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Derbyshire Dales Council agree to defend Starkholmes allotment site

A Derbyshire council has agreed to spend thousands of pounds defending a beloved allotment site and backed a campaign group looking to take ownership of it.

At a Derbyshire Dales District Council meeting last night (July 14) the authority chose to spend thousands of pounds relating to two legal battles over the Starkholmes Allotments site, on the outskirts of Matlock.

The site 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.

Councillors agreed to spend £15,000 in a legal battle against the private land owner, Brian Newton, over getting the site classified as an “asset of community value”, which could bring extra protection from development.

Members also agreed, after a pitch from council leader, Cllr Garry Purdy, to contribute £5,000 to the Starkholmes Allotment Associaton’s “fighting fund” as it pursues plans to compulsory purchase the site.

Tim Braund, the council’s director for regulatory services, said the group can also push for compulsory hire of the site.

He said Matlock Town Council was the authority which had to push for compulsory purchase or hire options, not the district, but that the town council had to approach the district to act on its behalf through the legal challenges.

Mr Braund said the town council has done this and the district authority has now appointed external solicitors to help with that challenge – the cost of which has not yet been disclosed.

The district authority also agreed to transfer a village green site, next to the current allotments, which has been suggested as an alternative location for the allotments, to the town council.

All of these interlinked issues are being pushed ahead due to the site owner having served an eviction notice on the 36 allotment holders after 100 years – to make way for potential development.

The allotment holders have until Thursday, September 29 to vacate the site.

Allotment holders have now raised £23,915 towards their “fighting fund” aimed at compulsory purchasing the site from Mr Newton, with a target of £55,000.

Matlock Town Council had already contributed £5,000, with one anonymous donor also contributing £10,000, another donating £5,000 and several more giving £1,000 apiece.

Last weekend a greengage tree was planted on the allotments site as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy campaign to mark the Platinum Jubilee.

During the service, Deputy Lieutenant of the Royal British Legion, Nick Hodgson, said: “I wish them all the best in their efforts to maintain the allotments for another 100 years.”

At last night’s meeting, Mary Derrick, secretary for the allotment association, warned that the group had just 53 working days before they will be evicted, bemoaning the lack of action over 10 months and saying “Ask yourselves are you doing enough?”.

She urged the council to help expedite the compulsory purchase process and to lobby Dales MP Sarah Dines for her “active and sincere support”.

A Starkholmes resident of 50 years told the meeting that there was “anger” in the community over the potential loss of the allotments and also “alarm” at the further potential loss of the playing field – which shares the village green site next to the allotments. 

Mr Newton had suggested that the allotments could be moved to a site next to the current plot – which is the village green and a site he does not own.

That alternative plot is owned by the district council, with local councillors pushing for it to have formal village green status.

Allotment holders had been asked at a meeting last November if they would want the alternative site and this was firmly dismissed.

A consultation carried out by Matlock Town Council has found that the vast majority of respondents do not want the current village green site to be turned into an allotment.

Allotment holders make clear that their labour and previous labour on the site, and the improvements it has wrought, is not something that can be simply moved to another plot.

Cllr Neil Buttle said: “We should be creating more allotments, we should be building more community, we should be building pride in place, we should be building all these things, so it strikes me as a pity to allow them (the allotments) to collapse.”

Cllr Purdy said the council “got off to a bad start in September” and that he was “accused of being in the back pocket of Mr Newton, and that is far from the case”

He said: “I am aware Mr Newton will fight this, and I think probably to the bitter end.”

Cllr Paul Cruise said: “We do need to protect the allotments on their current site, they are a wonderful community asset and if necessary undertake a compulsory purchase.

“We also need to protect the village green, it is also a community asset

“As a district council we need to do all we can for the community to protect these community assets, they contribute to our green and wellbeing agenda, biodiversity, mental health of residents and cost of living – which is becoming much more of an issue.

“Imagine if a property developer was evicting allotment holders from an allotment in your ward for 100 years and was suggesting re-locating the allotments onto land they didn’t own which was actually the village green. I think that you would probably all find that quite outrageous, an outrageous proposal.”

Cllr Steve Flitter called the current situation “appalling” and that delays had caused “even more anger”.

He said: “This is a community which has an identity of its own, it is unique and Starkholmes people are very proud of their area.”

Cllr Sue Bull said: “What is clear to me tonight, listening to the speakers, is that the particular landowner is saying ‘oh, well I don’t want you on that patch, you can go to the village green’, which isn’t his in the first place, which is utterly wrong and I don’t see why you should have to start up again.

“I am prepared to stand and support the allotment people

“To have to uproot and move, for the benefit of somebody to try to achieve more financial benefit on land that might never ever come to fruition is wrong at the end of the day.”

Cllr Dermot Murphy decried the council’s involvement in the legal battle over the site.

He said: “Personally, I don’t think we should be venturing into that, because what is going to happen is we are going to have other people looking in and they are going to see what is happening here and could have other parishes, towns, whatever, asking us to do the same thing.

“We have issues with legal resources ourselves, have we got the time to deal with an issue like this? I am just disappointed, really, that we are here and that it is going to happen.”

Mr Newton has been approached for comment.

Ms Dines previously said: “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.’’

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