Further review to be held after claims allotment holders felt ‘hoodwinked and bullied’ by Hartlepool council officers

A further review is to be held over allotment arrangements in Hartlepool after concerns were raised of holders feeling ‘hoodwinked and bullied’.

Thursday, 22nd October 2020, 5:50 pm
Hartlepool Civic Centre
Hartlepool Civic Centre

In September a full council meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council approved reports which included an allotments service review, looking at allotment rules, regulation and site management.

However at the full council meeting on Tuesday (October 20) councillors raised concerns they have since been contacted by allotment holders who feel they were ‘hoodwinked’ and not actively consulted over the review.

A motion was therefore passed by councillors for a further review of the rules relating to allotment holders to go back before Neighbourhood Services Committee.

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The committee had previously discussed and approved a report including a review of allotment rules and regulations of tenancy at their meeting in March.

Speaking at full council, Cllr Lesley Hamilton said: “The allotment holders have admitted to feeling somewhat hoodwinked by officers and feel that they have not been actively consulted on the allotment service review

“My concern is that the allotment community feel that they are, and I quote here, being bullied and coerced into contracts and are threatened with eviction when they challenge those officers.

“What we don’t want is for the council and its officers to be perceived as bullies, or that they are suppressing holders into complying with decisions on the basis they will have their allotments taken away should they refuse to comply.

“This is not how I view the council and its officers and I know it’s not how we come to agreements with our communities when making decisions.”

Cllr Christopher Akers-Belcher pointed out he had raised a motion to send the reports back to Neighbourhood Services Committee for more discussions at the full council meeting last month, which was rejected by councillors, including those in the Labour Group.

Noting legal advice that a decision cannot be changed for six months after being passed, he therefore raised a motion for a further review of the rules relating to allotment holders, which was passed by councillors through a majority vote.

Cllr Carl Richardson added when discussions were previously held on the report, he was under the impression allotment holders agreed with what the council approved.

He said: “If we’re going to go down this particular path it’s very important to have the allotment holders onside to make sure the things we are proposing are going to be implemented.”

Cllr Shane Moore, council leader, said the decisions had been made through ‘months and months’ of discussions before being approved last month, with councillors having the paperwork to raise issues previously if needed.

He said: “What frustrates me about this is, this isn’t just a decision we’d taken in September out of the blue, this had gone on for months and months and months, there had been consultation, it had been through the committee process.

“If I can be blunt, it’s not my fault and it’s nobody else’s fault if members don’t read their paperwork appropriately and don’t understand what they’re voting on when they make decisions.”

“This has been a decision that’s been made now, I appreciate there’s a vocal minority of the allotment holders who don’t like one or two of the decisions, however it can’t be changed for six months.”

Information clarified in the allotment review included how allotment associations would be required to provide information on how they were run, details of members and appointments and financial accounts.

It also clarified how the council would be allowed to inspect allotments and any sheds or greenhouses at sites for reasons such as concerns over animal welfare, chemical storage, and health and fire safety.

Council chiefs at the Neighbourhood Services Committee in March noted the council always had this right and would not interfere with allotment holders, adding they were just clarifying their rights to tenants.

They also said the council is liable for anything that happens on the land, and they would only carry out checks if and when necessary.

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