is located in inner London and occupies land originally given for the purpose by the Bishop of London in 1916. It is exceptional in that it covers an Anglo-Saxon site of historical importance and is therefore protected from development under the 1979 Ancient Monuments Act: the Association stressed to the Sub-committee that this protection had proved essential in maintaining the site's status at a time when other inner city allotments are being lost to development. The site is owned by the local authority but is held on an extendable 21 year lease by the site users. The extent to which there is a waiting list for allotments is dependent upon the state of the property market but applicants can expect to wait for up to two years; at present, the waiting list is two months long.

There are 406 plots, all of which are occupied. They are 5 rods in size (30m x 8 m or 150 yards square). While legislation allows for plots sized 10 rods, the Association found that the smaller plots are more appealing to older users and a more efficient use of the land available. The site is inspected by the Association Committee once a month to ensure the proper upkeep of the plots and each Committee member has supervisory responsibility for a group of plots. Tenants are not permitted to keep livestock or to grow soft fruit other than strawberries; planning regulations permit self-built sheds less than 4'6" in height or manufactured sheds up to 6' 6". Due to the special nature of the site, tenants are not allowed to dig to a depth greater than 2'. The Association has permission from the Environment Agency to extract irrigational water directly from the water table as the site is not connected to the mains; twenty hand pumps are provided around the site for that purpose. The cost of connecting the site to the mains would be prohibitive, and the pumps have never run dry.

It is estimated that about 30% of allotment holders are retired. The rent for a site is £10.00 per year, plus £5.00 for membership of the Association; pensioners pay £5.00 rent per year plus Association fees. A small profit is made, which is spent upon site machinery. A small shop on the site sells seeds, plants, compost and garden sundries.

The major problem experienced by allotment holders is vandalism and malicious damage. While the site is fenced round, the fences have been broken a number of times, with vandals gaining access through a derelict playground. Doors and windows of sheds have been smashed and tool boxes broken into. While there is little theft these incidents cause distress, particularly to older allotment holders and when plants are damaged. The Association cannot afford to pay for security guards and considers that patching of the fence has proved inadequate to address the problem: it would like the fence replaced.

In the recent past, there had been some suggestion that lead from petrol fumes had built up to unsafe levels in produce from the allotments, but it was believed that this problem had been alleviated.

The Association stressed the value of the allotment site to individual gardeners and to the community, in providing a significantly-sized piece of open land in the middle of the city. It is considered to provide health benefits, particularly for older tenants and for families. Social events are held, based on the allotments, such as competitions for best plot and best newcomer; two barbecues were held for charitable purposes in the summer of 1997.

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Prepared 24 June 1998