Posts Tagged With: Rent rise

The big freeze

Praise be, fellows, for we have a small and equally rare snippet of good news to impart this week. Our esteemed but somewhat skint landlords, the People’s Republic of Haringey, have gone all Michael Gove on us and withdrawn the proposed 100% rent rise. Marvellous. No, not even a 50% rise either. Nothing (above inflation at any rate). So there.

And what prompted this, one might ask? ’Job to say really. The head honcho for the environment, mentioned in posts passim, wrote to all 27 site secretaries borough-wide a few days ago. She didn’t tell us all much, apart from “having listened carefully to people’s concerns and reviewing all the feedback, we have decided to freeze the charges for 2013/14”. The extra £60,000 they hoped to raise from this hike was never going to be any more than a drop in the bucket in any case, given the dire financial straits they are in – but I guess she could be forgiven for not mentioning that.

However, she went on to say: “We still want to develop an improvement plan for the allotments, as previously discussed, and have asked officers to draft a scoping document to share with you before the end of 2012/13. Your comments on this will be most welcome”. Uh huh. Scoping, eh?

I’m afraid I can’t help feeling mildly exasperated by this – not least because we went through most, if not all of these hoops about six or seven years ago when the republic carried out a “review” of the “service” and came up with a detailed report as to what needed to be done on a site-by-site basis. The whole lot ended up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere, not least because the bill for infrastructure repairs came in at something in the order of £500,000, and in the absence of any external source of funds to match the council’s promise to stump up half of that, nothing very much has changed – or been done. The neglect at some sites remains rampant.

Since then, responsibility for the “service” has been transferred from the parks department to the tree section (presumably to save money), we have lost our dedicated allotments admin officer and we appear to be back at square one so far as listing all the outstanding repairs is concerned as these people do not appear to be in the habit of talking to each other.

There is, however, one bit that was not considered during that review and which, I am led to believe, may pop up in this “scoping report” (the report already exists in draft form but has yet to be seen by any of us at the coal face). And that bit is self-management.

This is a big subject which was touched on the last time I paid a visit to the talking shop known as the Haringey Allotments Forum. The reaction was pretty hostile when I mentioned it, with one old duck referring to it as “privatisation” (no doubt the appalling Gove would be in favour if it meant knocking yet more lumps out of local government), but I fail to see how the notion of “stakeholders” (apols for that ghastly bit of jargon) becoming masters of their own destiny could add up to privatisation.

A more useful contribution came from one of the more sensible forum stalwarts who flagged up recent experience in neighbouring Barnet – a Tory-controlled borough where they appear to be hell-bent on flogging or hiving off absolutely everything. Those allotment sites where a measure of self-management already existed (i.e. those big enough to have a site committee) were pretty much bounced into taking the whole shooting match off the council’s hands with results that could euphemistically described as mixed.

For my part, I can see some obvious attractions in paying the republic a peppercorn rent for the site and sorting the rest of it out amongst ourselves, but I am far from persuaded. The republic may be totally crap in various respects but, like education for example, there is a stack of things that they do behind the scenes that would otherwise have to be done by someone else.

And as my forum colleague said, most of us volunteers have already got quite enough to do without taking on another great pile of admin and management. If there was money in it – a part-time job or two, perhaps – then maybe it would be worth exploring, but once the subject of money raises its ugly head, could we find ourselves wandering down the road of commercialisation? And once that happens, the nature of the beast may well change radically.

Did someone mention peppercorns? ’Never tried to grow those before. Any tips?

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Categories: Allotment blog, Allotments, Gardening, Horticulture | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Tidings of joy

Skirmish of the week this time round has to be our full-frontal assault on the Kremlin – the Republic’s citadel in Wood Green, to which I was invited, as honorary winner of the BBC Loose Cannon of the Year award, as a stand-in member of the cabal also known as the Haringey Allotments Forum steering group.

The battleground, of course, was the Republic’s attempt to sneak in a 100 per cent rise in allotment rents, the sneakiness of which was firmly blown out of the water last week by yours truly in a post a fortnight ago, followed  up by a blast in the local press. And for once, the local rag (or what remains of it) managed to distinguish themselves by simply regurgitating my press release, thereby completely failing to misquote me – and, better still, also heeded my warning that if their somewhat weary sub-editor was rash enough to reach for his even more weary, clichéd “lost the plot” headline yet again, I would never, ever speak to them again.

A grenade, left over from our visit to the Kremlin

A grenade, left over from our visit to the Kremlin

We digress. The invitation for a little chat was issued by none other than the Republic’s head honcho, the “lead member for the environment” – who clearly hadn’t got much of a grip on her brief at all, flanked by the generally avuncular but somewhat slippery head of “recreation services” – a man who is very difficult to dislike, even when he’s telling you that you are about to be forced to eat worms and die. He was basically there to dig said lead member out of a hole – and she did indeed manage to find herself at the bottom of one or two.

The ruck got off to a flying start when I found myself in total agreement with said lead member as soon as she opened her mouth, urging us all to switch to an adjacent bunker as the one where we had gathered was insufferably hot. Said member is quite a lot better padded than me so she obviously felt the heat even more than I did, and I reckon she was expecting things to get hotter still (if they really want to save some money, why not turn down the thermostat, for heaven’s sake).

Once ensconced, she then kicked off with a grumble about the volume of abusive emails she had received since her comments to the Republic’s “scrutiny panel” meeting the previous week, at which I quoted her as saying that having an allotment was “a privilege” (which is exactly what she did say). Alas, in her attempts at qualifying what she said, she dug herself even deeper into the same hole by noting that there are not enough allotments to go round (yes, we know all about that), that there is a long waiting list (yes, we’ve got the hang of that bit too), and it is therefore not unreasonable to attempt to price the hoi polloi out of the market. Charming.

The remaining 40 minutes of trench warfare involved various grenades being slung in various directions, punctuated by the odd bayonet charge. The long and the short of it is that the Republic is frantically seeking to scrape together as many rabbit skins and bungo beans as possible, regardless of the source, in their attempts dealing with a £25 million cut in grants from the filthy Con-Dem coalition over the next three years while attempting to fob us gardeners off with a load of baloney about how they are going to spend all this extra wonga on infrastructure improvements and repairs across its 27 allotment sites.

You may not be surprised to hear, dear reader, that the cynics amongst us would argue that no such thing will happen, and that what has happened here is that the Republic have simply hit upon the idea of turning the allotment “service” into nothing short of a money-spinner.

So what happens next? Well, we take the cudgels to the rest of the “socialist” ruling group in the hope of getting them to vote the whole lot down come the budget-setting beanfeast early next year. And the chances of that? Somewhat slim, I would say.

Still, one small ray of hope did emerge – a notion of the flying pig variety. The lead member, as she ducked and weaved her way around the torrent of grapeshot and tumbled down an assortment of elephant traps, came out with surely the best news I have heard for some considerable time – that what we really need is more allotment sites …

Hurrah. Quite so. Let’s bulldoze a few retail parks and turn them over to cabbage patches, shall we? After all, they’re all going bust too, aren’t they? Digging for victory? It worked before.

Categories: Allotment blog, Allotments, Gardening, Horticulture | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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