In 2014 we worked with Brighton and Hove City Council with help from The Food Partnership to produce The Allotment Strategy for the city which was to span from 2014 to 2024.
A huge amount of effort and money went into the strategy including over 700 hours of unpaid volunteer time from members of the Allotment Federation, the opinions of 1700+ people who participated in surveys and 70+ who attended meetings or events over a whole year.
It was perhaps the most widely consulted Allotment Strategy to ever happen in the UK. It got unanimous cross party support in Brighton and Hove and drew accolades from across the Country. BHAF were very pleased with the document and looked forward to helping implement it. It aims to improve the service for all plot holders and those on the waiting list..
Initially there were regular implementation meetings however key managers in the Council who were leading the strategy left and restructuring took place. Strategy meetings ground to a halt and progress on the Allotment Strategy diminished and completely stopped over 18 months ago. BHAF have been trying to re-engage the Allotment Office during this time without success and we reached a point some months ago where we felt we had to complain directly to the Council about the lack of engagement and progress.
The vast majority of the strategy recommendations remain unfulfilled. Many of these aims directly benefit plot holders. The key recommendations regarding wider representation and participation, transparency, streamlining of rules, environmental protections and site rep training have not happened.
Nor has the important work on the social, health and environmental return on the investment in allotments, increasing the diversity of plot holders and accessibility for people with mental and physical health issues. In contrast one recommendation, the £16 fee to join the waiting list was implemented almost immediately.
The majority of areas of the strategy which BHAF could implement on its own have been implemented. We have encouraged the formation of 3 new Allotment Associations, produced a new welcome pack, produced a water savings initiative, encouraged environmentally sensitive growing and biodiversity initiatives and started a donation scheme which raised £6000 in the first year.
The areas which needed implementing in partnership with the Council or aims that only the Council could implement have seen little to no progress. We understand that the Council has had its funding severely restricted but most of the aims do not require any additional funding just co-operation. There appeared to be reluctance from the Allotment Service to actually implement certain parts of the strategy.
Recently we took our concerns to the Councils Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee and senior officers in the Council. The matter was discussed at the ETS Committee meeting on Tuesday 24th November 2020. We were very encouraged to see an acceptance that the strategy has not been delivered and to see Councillors (Cllr Jamie Lloyd and Cllr Lee Wares) recommit to delivering the strategy and to an updated delivery plan being produced. The recomendations from the agenda are at the bottom of this email.
Senior Officers also recognised that a delivery plan is needed and it is anticipated this will be ready by March. We are hoping that finally we can get back to implementing a strategy that we believe will have an incredibly positive effect and bring many benefits to the allotment service and community.
Waiting List Issues.
One of the few strategy recommendations that the Council actually did implement was the introduction of a fee to join the waiting list of £15 (now £16 and rising).
This fee was introduced to improve the waiting list and the experience of being on the list. The fee was introduced and changes were made so that you can now look up your place on the list. But perhaps the most essential improvement and one which the strategy said was essential did not happen.
The waiting list is still not automatically updated when you apply online. So when people apply, the details they input are then sent to the allotment officer who then manually re enters all the details again onto his own system. The strategy said that this should have been made automated.
The Covid situation has exposed the weakness in the current this system. Recently we were emailed by upset people asking why after paying £16 and completing their application they were still not even on the list many months later. At one point the allotment officer had a backlog of well over 700 applications to manually re-type into his system, (applications which had already been typed in by the applicant). The concerning part of this is all the other work the allotment officer could be doing instead.
Site Reps and plot holders alike have been telling us that when they contact the allotment service they have to wait a very long time foe a reply and some tell us that they never actually do get a reply. We have also raised this issue with Council Officers.