Saturday, 15 March 2014

Summary of COUNCIL proposals Feb 2014


 

A SUMMARY OF THE SALIENT POINTS FOLLOWING FROM THE SAVINGS AND EFFICIENCY REVIEW OF THE MANAGEMENT OF ALLOTMENTS

 

Based on a report on the the management of Allotments following the outcome of the

Neighbourhood & Regulatory Services - Savings & Efficiency Review produced by Malcolm Russell (Neighbourhood Services – Bolton MBC)

 

This summary outlines the proposed management arrangements for both those sites with an Operational Management Agreement and those which do not have one.

 

 

Mr Russell’s Report recommended (and his recommendations were accepted) that:

 

The Executive Cabinet Member is recommended to:

 

i) Approve the request from Harpers Lane Allotments Ltd for a

Business Tenancy for part or all of the Harpers Lane Allotments

site.

ii) Authorise the Director of Environmental Services to enter into

‘Operational Management’ arrangements with other allotment

sites who wish to do so.

iii) Approve the operational, process and procedural changes set

out in the report.

iv) Authorise the Director of Environmental Services to enter into an

arrangement with the Association of Bolton Allotment Societies

(ABAS) for that organisation to take over the arrangement and

management of the allotment competitions.

 

 

Equality Impact Assessment: To be completed

 

 

1.0 Background

 

The Neighbourhood Services Review approved on the 16th September 2013 has

resulted in:

·         A reduction in the Allotments budget and the loss of the Horticultural Officer Post.

·         The Allotment Budget is now zero and expenditure will equal rent taken in across all sites (approx. £32,000 per year)

 

There are 35 sites and approximately 1000 plots

 

1.2 Historically the Horticultural Officer post (formerly the Allotments Officer) managed the waiting lists, changes in tenancy (incl meeting prospective tenants on site,arranging invoices and tenancy agreements), approving/refusing requests to erectstructures (greenhouses, sheds, poultry pens etc), breaches of T&Cs, terminations co-ordinated with legal services) to regain possession of plots, allotments competitions, seasonal provision of toilets, site repairs & maintenance (buildings,

gates & fences, paths, water supplies etc)

1.3 The role has traditionally been very hands on rather than process driven. With the latest reduction in resources it is essential that processes are clarified and streamlined so that the role can be minimised and managed as an administrative process only, as far as is practically possible.

1.4 To enable this there will need to be changes to existing processes, the introduction of new processes and changes to the Terms & Conditions of Tenancy to fit with these.

The aim being to have consistently applied Terms & Conditions across all tenancies,this will inevitably give little or no room for interpretation and sensitive application due to the very limited resources available.

1.5 With new, agreed, processes and procedures in place there may be the potential to work more closely with the Allotment Societies on those sites which have a society which represents the significant majority of tenants. This could give more local‘ownership’ whilst supporting a consistent approach across all the Council’s allotment

sites.

 

2.0 Harpers Lane Pilot Project

 

2.1 In 2009, following a PDG on the future management of allotments, the then Executive Member (Councillor Bashir-Ismail) agreed that a pilot exercise should be undertaken with the Harpers Lane Allotments Society to explore the potential for self-management.

2.2 The Harpers Lane Allotments Society has converted to ‘Harpers Lane Allotments Limited’, an Industrial and Provident Society (a form of social enterprise co-operative).

2.3 As a Social Enterprise, the Co-operative’s objectives are:

 

·         To operate the site without subsidy or loss.

·         To maintain rents and charges at a level that is affordable to a wide range of potential and existing plot-holders.

·         To provide a suitable environment and range of support services for the growing of food.

·         To promote enterprise (either collective or individual) amongst plot-holders (and other community stakeholders) to provide income-generation opportunities which can be used to reduce rents and charges and provide enhanced services.

·         To manage the site in the best interests of plot-holders, neighbours, communities and the natural environment.

 

 

2.4 The Co-operative can access grant-funding opportunities not available to the Council which will enable a much needed financial injection into the site.

2.5 As a social enterprise the co-operative is a non-profit distributing organization and any surpluses generated by its activities will be available to be used for the benefit of plot-holders and the development and maintenance of the site and its facilities.

 

2.6 The co-operative believes that by operating the site through a co-operative it can:

·         Engender a greater spirit of community and cohesiveness amongst plot-holders

·         Use the site more effectively to respond in a more appropriate and flexible way to the needs and demands of the communities surrounding the site

·         Use the site more effectively to make a positive contribution to entrepreneurial and economic activity within the area

·         Use the site in a more effective and environmentally sustainable manner in order to benefit wild-life

 

2.7 The ‘Operational Management’ arrangement has been in place since 1st April 2012,the currently agreed roles are set out at Appendix A.

