VILLAGERS have launched a campaign to halt plans by their diocese to sell their century-old allotments for development.
Residents in the Hampshire parish of King’s Somborne say that the 2.3-acre site is vital to the community, but Winchester diocese says that the cash is necessary to fund its work.
“This has caused a huge amount of distress — indeed, rage is probably a better word,” Sue Holligan, a licensed lay minister at the parish church of St Peter & St Paul, said.
“The first we knew was a note sent to the PCC in June. This came as a complete shock. For us as a church the hardest thing is that nobody, but nobody, will speak to us. On the phone, one-to-one maybe, but otherwise not.”
She raised their concerns with the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, at a social event. “He told me the country needs houses. I said this is not the issue; the parish has other sites for development, but selling the allotments damages the interests of the poorest, and of young families who grow their own food. It makes mission work in the parish difficult.”
She said that, while Somborne is in an affluent area, it has a high proportion of social housing.
The parish council has registered the allotments as a community asset, which means that the diocese must first give it six months to make an offer before opening the sale to others.
One allotment holder, Lisa Johnson, said: “Some people think that means the allotments have been saved, but it is just a respite. We need to persuade the diocese to sell us the allotments, but at the price of agricultural land, not for the £2 million or so it would fetch as a development site. I don’t think they realise just how important these allotments are to the community.
“The Church of England likes to set out its stall as one of compassion, principles, and fairness. Why, then, is the diocese on a programme of all-out greed to sell the land — previously provided for free for the benefit of the community — for its own ends?”
The Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, Caroline Nokes, has written to Bishop Dakin expressing her concerns: “I support local residents and councillors wholeheartedly in trying to save the King’s Somborne allotments, in the interest of the community.” A petition opposing the sale has more than 500 names.
A diocesan spokesperson said: “Allotments play an important role at the heart of our local communities. It is exactly for this reason that the diocese of Winchester provides and supports the allotments at Kings Somborne; and this is why we will explicitly require as a pre-condition of sale that any developer of the site provides suitable alternative allotment space. The cost of providing these new allotments would be met by the diocese.
“As a charity, we are required to make best use of our assets in order to ensure that we can continue to support all our areas of engagement in the local and wider community. Given the diocese’s need to resource the work of its parishes, and the local authority’s need to provide much-needed housing, we believe that what we are proposing will safeguard local allotment space for years to come, as well as contributing to the council’s target for new homes.
“We are currently in the process of agreeing timings for a meeting with the allotment-holders.”
Coventry clash over sale of land. Meanwhile, a group of allotment holders in Coventry are still unsure if plans by the Church to sell their plots for housing are to go ahead, more than a year after learning of the proposal. Coventry diocese is seeking to raise cash by selling land in the village of Wellesbourne, near Stratford-upon-Avon (News, 7 July 2017).
The 97 allotment-holders say that their site is at the “centre of the nation’s allotment gardening movement”. It was founded in 1841, has hosted BBC Radio’s Gardeners’ Question Time, and has featured on Monty Don’s BBC2 programme Big Dreams Small Spaces. In May, the diocese rejected their offer to buy the land, and offered an alternative site near by. The holders have since requested more details.