Meeting at Astley Bridge Cricket Club 14/09/2015.
The Meeting began with a presentation by Andrea Hallissey Secretary of the North West Counties Allotments Association (the regional layer of the National Allotment Society). Andrea gave a persuasive presentation as to why societies and individuals should join and become involved with the National. Setting aside the direct benefits questions such as insurance and seed schemes, Andrea concentrated on the need for the allotment community to stick together to maintain the position and indeed existence of allotments in the face of the pressures that they currently face in these times of expenditure cuts and demands for new development sites. A number of members asked questions and voiced concerns about their perceptions and experience of the National, which Andrea addressed and a useful discussion was had. The Committee would like to record their thanks to Andrea for coming over to Bolton on Monday evening and giving us her time and energy.
The next presentation was by Stephen Best, PCSO with the section of Greater Manchester Police that covers the Astley Bridge Area. Stephen have a bright, informed and enjoyable presentation which developed into a question and answer session with the audience and ranged over a whole gamut of topics relevant to plot holders and site security. Particular points to mention were the idea of Allotment watch schemes (there is one in Horwich, and Andrea also offered to give us contacts at a scheme in Salford) and the use of cameras and audible alarms on sheds and buildings. Stephen also emphasised the need for EVERY person affected by thefts and vandalism to make an individual report of the incident to GMP as only in this way can the statistics on which policing is planned reflect the real level of incidents that we face. The Committee would like to record its thanks to Stephen for his time and to his superiors for letting him attend our meeting.
There then followed a discussion on a range of issues surrounding the selling of produce
This was prompted by the case at Tonge Fold Allotments which had received a high level of coverage particularly in the Bolton News but also in national journals.
On 10/08/2015, following a complaint by a member of the public to the Council’s “Regulatory Services”, Malcolm Russell instructed the Secretary of Tonge Fold Allotments to instruct plot-holders at that site to desist from selling produce from a stall set up at the gates of the site. This stall had been widely advertised in the locality.
At a meeting that evening Abas undertook to get legal advice from the National about the situation
An email to abas from Malcolm Russell (10/08/2015) stated:-
“the principle of advertising and selling produce from any allotment is one that we (the Council) don’t want to get into. We are comfortable with the societies having annual shows that include some sales of produce from the site, but we can’t have societies or individuals advertising and / or selling on a regular basis.’
We reproduce below the reply from Liz Bunting (NAS – legal officer) to our email asking for guidance on the legal position around selling surplus produce.
“As I mentioned (in our telephone conversation) I have had numerous conversations with senior Trading Standards Officers throughout the country and they are not concerned with the sale of surplus seasonal produce where the proceeds are for Association funds.
However, where a stall has been set up at the gates of the allotment, this brings a great many issues into the scenario. The Planning Department may require planning permission, the Highways Department will be looking at signage and traffic build up. Trading Standards and the Environmental Health Department will be concerned about the produce being sold and particularly where this includes jams and pies. There is a registration involved in trading as a food business, street trading licenses and HMRC will also be interested in any business activity. Neighbourhood services will also look at any breaches of the Lease, because they will be receiving pressure from these other departments.
The individuals who are taking part in these activities, all of whom have direct let tenancy agreements, preventing business activity, each one will be in breach of their individual leases and therefore this gives the Council the opportunity to issue a Notice to Quit”
Clause 21 of the Bolton Tenancy Agreement covers business activity
Some further points are recorded from a conversation between abas secretary Dave Jackson and Ms Bunting.
“Allotment Law” (P Clayden, page 7, section 4, para b) states that decisions about ‘commercial use with regard to site shops and the sale of surplus produce’ should be made on a site by site basis by the local authority. Bolton Council’s criteria on such decisions was stated by M Russell in the email referred to earlier.
In response to a query that it is the Society that is selling not individuals and the society has no tenancy agreement with the Council, so how could there be a breach of that agreement, Ms Bunting’s opinion was that this is not a defence – the Council could hold those taking the decision to sell (e.g. the Committee) as being responsible for the breach and take action against them.
Essentially Ms Bunting’s view is that the actions of the site society in question are potentially wrong both in terms of accepted custom and practice and in Allotments Law and the Council could be justified in taking action.
She also feels that interventions by the other Regulatory agencies mentioned would also be likely and potentially damaging to the society and to individuals.
Ms Bunting’s advice and the information from abas’ conversation with her were passed to the Society Secretary at Tonge Fold.
Tonge Fold proceeded with an Open Day held on the site and we understand that they have since continued selling produce. The Tonge Fold Committee met with Malcolm Russell on 09/09/2015
Abas also had some communications with Malcolm Russell following his return from leave on 01/09/2015.
Mr Russell clarified the Council’s view on discussions about this matter – the Council talk to abas about borough-wide issues (e.g. the interpretation of Allotment Law), with Site Societies on site specific matters and with individuals where their personal Terms and Conditions of Tenancy are concerned.
On 09/09/2015 in an email to abas Mr Russell restated the Council’s position as follows
‘With regard to the fund-raising element, the Council’s current position is as previously advised and fits with the advice obtained from the National. (We are comfortable with the societies having annual shows that include some sales of produce from the site, but we can’t have societies or individuals advertising and / or selling on a regular basis.)
However we would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with Abas as part of a review of the council’s position on the matter. The Council is keen to support Societies both in terms of the sustainable management of sites and the potential role that sites/societies could play in the local community around food growing, health and wider social benefits.
At the same time there are potential regulatory issues that we all need to be aware of e.g. Planning and ‘prepared food’ sales.
Members of the Tonge Fold Society who had been at the meeting with Mr Russell on 09/09/2015 said that this did not accord with their recollection of the position as he had stated it at that meeting. He had been much more positive and had essentially agreed that they could continue regular weekend sales.
Abas has since contacted Mr Russell for clarification on this point. Essentially the position is as stated in his written email. The Council will however look at such issues on a case by case basis while the review referred to above is taking place.
The meeting moved on to mandate the Committee to take part in the Council’s review of the sustainable management of sites and the potential role that sites/societies could play in the local community around food growing, health and wider social benefits. The meeting felt however that the review should concentrate on site management and maintenance issues.
We have received an email from Mr Russell. He reports that the Allotments section has been seriously understaffed due to the illness of a key staff member and that as a consequence of this some of the work that the section had wished to carry out prior to the sending out of plot-holders rent bills in October has not been completed. Consequently there will be errors in some of the bills that are sent out. He asks for plot-holders understanding on this. If an error occurs will the plot-holder concerned please either 'phone the number on the bill or email the Allotments section on Allotments@bolton.gov.uk