2.8 Officers recently met with representatives of Harpers Lane Allotments to review the effectiveness of the arrangement to date:

Whilst the Society has been successfully operating the agreement there has been some breakdown in the communication of administrative information with the Council and as a result the Council’s waiting list and list of current tenancies was out of date. This has been resolved and it is proposed that a new procedure for communication is put in place as part of this review (see later)

Having a community plot on which prospective new tenants (those near the top of the waiting list) can experience what having an allotment is really like has proved very successful with a number of people getting experience, some dropping out and a number helping each other to prepare plots they have then taken on as tenants.

The society has maintained the site but found that having no storage facilities for equipment on site has hampered this.

The Society would like to seek funding for improvements to the community

building and toilets but with no security of tenure is finding obtaining grants difficult. The society has requested that the Council consider leasing to Harpers Lane Allotments (via a Business Tenancy) either the whole site or the area occupied by the buildings.

 

3.0 Option to roll out ‘Operational Management’ arrangements to other sites

 

3.1 It is felt that the arrangement with Harpers Lane is working well and, with some changes to the procedures and processes to take account of minor problems and the reduction in the Council’s resources, provides a template for similar arrangements with other sites which have an effective Society in operation.

3.2 One of the key elements of that template is proposed to be the establishment of a community plot on any site to have operational management arrangements. Depending upon the size of the plot and how it is to be managed there will need to be an agreement as to how many people from the waiting list should be invited to participate at a time.

3.3 It also needs to be recognised that there will be a number of sites which do not have an effective Society and which will need to be managed entirely by the Council. The level of input required will vary from site to site and it is proposed that, in reviewing the management processes, procedures and the Terms & Conditions of Tenancy, a variation in approach is developed depending upon whether sites are suitable for rolling out Operational Management.

 

4.0 Areas of Service for Consideration & proposals for process amendment

 

·         Waiting List (New applications & waiting list management)

·         Involvement in the Community plot (sites moving to operational management only)

·         Arranging new tenancies

·         Requests for structures, keeping of livestock etc

·         Breaches of Tenancy Terms & Conditions

 

4.1 Waiting Lists

4.1.1 Current arrangement – enquiry taken by phone or letter, entered on spreadsheet and revisited when plots become vacant. Information can be 3+ years old and leads to much wasted time as people have moved, no longer want a plot etc.

4.1.2 Proposal – online application process with alternative of telephone or written application, including via Society Secretaries.

Data, held on spreadsheet, to be refreshed after 2 years by e-mail if possible. If no reply is received within 28 days the name is removed from the waiting list. This refresh will be carried out between April & September so that the waiting list is ready for the 1st October tenancy renewal date and the subsequent 40 day payment failure and 30 day Notice period. This timing will support January offers of new tenancies.

 

4.2 New Tenancies

4.2.1 Current arrangements – vary, with some Society Secretaries having some involvement in contacting those on the waiting list and assisting with the completion of paperwork. However, inadequate communication has led to ‘lists’ not being accurate between sites & Neighbourhood Services.

Keys for sites are issued by Neighbourhood Services with the tenancy agreement for signing. A number of new tenants do not return the signed agreement leading to records being incomplete or resources being used chasing missing documentation.

4.2.2 Proposal

a) Sites with ‘Operational management’ agreements

Identify Plot to be used as Community Plot, to be managed by the Society at a nil rental value.

Agree with the Society the number of people to be on the community plot.

Let the Society Secretary have the contact details for persons on the waiting list whose information is less than 2 years old (subject to resolving Data Protection concerns). Refresh annually or sooner if required.

Society Secretary to contact next on waiting list when a vacancy on the

community plot arises and to advise Neighbourhood Services of that action and the outcome.

When a plot is confirmed as vacant the Society Secretary to assist the person already working on the community plot who is next on the list to complete the necessary paperwork for a new tenancy.

Paperwork to be forwarded to Neighbourhood Services so that a Tenancy

Agreement can be issued and invoice raised.

Keys to be issued by Society Secretary once signed Tenancy Agreement

received by Neighbourhood Services and fee paid.

 

b) Sites not having an operational management agreement

Neighbourhood Services to contact next on waiting list when plot vacant, allow loan of key for viewing of plot and provide necessary paperwork for application for new tenancy within 10 days.

When paperwork provided, arrange issue of Tenancy Agreement and invoice for fee. Key to be issued once signed Tenancy Agreement received by

Neighbourhood Services and fee paid.

4.3 Requests for structures:

4.3.1 Current arrangements - Application made in writing to Horticultural Officer using detailed proforma & criteria. Horticultural Officer makes decision against criteria, including site visit, before granting or refusing permission. This can take up a significant amount of time if there is disagreement. Applications for hens or rabbits on none ‘livestock’ plots is covered by the application for the relevant structure.

4.3.2 Proposal

a) Sites with ‘Operational management’ agreements

 

Tenant submits application to Site Society for the erection of a structure and, if relevant, the keeping of hens or rabbits.

