Bath Voice News: letter from Save Combe Down Allotments Association as fears for its future mount as the clock counts down to the end of their lease with 64 allotment holders set to lose their plots

By Jacky Wilkinson of the Bath Allotments Association.

Save Combe Down Allotments – and 130 years of community use.

The B&NES Allotments Association (AA) represents the interests of over 600 allotment users in the city of Bath. There are 24 Council run allotments sites, with over  1,000 plot holders (more counting families and friends).  There is an ever-growing waiting list for plots – now running at around 600 people. This reflects the national resurgence of interest in local food growing and local food security, as well as in the many social and well-being benefits of outdoor horticulture.  Notably more young people and women are joining the movement.  Parish councils run the sites in rural areas, and there  are also some privately run sites in the city.

Unusually, by an accident of history, the large allotment site at Combe Down has been held in leasehold since 1894.  The site extends from Church Road in the west, to Shaft Road in the east, although the eastern area (known as the Paddock) has been laid to grass since the 1990s. The site, along with the adjacent quarry and the Monkton School playing fields, is owned by a distant relative of the original landowner, who is not a resident of Bath.

View from St Winifred’s Drive

64 plots will be lost, along with the well established links to the wider community of family, friends and charities. The Combe Down Site has close ties with the Three Ways School to which it supplies surplus food through the Crop Drop charity. 58 people are on the waiting list in that area.  They will no longer be able to get a plot in the foreseeable future, as the only other site in Combe Down  has just 10 plots. Other sites are much further away, requiring a drive, and have waiting lists of 2 – 3 years. Despite  concerted efforts by Officers, no new site has been  been identified. The Mulberry Park housing development went ahead without any allotment provision being secured, either on or off the site, and the Section 106 money taken for this purpose remains unspent. The significant increase in population in the Combe Down area will make the situation even worse.

The  site was procured in 1894  by the Monkton Combe Parish Council to serve the  workers in the Bath stone mines, for which the area is famous and is included within the World Heritage Site. In 1967  the city boundaries were changed and the site became the responsibility of  Bath City Council.  The  Council has held rolling leases since that time.   In 2019 the owner reduced the period of the lease  to 5 years. This  lease had a break clause of 3 months notice, although the Council failed to advise the tenants about this. Moreover, the shortness of the lease prevents  the Council from using Section 106 or Community Infrastructure Levy  funds ( funds secured through legal agreements on planning permissions) to reinstate the now urgently needed plots on the Paddock.  Officers were negotiating a lease of at least 15 years, but on the 8 November the owner instead gave the Council advance notice of his intention to end the lease in  2025. No explanation about this turn of events has been given.

Picture from the Combe Down Allotments Face Book site revealing the fruits of the gardeners’ labours

A scheme to layout the Paddock to provide 22 more plots was promoted by the Allotments  Association in 2021. Plans were drawn up by us and  we were informed that funding (from the Section 106 funds) had been approved. However, this project was put on ice in the pre-election period, as it  became the subject of a concerted campaign by local residents in St Winifred’s Drive, which overlooks the Paddock area,  to prevent the plots being installed.

Negotiations to extend  the lease also stalled. In the interests of transparency, the  Council resolved to make a planning application for the 22 plots on the Paddock. In fact planning permission  is not needed and the AA is of the opinion that local consultations could have been carried out without the need for a formal application, which would have caused considerable delays.

As the current lease falls due in April 2024, in effect people will be forced to abandon their plots by the end of the summer 2024  growing season. Many of these folk have been quietly growing sustainably and supporting community food banks for decades. Several newcomers have only recently been given plots and have in effect wasted time and money on erecting sheds and bringing their plots into productivity without any warning from the Council about the uncertainty of the lease. In fact one year  leases have only recently been given issued to tenants,  which go beyond the end of the site lease!

Picture from the Combe Down Allotments Face Book site revealing the fruits of the gardeners’ labours

This is an historic site – Baths oldest – with a fascinating history which has been documented by a local historian. There are 64 plots and 58 people on the waiting list. There is no other site in the area that can be found to replace such a large number of plots, let alone cope with the increasing demand.  The site has been blighted by the expansion of the adjacent stone quarry, with many plots lost to the quarry. It has also been under pressure recently from a Public Right of Way diversion promoted by the Monkton School, which failed to succeed due to a large number of objections from the wider village community who use the public path.

The Council has declared a climate emergency and a biodiversity emergency, but there is a lack of  a corporate recognition of the need to support local food growing communities. The AA is perplexed by the actions of the Council and by the lack of actions. The Council must have realised how fragile the future of this site was and should have worked with the community to protect it. Instead the plot holders and the AA, despite asking numerous times, have been given little information.

The AA is doing all it can to save this site.  It has already nominated the whole site for designation as a Local Green Space (LGS). This is powerful planning tool. A nomination for LGS can only be made through the preparation of a Local Plan. This is not the first time we have tried – in 2015 an earlier nomination was summarily removed by officers from the plan without consultation. At our second attempt, when the Council made its Local Plan Partial Update in 2022, our nominations for LGS were also turned away, as not being a relevant issue, despite the declared Climate emergency.

Picture from the Combe Down Allotments Face Book site revealing the fruits of the gardeners’ labours

 The AA does not want the nomination for LGS designation of the Combe Down to be rejected yet again. This site is now the only Council or Parish run allotment site in the whole District that remains undesignated and unprotected.  Even the two other private sites in Bath enjoy full protection in the Local Plan, so ownership is not a barrier.  LGS status could potentially support a future bid to have the site designated as an Asset of Community Value. We will also be publishing a further document on the ways in which the Council could use its Compulsory Purchase Powers under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1990.

Action is now needed from the local community.  A public meeting is being organised, and we have arranged meetings with local Councillors and Cabinet members.

The AA and the wider allotment community is asking for:

  1. political support for a Local Food Growing Strategy, backed up by stronger Local Plan policies to ensure developers to provide adequate Green Infrastructure (as set out in the Green Infrastructure Strategy) either on their sites or on  identified and deliverable alternative sites.
  • B&NES local Councillors to support the adequate provision of allotments in their area and to resource officers to bring the Allotments Service up to a visionary standard, befitting the need for urgent local action to combat climate change.  Allotment tenants pay rents, so this does not mean putting pressure on other budgets.
  • The full support of the Council in investigating options to secure the site and to support future community actions to save this important and historic allotment site.

For more visit: The Bath Allotments Association:

See also Crop Drop charity: