Minutes of a Meeting on 08.06.2015 at Astley Bridge Cricket Club
Minutes of Last Meeting
The last meeting having centred on a talk on vegetable growing followed by a discussion of individual site grievances, there were no substantive minutes. Matters from the discussion etc. were tabled for our meeting with the Council on 05.06.2015
ITEM ONE: FEEDBACK ON COUNCIL MEETING 05.06.15
Item 1.1 The revised / “refreshed” operational management agreement
A new version of the OMA is being prepared and will be circulated to sites over the summer. The key points are:-
Potential Breaches of Tenancy
These are set out in the Tenancy Agreement - When a Society identifies a potential breach of tenancy it should report this (as part of the Monthly Report) together with supporting evidence e.g. photographs (in areas such as Health and Safety concerns, mal-cultivation and tipping) or written statements by named plot-holders (in cases such as abusive or threatening behaviour by plot-holders).
Withdrawing the term ‘Community Plot’
There is much confusion over what is meant by the term community plot. In future this term will not be used in OMAs or elsewhere. There will be no shared plots other than joint tenancies.
If a plot is being worked by a group of people then it will be called –“a plot being worked by a community organisation / group” and that organisation / group will have to nominate a single person to act as the official plot-holder. That person will be responsible for the payment of the rent on that plot. The Council will however allow the transfer of the tenancy of the plot to another nominated member of the organisation when / if this becomes necessary.
Under the refreshed OMA when a plot becomes vacant it will firstly be considered whether that plot can be split. (See previous advice on ABAS blog-site). This may create one or more smaller plots for letting. (The term half-plot is no longer used, we simply have plots of differing sizes).
Plots available for letting will be offered to prospective tenants for a probationary period (of up to a maximum of 6 months) at nil rental before potentially offering them the Tenancy of the plot. The Society will oversee the probationary period and if during that period there is sufficient evidence that the prospective tenant is capable of working the plot, they will inform the Council that a Tenancy should be offered. If at the end of the probationary period the Society feels that the prospective tenant has not performed satisfactorily then they may extend the probationary period or ask the prospective tenant to leave. If the prospective tenant does not agree to vacate the plot then the Society should provide evidence to support their decision and refer the matter to the Council who will determine if a tenancy should be offered. The tenant will then receive a Tenancy Agreement.
This exposes a flaw in current arrangements – the Council has previously stated that a site key will only be issued after a signed Tenancy Agreement has been returned to them. How then is a probationer to gain access to the plot during their probationary period? Societies will have to go back to providing keys (as most do at present) and tenants will have to pay for them.
Buddies - will after two years as a registered buddy provided they are on the waiting list acquire the right either (if the plot-holder agrees) to become joint tenants. During that period they will have the normal rights of anyone on the waiting list, but a refusal of a vacant plot on the grounds that they are already working a plot will not result in any penalties.
Criteria for decision making
With the refreshed OMAs will come a new pack for Society Secretaries which will outline the current accepted criteria to be applied in devolved approval / rejection of requests to erect structures, keep poultry, bees etc. and provide new forms as appropriate.
Item 1.2 Inter-site Transfers
Where a tenant on a site wishes to transfer to another site within the Borough they may go on the waiting list for that site without needing to relinquish their current plot. If offered a plot on their desired site they would then need to vacate their existing tenancy.
Item 1.3 Day to day communications
Communications between the Societies and the Council should (except for emergencies and truly urgent matters) be through the revised MONTHLY REPORT
Societies should submit the Monthly report during the second week of each calendar month
The Allotment Section can then schedule its monthly meeting to collate these reports and make decisions etc.
If by 1 calendar month after the submission of an issue through a monthly report a Society has not received a response they should notify Abas (and send us a copy of the original report) we will then take the matter up with Malcolm Russell and report back to the next Abas meeting.
The aim is to reduce the number of individual phone calls and emails being received by the section. They cannot cope and calls are not being logged and emails are being lost.
Matters to be covered in the monthly report include:
1. Any requests received to go on the waiting list including registering buddies
2. Any plots in breach of T&Cs (give position in process)
3. Any plots vacated / given up
4. Any contacts with persons from the waiting lists (including showing vacant plots and the result)
5. Any persons offered probationary plots
6. A list of persons who have left probationary plots
7. New Tenancy applications forms received by the Society (e.g. after a satisfactory probation)
8. A list of all delegated decisions on structure and livestock with results and reasons for refusing any which are contested
Item 2. Future Working Arrangements with Wigan Council
Bolton Council needs to cut £42m from its annual budgets. There is a fear that the next Chancellor’s Budget will accelerate and deepen the cuts demanded of local government.
There are outline plans to cut a further 200 admin posts within Borough staff which could seriously impact on the issues we’ve been raising.
Bolton Council is examining the benefits of joint working with Wigan Council in a number of areas. A report on the viability of joint working and which areas will be covered will go to Elected Members in July. Changes to allotments arrangements have not been discussed and MR assures us that there will always be a point of contact for sites within Bolton.
ITEM 3 : ISSUES FROM SOCIETIES
Slowness / Lack of Response from Council on Setting Up OMAs
Progress on initiating new OMAs (Haslam Park, Lever Park) should resume once the new OMA agreements are available
Council “Failure” to carry out promised work
Two examples of fencing (Settle St. and Haslam Park) have been placed on the 2015/16 ‘to do’ list and are with contractors. In the event it was reported that the work at Settle St has in fact been completed.
The damage to the Harpers Lane Amenities building has revealed that Corporate Property do not appear to have records of many buildings on allotment sites. If a building is not listed on the Corporate Assets register MR cannot access funds to carry out repairs. A survey will be conducted this summer on behalf of the Council to correct the Register. In the meantime there is no information as to when the building will be repaired.
Abas noted that responses to H&S issues (e.g. asbestos at Harpers Lane and a derelict greenhouse at Sapling Rd.) have improved
Lack of Support from Council on Breaches of Tenancy
A recent case at Sapling Rd. exemplifies what the Council sees as its need to intervene in contentious disputes which may have political or media risks attached.
A recent case at Florence Avenue has directly lead to the abandonment of the term community plot and the introduction of the probationary system. MR is intending to make a site visit to Florence Avenue to explain the reasons for the Council’s actions to the Secretary.
MR stressed that all plot-holders remain tenants of the Council and have a right of access to Council appeal processes
Council Failure to Liaise with Societies over new tenants
The only solution offered is that these societies should accept one of the new revised OMAs.
Smedley Avenue argued they could not take on an OMA on cost grounds. They have a number of vacant an unworked plots on the site plus a number of members unwilling to join or contribute (financially) to the society. This means that the cost of public liability insurance a requirement of an OMA) would have to be shared amongst a small number of members. They are in a catch 22 situation – they cannot bring in tenants as they have no access to the waiting list (and the council has directed few prospective tenants to the site), they can’t have the waiting list because they haven’t an OMA, they can’t have an OMA because they can’t afford the insurance, they can’t afford the insurance because there aren’t enough tenants on the site etc.
Abas has agreed to write to Malcolm Russell asking if that requirement might be waived for small sites at least on a temporary basis IF they simply wish to have the waiting list and participate in letting vacant plots.
There was a question from the floor as to why the Council seems unable to consistently and reliably operate agreements whereby prospective tenants are given the contact details of nominated persons at the site so that there is always someone there to let them on and greet them on a first visit.
Delays in Council Responses to Requests for Decisions
Harpers Lane – This concerned an Appeal by a tenant against a decision to keep bees on individual plots. The Council is whether to adopt National advice on bee-keeping prior to making a ruling.
Moss Lea – in one case the matter requires referral to a Committee of elected members and MR has been having difficulty in being allocated committee time – in the other MR stated that he needs more information and hopes to visit the site this summer.
Dissatisfaction with Council Responses
Issues over site access by neighbours at Sapling Rd. The Secretary provided feedback on actions taken by the Council which satisfied the representatives of Sapling Rd. present. This is another example of where a simple call or email by Council staff stating “this is the action we’ve taken” would have helped matters.
ITEM 4: OTHER ITEMS
Stock Plots – a plot is a stock plot IF it is so designated by the Council and if the plot-holder pays rent at the appropriate rate. Stock Plots are not covered by any OMA on the site BUT Societies should report any issues impinging on the management of the site (e.g. the presence of Japanese Knotweed on a stock plot)
Cemetery Rd – the remaining issues at Cemetery Rd centre on what was the original boundary of the cultivated / cultivatable area on the plots in question and on the repairs to the fencing
ITEM 5: SITES WITHOUT OMAs
The Council’s proposals for future site management centre on rolling out an increasing number of OMAs.
There is a proposal for Site representatives at other sites – i.e. an Abas member who has a reporting role.
Abas seeks to represent ALL sites in Bolton, and all plot-holders on those sites, not just those with OMAs (at present just over 460 of the 950 plots in Bolton are covered by OMAs – a further 50 or so plots are in the “pipeline”)
Members were asked to consider what actions Abas could take to improve the prospects for sites which cannot or will not adopt an OMA solution?
A suggestion from the floor was that smaller non-OMA sites could be twinned with larger OMA sites to create a multi-site society for insurance and OMA purposes. Abas would look into this suggestion provided there are OMA sites willing to extend their range and non-OMA sites who would accept ‘twinning’.
Abas also has a communications issue, most of our member are OMA sites - How do we reach non-OMA sites?
ITEM 6: FUTURE ABAS MEETINGS
Abas covers a number of functions but two dominate – one we are an Association of Allotment SOCIETIES (what the National calls a Federation) and two, we are a society of allotment gardeners.
The normal business meetings of ABAS address the first function and contact is essentially through Society Secretaries.
The talks etc. that we have recently organised address the second.
How do we reach individual allotment holders and others interested in growing food?
There has been a proposal that we do not mix the two strands in a single meeting but have separate meetings for each purpose – what do members think? How could we do this?
ITEM 7: COMPETITIONS
Judging has now begun on the Borough-wide Allotments Competitions (Fairhurst, Greenhalgh, New Tenant, Rosebowl). Entry numbers have been disappointing.
Update on the Onion and Leek Show – posters are now available promoting the Show. These were distributed to those present. A show schedule and entry forms will be available soon from Mrs Margaret Farrell, 13 Romer Street, Bolton, BL2 6BG Tel: 0785 394 9570.
Abas’ Treasurer Terry Farrell has offered to help anyone who is considering entering the show by providing advice and assistance in selecting entries and preparing items for the show bench. Terry’s number is 0786 393 3064
ITEM 8: ANY OTHER BUSINESS AND NEXT MEETING
Members are concerned that the Council (despite statements to the contrary) is not focusing on the key task of letting vacant plots. It was felt that the Council is losing income which could be spent on providing services to allotments.
Members are concerned that issues around allotment management and the provision of the service are not higher on the public agenda – it was suggested that the issues could be aired in the Bolton News and raised at Area Forums and Ward Councillor Surgeries.
The next Meeting is on Monday 13th July, 8.00 p.m. at Astley Bridge Cricket Club