If the Society Committee considers that the application fits the agreed criteria then the Society gives approval.

If the Society refuse the application and the tenant does not accept this then the application should be referred to Neighbourhood Services with detail as to the reason for refusal.

Neighbourhood Services make decision based on information supplied against the criteria.

If the application is refused the tenant may make a complaint which will be considered through the Council’s complaints procedure

 

b) Sites not having an operational management agreement

All tenants to be given a copy of the criteria for structures and keeping hens & rabbits with a new tenancy agreement

There will be a presumption that tenants will follow the criteria

There will be a requirement for the tenant to notify Neighbourhood Services if they are keeping hens or rabbits on a plot (to assist in the management of any pest or disease issues)

Neighbourhood Services will only take action if a breach of the criteria (i.e. breach of Tenancy Terms & Conditions) is identified.

 

4.4 Breach of tenancy

4.4.1 Current arrangements:

Information regarding an alleged breach in relation to ‘failure to cultivate’ came to Horticultural Officer via Society Secretary monthly report, other breaches of the Tenancy Agreement might also be reported by the Society Secretary, other tenants or would be noticed on site visits.

Site visited to confirm breach and then letter sent giving deadline for

improvement.

Site re-visited and if breach not addressed a ‘Notice of Re-entry’ is requested from Legal.

Notice of re-entry posted on site giving a notification of re-entry a month later.

Site re-visited on due date and plot entered onto to effect re-entry.

4.4.2 Proposal:

a) Sites with ‘Operational management’ agreements

Monthly inspection by Site Society identifies likely breach of tenancy

Society contact tenant to request breach be addressed

Next monthly inspection, if breach not addressed then reported to

Neighbourhood Services via revised monthly reporting system (with photos)

14 day Improvement Notice posted out by Neighbourhood Services and Society advised.

If no improvement by next monthly inspection, Society report again (with photos)

Notice of re-entry to be issued by Neighbourhood Services utilising proforma developed by Legal Services

Notice of re-entry served by a Council Officer or agent (photo)

If no contact possession taken on due date, a Council Officer or agent to attend on site. (photo)

Treat plot as vacant

 

 

b) Sites not having an operational management agreement:

No interim site visits unless potential Health & Safety matter, otherwise

inspections in April/May & Oct/Nov (photos)

Site inspection identifies breach of Terms & conditions (photos)

14 day Improvement Notice posted out

If no improvement by next inspection (month later)(photos)

Notice of re-entry to be issued by Neighbourhood Services utilising proforma developed by Legal Services

Notice of re-entry served by a Council Officer (photo)

If no contact, possession taken on due date, a Council Officer to attend on site (photo)

Treat plot as vacant

 

 

5.0 Terms & Conditions (Tenancy Agreement)

5.1 In order to facilitate some of the procedure and process changes identified above it will be necessary to review the Terms & Conditions of Tenancy. This will be considered further and brought to the Executive Member for consideration in due course.

 

6.0 Routine communication with Sites with operational management arrangements

6.1 If the roll out of such arrangements is approved it is proposed that a letter of understanding be exchanged with the Site Society which will include the roles and responsibilities and a series of procedure/process notes covering the matters set out in this report will be adopted

by both parties. It is anticipated that Officers will meet annually with the Site Society to review the arrangements.

6.2 Day to day communication will be with the Society Secretary by e-mail (a new Allotments e-mail address Allotments@bolton.gov.uk has been created) and will utilise a new monthly communication form which is likely to include information relating to:

Any requests to go on waiting list

Any plots in breach of T&Cs,

Any plots given up 

Persons on community plot offered vacant plots 

New tenancy application forms

Persons on community plot who’ve left

Persons on waiting list contacted for community plot & responses

Copy of approved application forms for structures & livestock and any

recommendations for refusal if contested.

 

Neighbourhood Services will then:

 

Process any potential breaches of tenancy (see 4.4 above)

Update waiting list

Take a view on refusals of structures & livestock forms if contested (include appeals process in T&Cs, to use Council complaints process)

Request Invoices from Accounts (as appropriate)

Advise Accounts of changes of tenancies (as appropriate)

Request new Tenancy Agreements from Legal (as required)

Update tenancy records as appropriate

 

7.0 Association of Bolton Allotment Societies

 

7.1 The Association of Bolton Allotment Societies (ABAS) is a long standing association of many of the larger allotment sites in Bolton. Although fairly inactive in recent years it has met with officers and expressed an interest in facilitating consultation with the Societies and with running the allotment competitions which the Council will be

unable to support in future. ABAS recently called a meeting of Society Secretaries and tenants which was attended by approximately 80 people.

7.2 At a subsequent meeting with representatives of ABAS support was given for the operational, process and procedural changes.

 
This summary has been prepared by ABAS - an offical version is availabel through the Council's website at www.bolton.gov.uk

 

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