Rye Allotments Association

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In March 1974, Rye had at least 4.5 hectares of land under cultivation as allotments – that’s 159 standard size plots of 250 square metres. Now, October 2013, there are scarcely 2 hectares under cultivation, allowing only 73 standard plots, and it is this highly diminished area that will be run by Councillor Ian Potter’s Rye Amenity Community Interest Company as from 1st December.

This transfer of management from Rother District Council to RACIC is not the same as the 99-year lease that Rother’s supporters tried so hard to get Rye Town Council to accept, and which was rightly rejected – three times – on impeccable legal advice. So the Association will start self-managing the current plots, at no cost to the people of Rye, as from December, on behalf of RACIC.

But that is only half the story. The South Undercliff site is still in Rother’s Policy RY3 as being potential building land: that needs to be fought off. The fact that it will be managed by RACIC makes no difference to the planning process.

So out of the 4.5hectares of land cultivated as allotments as at 1 April 1974, 2hectares (73 plots, many subdivided) are still being run as such. That leaves the fate of the other 2.5 hectares to be examined.

The statutory Rope Walk allotments have been rented to Rye Scouts on a 25-year lease. Why this is such a short lease the Association does not know. We do suspect very strongly that Rother District Council will not exist at the end of the lease, so the Association will need to keep a close legal eye on what is happening there.

The “frontage” of the Love Lane site outside the chain link security fence is actually part of the statutory allotments site, but scheduled for building. Two planning applications have so far been refused.

A primary school has been erected at a cost of £6.5m on part of the Butt Marsh (East)/Love Lane site. That is closely connected with that of Poll Marsh the history of which is as follows. In 1938, East Sussex County Council purchased the ancient Poll Marsh site, cultivated as allotments from 1918, for £300. The County Primary School was built there, and in 1968 it became the Thomas Peacocke Lower School. This building was demolished in 1998. There was a lot of talk about it being on a floodable area, but this did not really match the story that it would be used for building houses. Then Tesco tried to buy it to put up a supermarket, securing their interest by coming to a legal agreement with the owners of the Adelaide public house over access. Why a site was unsuitable for a new school (“flood risk”), then suitable for houses, then unsuitable for houses (“flood risk”) then suitable for a Tesco supermarket has never been explained. Enough to say that ESCC sold it to Sainsburys for £3.5m, thereby thwarting Tesco, and creating a fine old mess in which our unfortunate MP has now become embroiled, as spelled out in recent weeks in the Observer. While it was legal for ESCC to sell what had formerly been green open space managed as such by the Borough up to 1938, was it right? There is a difference.

Before anyone asks, when statutory allotments land is converted, with the permission of the Secretary of State, to some other use, the tenants have to be moved to a new site not less in area than the old one, and at least part of the sale price has to be allocated to allotments. The will of Parliament is clear on this: the amount of statutory allotments land in England and Wales should never diminish, which is why, in 1938, when Poll Marsh was sold to ESCC, a brand new site was opened up at Middle Marsh (East) (now part of “Love Lane”). It is this aspect of allotments law that both Rother and ESCC are accused of trying to circumvent.

The fight of course is much bigger than allotments. It really is time that the people of Rye stopped electing people who are prepared to compromise with developers over the Town’s green open spaces. Nobody has ever satisfactorily explained why the Poll Marsh Site, never flooded in the years 1938 – 1998, was unsuitable for a new school, while a green field site, on the same flood plain, was suitable. We commend the people of Tilling Green who are trying to stop houses being built on their former primary school site, another ESCC mess. Every patch of grass is worth fighting for.

As we have pointed out before, the people of Rye are cursed with no less than five elected layers of government – parish (“Town”) council, district council, county council, Westminster MP, and Euro MEP. A thorough tidy-up of this tangle is well overdue.

Royston Godwin, Government and Local Government Affairs Officer, Rye Allotments Association.