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Manor Gardens Allotments - The Scandal Continues

Oh what a lovely Legacy! The media are long gone but the scandalous treatment of the Manor Gardens Allotments Society (MGS) at the hands of the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA), Waltham Forest Council and the London Legacy Development Corporation LLDC) continues.

As part of the deal stitched together to prevent the MGS’s return to the Queen Elizabeth Aftermath Olympic Park (QEOP) at Eton Manor following their temporary relocation to Marsh Lane Fields, now ludicrously named The Jubilee Park, a Section 106 agreement had to be drawn up by the three conspiring ‘authorities’. The purpose of this was to provide plots at the now permanent allotment site at Marsh Lane in lieu of those no longer to be provided at Eton Manor and to divide up the costs of creating a meadow in their place at Eton Manor.

The LVRPA voted this agreement through without telling anyone, including the MGS, in May of this year. The text of the document presented to the Executive Committee states:

It is understood some kind of ‘understanding’ was reached between the London Development Agency (LDA) and the MGS in 2007 to ensure that following the Games the MGS would return to a site allocated for allotments somewhere on QEOP’.

Given that this ‘understanding’ had been formalised in a planning permission for a set of allotments at Eton Manor this pretence at ignorance by the LVRPA is simply sickening.

However, the LVRPA thinks there is some merit in digging further into the slime. The document goes on:

‘The Authority [LVRPA] has been consistent in its opposition to the allotments’.

These were the very same allotments whose land the LVRPA had received from the Villiers Trust with the specific requirement that it continue to be used for allotments. The Olympics had provided the LVRPA with the opportunity to ditch this commitment, an opportunity it had grasped with both hands.

Waltham Forest Borough Council, the document goes on to state, had applied for planning permission to the LLDC to create a meadow at Eton Manor rather than allotments. It claimed this draft Section 106 agreement was designed:

‘to allow MGS preference for plots at the permanent site at Jubilee Gardens’

and that:

‘The intention of the draft agreement is to give effect to the ‘understanding’ between the MGS and the LDA’

by not allowing the MGS to return to the Aftermath (QEOP) Park!

At least they are consistent in lying.

Waltham Forest Council has also been trying to take the moral high ground in seeking to portray the plan to create allotments at Eton Manor as a plot to deprive the wider community of access to open space by favouring a privileged few in a private space. In para 2.2.1 of its planning statement opposing the creation of the allotments and arguing for the meadow it declared haughtily (my emphases):

They will create a private, insular space within a site seeking to create an entirely contrasting environment. This would effectively deprive the wider community / public access to an open space and create a private space for the benefit of a small number of people (individual allotment holders).

These are, of course, the same unfortunate allotment holders who had been kicked off their precious LifeIsland and who had been promised the same amount of land in the Aftermath Park after the Olympics ended, land which would be a pale substitute for what they had enjoyed, and who were now being dismissed as oppressors of the public. This promise had already been broken when the idea of one piece of land had been ditched in favour of two sites, one of them at Eton Manor on LVRPA land, the other in the south of the Park on LLDC land. So the LVRPA had already managed to reduce its commitment to half the original site. Now it has managed to abolish it altogether.

Waltham Forest continued:

2.2.2 In design terms, the allotments would add little to the character of Eton Manor and severely limit movement into and through it. In addition, they would not deliver any significant bio-diversity enhancement.

Waltham Forest then addressed the role of the LVRPA, the supposed providers and protectors of the allotments on the land it had received from the Villiers Trust:

2.2.4 Within the Lee Valley Park, the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority (LVRPA) has an administrative function for the area. Their statutory remit is around sport and leisure (in Section 12 of the Park Act), to provide and maintain a regional park. Traditional allotments involving the enclosure of private space do not easily sit with their role. As such, the allotments that they manage have to sit within (and be subservient to) this objective.

At the same time as it issued this declaration about the vital need to preserve access to open space and prevent private enclosure for the benefit of a small number of people at Eton Manor, Waltham Forest has been allowing the LVRPA to create exactly such private spaces and prevent public access through the creation of private livery stables and paddocks at the Lee Valley Riding Centre and a paddock at the Waterworks and private moorings on the River Lea.

In a letter to the Mayor of Hackney, Jules Pipe, Chris Robbins, Leader of Waltham Forest Council, repeated the Council’s denunciation of this outrageous private interest declaring:

'They would instead create a private space catering for a few, rather than an asset for the whole community.'

and went on to claim:

'Our proposals have benefited from the public endorsement of the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority',

the same body busy enclosing land elsewhere in its Park.

The total cost at present of creating a meadow and access paths where the allotments would have been at Eton Manor runs to £480,000, with LBWF, LLDC and the LVRPA each contributing £160,000 of public funds to get out of providing the promised allotments at Eton Manor.

To return to the LVRPA, it continues to lie saying:

‘MGS have been fully involved in drafting the heads of terms of the agreement’.

This is completely untrue. The MGS were not involved in drawing up this Section 106 agreement and had objected to Waltham Forest’s application to rescind the planning permission for allotments at Eton Manor.

The ‘deal’ requires that the MGS agree to the abandonment of the allotments at Eton Manor and accept the plots provided at Marsh Lane Fields. This agreement has to be obtained within the next six months. Waltham Forest Council are required to use ‘reasonable endeavours’ to persuade the MGS and if no agreement is reached then the LLDC will decide if any of the parties has been ‘obstructive’!

The LVRPA say the drafting of the heads of agreement includes:

‘specifications for the allotments on the existing site at Jubilee (Marsh Lane Fields) Park

This seems to relate to the creation of the plots at Marsh Lane Fields. The LVRPA is suggesting the MGS had some say in deciding the arrangements about the allotments to which they were forcibly removed in 2007. Once again the LVRPA is lying. The MGS was not involved in deciding the specifications of the temporary site at Marsh Lane Fields. Indeed the land was so badly prepared that half the allotments were flooded while the other half were too dry.

Even the legality of this Section 106 agreement is seriously in doubt. Section 106 agreements have to relate directly to the planning permission they apply to. In this case the planning permission was for the creation of a meadow at Eton Manor. It has nothing to do with the allotments at Marsh Lane Fields.

Pressure will now be applied to the MGS not to be ‘obstructive’. The Manor Gardens Allotments have symbolised the farce of the Olympics from the day Ken Livingstone declared it was necessary to remove the allotments to prevent al Qaeda terrorists hiding out there during the Olympics right up to Tessa Jowell’s denunciation of this shoddy deal in a letter she failed to make public!

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