Villagers to fight landowner's plans to sell off century old allotments
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
A PARISH council has vowed to fight against a landowner’s intention to sell the 101-year-old allotment site it manages.
A number of Copeland Row allotment holders turned up at this month’s Evenwood and Barony Parish Council meeting to hear that the landowner had served notice to quit, and the lease on the property would expire in March next year.
The parish council currently rents the property from the landowner and, in turn, collects rent from allotment holders.
Parish clerk Martin Clark told the allotment holders a proposal had been made to H&H Land and Property, the agents for the landowner, in which the parish council would pay £5,000 and possibly the legal costs to take over the land. He said this had not been taken up.
He added: “I put that in writing – I resent the email two times and nobody responded. So on March 4 I rang H&H Land. He didn’t say anything about the offer the parish council had put forward. He said the likelihood is they will sell the allotments, but if the council co-operates, we will get possibly 20 per cent of the proceeds.”
He added that only days later a notice to quit was sent to the parish council.
Council chairwoman Cllr Barbara Nicholson described the predicament as a moral one.
She said: “That is because this is a piece of land that was negotiated with the then North Bitchburn Coal Company in 1918. So we are talking about 100 years ago at least. There were a lot of young men coming from the war, injured, not having allotments and they needed them, so there is a moral issue down the line here.
“I think that we should ask the new owners to give this land, or find an alternative site, or give us a new lease at a reasonable rent, or give the parish council time to find the money to buy it. Those are the options I would like to put to them.”
She added that even if the council received 20 per cent of the asking price, it would not be enough to buy alternative land to start new allotments. Cllr Nicholson said: “I don’t want their 30 pieces of silver at all, I really don’t. So I think we have everything going for us but we need to stick together because it is not right. It is morally wrong if those allotments are just sold on to whoever, and we don’t know to who or why.”
Mr Clark told the meeting that he had received free legal advice, as well as advice from Durham County Council, which had suggested that the site could be designated as a “statutory allotment” because of the length of time it had been in existence.
He said: “If those allotments are designated as statutory, and it should after 100 years, we will fight to have them designated statutory allotments and that gives you rights. The only person who has the right to say they can be sold is the secretary of state. If he goes that far, if he says ‘yes, you have to be compensated and a new piece of land has to be found’.”
An alternative, he added, would be to delay the sale by asking that the allotments be declared a “asset of community value”, which would give the community or parish council time to raise the funds needed to buy the property.
One of the allotment holders said: “I don’t know if it helps but there is a pond down there with newts in it.”
The council voted unanimously not to collect rent from the allotment holders for the coming year.
However, the agents for the landowner say they are still in discussion with the parish council over the site.
H&H director David Quayle said: “We are currently in meaningful discussions with Evenwood and Barony Parish Council who have been offered the first option to purchase the allotments.
“The owners are sympathetic to the parish council and are keen to come to an amicable agreement, as such discussions and negotiations commenced before the issue of a formal notice.
“In accordance with legislation the parish council have been given over 12 months’ notice, which allows time for them to consider all of their options."
John Robinson, who has kept horses at the Copeland Row allotment site for the past 32 years, said: “I am stuck if anything happens here.”