Controversial plan for allotments given go-ahead

Controversial plans to set up allotments in Abbots Leigh have won approval after an almost year-long planning battle.

People in the village opposed the scheme, fearing the 700 allotments would be swamped by people coming across the Clifton Suspension Bridge from Bristol. 

Roots co-founder Christian Samuel told  North Somerset Council’s planning committee that the objectors were “a wild gang intent on destroying people’s right to grow food”.

At the meeting on November 15, Mr Samuel unfurled a sheet of names covering the council chamber floor which he said represented those on the waiting list for allotments in Bristol and North Somerset. He said: “Please, I beg, do not let these people down. Roots Allotments are one small part of the solution to a massive problem and deciding to block our legal right to grow food sets a very dangerous precedent across the country.”

He added: “We have built three separate sites across the UK with three other councils agreeing that this is legal, just like your council. We have been hounded online, doxxed, harassed, assaulted and chased to each new location we open by some of the people in this room.”

It was the third time Roots’s application for a certificate of lawfulness for the allotments came before the committee. Roots said it qualified for the certificate — which councillors have less freedom to refuse or control than a planning application — because it was only changing the fields from one type of agriculture to another.

Rory Stracey, representing the objectors, told the council that there were multiple legal grounds on which to refuse the development, but the council’s own planning officers warned that there were not.

Roots’s previous attempt to get the certificate was deferred by the planning committee in July, after members asked for more information about events that would take place on the site. Roots responded, stating that no festivals were planned for the site but the certificate was then refused over the planned 80-space car parking at the site.

In the latest attempt, which removed the proposed car parking, ward councillor Jenna Ho Marris argued that the plans should still be refused, even if the council had no reason in law they could defend. She argued: “If the council loses an appeal, worse thing, the council pays the costs.”

But planning committee vice-chair Robert Payne warned: “I think we have got no choice but to grant it.”

Councillors voted 9-3. to grant the certificate of approval.

Chair of Abbots Leigh Parish Council, Simon Talbot-Ponsonby, said he was “bitterly disappointed” with the decision. He warned that most people using the site would not be local.

He said: “They are from Bristol. They are not going to walk or cycle there. They are all going to come by car — there’s nowhere to park there!”

Mr Samuel said: “We are happy to be able to deliver allotments for the people of Bristol and North Somerset after fighting this for eleven months.”

Roots currently have sites in Croydon and Stourbridge as well as two sites near Bath, which cost more than council allotments — at £9.99 to £34.99 a month — but include seeds, courses, and access to tools. 600 people have already signed up for allotments at new Abbots Leigh site.

By John Wimperis, Local Democracy Reporting Service