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May 6, 2009

Allotment group under attack from all sides

One of the unsung heroes of the community sector is the local allotment group. Often providing a vital hub for local people to come together, the local allotment can play a key part in building community stability as well as providing the more obvious food and health benefits.  However, allotments are often seen as an easy target – and not just from vandalism and theft. One group from Glasgow – Oatlands Leisure Gardens –   finds itself having to defend itself from the plans of the local council and private developers as well

The Oatlands Leisure Gardens have been in their current site, Elmfoot Street in the Gorbals Glasgow, since the late 1980s. Funding was received from the EU and Land and Environmental Services set up two school plots with disabled access, raised beds and a polytunnel. These two plots were allocated to Richmond Park Primary in the Oatlands area.

The gardens have been very successful and have been enjoyed by local residents for many years. However, more recently an agreement was made between Glasgow City Council Department of Regeneration Services and Gladedale Property Developers for a 99 year lease on the land for regeneration. As part of the agreement, the allotments were to be moved to a smaller site adjoining Richmond Park School reducing the number of plots from 20 to 14. This could result in the eviction of several individual plot holders and community group plots rented by Blackfriars Primary, the Simon Community, Oatlands Residents Association, the Transition Group and the Carr-Gorm Group. This is at a time when waiting lists for plots in Glasgow can range from 2 to 8 years.

Last February, the allotment site suffered major damage due to the storms and heavy rain which fell. However, everyone rallied round and carried out repairs on the greenhouses and everything was back on track by the Spring. Unfortunately, at this time a spate of vandalism started and huts were being burned on a weekly basis. On Sunday 8th June the metal storage area for tools and the clubhouse were razed to the ground. By this time, the fire brigade had been called out on five separate occasions and it was obvious that the vandalism was not being carried out by kids. Before the fire, boltcutters had been used to cut the fencing and large industrial tools such as a rotovator and a chainsaw had been stolen. This would have required transport for these tools to be removed. The fire had taken hold very quickly so that the fire brigade were too late to save the clubhouse and it was likely that petrol had been used.

By July, there was not a pain of glass left in any of the greenhouses, five sheds have been razed to the ground, the storage area and clubhouse burnt out, everyone had lost their tools and the polytunnel was ripped apart.

In August the allotment secretary attended the Glasgow Allotment Forum meeting and asked for their help in tackling the problems at Oatlands. GAF agreed to help and a meeting was arranged with Ron Smith, Department of Regeneration Services, Robert Watson and Andy Worrall, Environmental and Land Services, Baillie James Scanlon, Baillie Jahangir Hanif, Councillor Danny Alderslowe, Judy Wilkinson, Secretary of GAF and Ian Baird, Gladedale along with representatives of Oatlands. Unfortunately, Ian Baird did not attend. A further meeting was held at Oatlands which Ian Baird did attend. Future meetings were held on 10 December in Councillor Alderslowe’s office and on 16 December with Steve Inch, the Executive Director of the Department of Regeneration.

As a result of these meetings it was agreed that CCTV would be provided for Oatlands and monitored by Glasgow Council and a new fence would be erected by Gladedale/Land Services and reimbursed to Gladedale on the move to the new site. However after the recent removal of the CCTV, without the plotholders being consulted, there has been more fires, more vandalism and threats to plotholders

The move to the new site has been delayed due to the downturn in the housing market and no definite date has been set, but the gardens remain under threat of vandalism and eviction. The new site should be in addition to the original site to meet the local demand and reduce waiting lists.