‘Barmy’ council accused of spying on allotment holders in Hartlepool to catch them growing weeds

SPYING: Council workers accused of looking over fences and taking photos
SPYING: Council workers accused of looking over fences and taking photos

ALLOTMENT holders are furious at council spies who are taking covert pictures of their plots to catch them growing weeds and breaking “barmy” new rules.

Forty plot holders descended on Hartlepool’s Civic Centre yesterday to protest over the “ridiculous” regulations and accused bosses of trying to dig the dirt on them.

The sign at Grayfields Alotments

The sign at Grayfields Alotments

The angry gardeners also protested about other issues including photograph identification now being needed for plots, varying rent increases at different town allotment sites and over-zealous council staff coming down hard on gardeners.

One plot holder told a heated meeting of the council’s South and Central Neighbourhood Forum yesterday: “My allotment is being used as it should be.

“But you are wanting signatures and coming and wanting photographs, climbing up fences and taking photographs.

“Instead of being a leisure garden, you are looking behind yourself.

“I don’t think our councillors are aware of what the people in the council offices are up to, I think if they did know, they wouldn’t be happy.”

Tighter new rules for plot holders were brought in by Hartlepool Borough Council to maintain standards and ensure allotment holders abide by their tenancy agreements.

They include having to provide photographic identification so council chiefs can have more certainty of who allotment holders are, fences being a certain height, restricted sizes for greenhouses and sheds and the council introducing temporary restrictions at the Chester Road site for vehicles accessing certain paths after the track got churned up during the winter months, with allotment holders having to pay a £20 deposit for a key to some of the site gates.

But one gardener, who did not wish to be named, told the meeting Hartlepool’s allotment community was being “destroyed”.

He said: “All allotments are little communities in themselves.

“But this allotment team is destroying allotment communities. The older generation are absolutely petrified.

“They are telling you when to weed your garden, when to plant your garden and if you don’t you get a threatening letter.”

He claimed he had been at a friend’s plot at Thornhill allotments when a council worker asked what he was doing there and why there were weeds on his friend’s plot.

Councillor Kevin Cranney, who chaired the meeting, said yesterday’s meeting was a public forum and a special meeting would be needed to discuss the specific allotment matter further.

Councillor Ray Martin-Wells told the meeting: “I think I’m going to speak for every elected member in this room when I say I’m horrified at what I’m hearing.”

He said he was not going to make any judgement of council officers “if what’s been said today is even 10 per cent accurate”, but added: “We certainly need a meeting.”

He asked that when a meeting does take place, that gardeners remain calm, and he guaranteed that elected members would listen.

Councillor Jim Ainslie, vice-chairman of neighbourhood services, which includes allotments, said neighbourhood services chairman Councillor Peter Jackson received numerous phone calls from concerned allotment holders on Monday and that was why he was asked to attend the meeting.

He said; “Myself and Peter take this matter very seriously and Peter wishes to organise a meeting as soon as possible so everybody has the chance to sit around the table and voice their complaints and raise issues and we will be taking these matters seriously. This matter needs to be resolved.”

He said the gardeners were being heard “loud and clear” and he promised to stress the urgency of getting the matter resolved.

After the meeting, Evelyn Leck, a member of the National Allotment Society, said: “They are barmy rules and regulations. They are taking photographs over fences and when you confront them they say it’s council land and they can do what they like. It’s ridiculous.”

A council spokesman said: “Every year we take a photograph of every allotment as part of our records. We will always try to knock on the allotment holders’ door to try and ensure the allotment holders are there but if there is no answer, we have around 1,200 allotments to get around with limited resources.

“We will use a set of ladders to take a picture of an allotment so we get a photographic record to take any action if the allotment is not being managed to the appropriate standard.”