Gardeners set to be kicked off Derbyshire allotment site which has been lovingly cultivated for more than 100 years

Dozens of passionate gardeners are set to be kicked off a Derbyshire allotment site which has been lovingly cultivated for more than 100 years.

By Eddie Bisknell, Local Democracy Reporter
Thursday, 30th June 2022, 4:11 pm

The Starkholmes Allotment site, on the outskirts of Matlock, is thought to have been set up for use by returning service personnel after the First World War as a method of rest and rehabilitation.

However, the private landlord of the 36-plot site has set a date to evict the allotment holders – with the plots to be vacated by Thursday, September 29.

Allotment holders are now in “survival mode”, they say, and are calling for financial and political support to help them compulsory purchase the site from the landowner.

Allotment holders are calling for financial and political support to help them compulsory purchase the site from the landowner.

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Campaigners have been lobbying Sarah Dines, Derbyshire Dales MP, and Derbyshire Dales District Council for support in their last-ditch efforts.

They are also drawing up a “fighting fund” of £55,000 to help with the compulsory purchase reports, legal costs and payment for the site itself, of which they have so far raised £4,400.

Brian Newton, the private owner of the site, has been approached for comment but has not yet responded.

It is thought the allotments were set up for use by returning service personnel after the First World War as a method of rest and rehabilitation.

Mary Derrick, one of the campaigners, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “This is the last chance saloon for our allotments.

“It is an absolute travesty that one man can destroy this community asset in the face of the climate emergency and cost of living crisis.

“The council need to show their true and sincere commitments to policies they have voted on and be brought to account.

“All we need is a chance to buy the site and a chance for the landowner to leave a legacy for his community.

Allotment holders say they are now in 'survival mode'

“Derbyshire could be paving the way for all allotments under threat in the UK. This has not been done before.

“Imagine the precedent that could be set in Derbyshire. Wouldn’t Sarah Dines and Cllr Garry Purdy (Derbyshire Dales District Council leader) want a piece of that?”

The allotment holders have been offered land next to the existing site, which is currently a play area owned by the district council, but this site has been firmly rejected by the campaigners.

They say 100 years of work to cultivate the current allotment site, such as the intense enrichment of the soil, is not transferable.

Ms Derrick said: “The outcome of public consultation on the adjacent land owned by the district council is that the public do not in effect want to lose two community assets at the hands of the landowner of the allotments.

“There are no other identified alternative sites in Starkholmes village.

“We have not been successful in our attempts to enter into negotiations with the landowner to buy the site for the amount the land owner ‘hopes for’, we don’t know what he hopes for, he hasn’t said and he hasn’t agreed to sell it to us, we have asked him to.

“We can’t apply to Lottery Funds if he won’t agree to sell it to us. For all those reasons, the only option left to us is a CPO (compulsory purchase order).”

Campaigners claim the private landlord has suggested that the site’s land value would be £17,400 if it is classed as agricultural land or £1.68 million if it is to be sold as land to build homes on.

They also say housing permission would likely not be granted on the plot due to its incline and the presence of numerous mine shafts.

On the campaign group’s Crowdfunder page, it says: “The UK has declared a climate emergency – it would be a travesty to allow this established nature haven to be destroyed.

“We are a group of allotment users – younger, older, parents, children, retired, working, living with all the usual stresses of life – who simply want to grow our own food, quietly, courteously and in harmony with nature, as those before have done, and to leave the soil to those that come after.

“Evidence shows the site is likely to hold many serious challenges for developers, given the extensive old mine shafts beneath the allotment plots.

“The site is perfect for allotments, the soil is rich and fertile and brimming in biodiversity from years of sensitive investment from plot holders for around 100 years.”

The campaign says Matlock Town Council has given the group £5,000 to help in their endeavours.

Councillor Purdy, speaking to the LDRS, said that there are currently two “twin-track legal battles” being pursued: the campaign group’s compulsory purchase order and a push from the council itself to formally designate the site as an asset of community value, aimed at protecting it from development.

He said: “We have served notice on Mr Newton to take over Mr Newton’s land as an asset of community value.

“There are two twin-track legal battles and Mr Newton says he will appeal that (the asset of community value plan).“We have set a meeting between the group, the town council and officers to help allotment holders move forward, but as far as helping to fund their campaign, the budget has already been set for this year and I don’t think we have the money.

“A separate site could have solved things and at the moment we have got an impasse.

“I fear the only people that are going to win out of this are the legal people.”

He said the information that the allotment holders do not want the adjacent site has been relayed to the landowner’s agent, due to it not “meeting requirements”.

Ms Dines, Dales MP, said: “I have met both the allotment holders and the landowner, to hear from all concerned parties.

“Following these meetings, I understand that there are several possible solutions, which include moving the allotment site to the adjacent plot of land, already owned by the council, or indeed an alternative site; a compulsory purchase order; or the Starkholmes Allotment Association looking into raising the money that the landowner is hoping for, which could include Lottery Funding to enable them to purchase the land.

“I am aware of the strength of feeling on both sides.

“In my role as a Member of Parliament, I listen to the concerns of my constituents and ensure that these views are represented to the appropriate authorities, which I have done so in this case and will continue to do so.

“I sincerely hope the parties and stakeholders involved can come to an agreement by consent of all parties.’’

At a district council meeting in November, dozens of protesters gathered outside Matlock Town Hall to lobby against the eviction plans.

During that meeting, council officers said the authority had received new legal advice explaining that it does not have the power to compulsory purchase the site from the landlord.

Cllr Purdy had said the landlord wanted a “mutually beneficial” use of the land and would develop the land to meet this end at his “own expense”.

Councillor Paul Cruise had said the council was in the top 10 for longest waits for an allotment nationally and that it currently takes an average of nine years to obtain one.