Seven Kings and Goodmayes Allotment gardeners now believe they have finally won their fight to save much loved allotments form sale, helped by local residents and similarly threatened allotment gardeners in Hainault. Goodmayes Labour Councillors and Labour Deputy Leader, Cllr Bob Littlewood, were involved early in helping allotment gardeners.
The battle began early in 2007 when Redbridge Council Cabinet voted to sell off Vicarage Lane South and Goodmayes Lane allotments. They decided in secret, with the public unable to attend or even find out that plot sales were on the agenda. Councillors were forbidden to talk about sales, yet according to Alan Weinburg, Council Leader, the decision was not a secret!
The sale move was doubly cynical as Redbridge had recently announced a “consultation” on the future of allotments. As one gardener said “it’s difficult to call it a consultation when a key decision has already been made” . Sale plans also threatened other open space with allotment holders to be displaced into Goodmayes Park extension.
They were soon joined by North Hainault Allotment Holders Society, also threatened with the sale of two flourishing sites. Sites were chosen solely because they were easy to develop. Two sites were fully occupied and the others nearly full.
When they found out allotment gardeners went to war. They protested outside Town Hall meetings joined by Labour Party members, spoke at Council, Cabinet and Scrutiy Committees and publicised their case in the local papers, radio and the national press. Their fight was even mentioned in the book “One man and his dig” by Times journalist Valentine Low.
They lobbied their Area Committees and were rewarded by a split in the Conservative ranks. Several Conservative councillors were concerned by the potential loss of open space and the risk of overdevelopment.
They could also have considered that selling four allotment sites run by voluntary groups flew in the face of a national Conservative policy that claims to support voluntary groups. Not so in Redbridge. The only Council run site, Chigwell Road, was withdrawn from sale when local residents objected en masse and it was conveniently discovered that the site was in a flood risk area.
Selling allotments also flies in the face of the growing national popularity of allotments. Ironically the voluntary sector let sites are much better occupied than the Council’s own sites so it looks as if the Council wanted to penalise voluntary success.
Most allotment gardeners are not terribly political. For many it was their first visit to a Council meeting. They went away appalled at the cynical way they were treated by Redbridge Conservatives.