Anger over null and void tenancy agreement for allotments

Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.
Brought to you by the Morpeth Herald.

A group of plot holders in Morpeth has expressed its dismay after being told that a long-term lease was null and void.

Tommy’s Field has been in continuous cultivation as allotments since before the Second World War. The land is owned by Morpeth Town Council and the site is run by an allotment association.

Following many meetings, a tenancy agreement was signed five years ago for a period of 50 years.

So members of the Tommy’s Field Allotment Association were stunned when secretary Doreen Wright received a letter from solicitors Eversheds stating that the agreement was void because the association is an unincorporated body.

It also gave the association notice to quit by March 31, 2018, although the town council says this has to be included by law and it is ‘totally committed to keeping Tommy’s Field allotments’.

However, the association has raised concerns over a second letter setting out terms under which the town council would be prepared to enter into a lease.

The association says a term of two years was proposed, but there would be a break notice – a landlord’s option to determine the lease at any time providing three months’ notice.

Its chairman, Phil Slater, said: “Why wouldn’t we believe the tenancy agreement was legal?

“These people have responsibility for all the finances and administration of a large town council – surely we could trust them to draw up a legal document for an allotment site.”

“The committee had worked so hard to reach agreement on that lease.

“The negotiations had taken place during the time of the changeover to a unitary authority and we’d had protracted discussions with the county council, Castle Morpeth Borough Council and finally the town council.

“It was finally signed in April 2012 and was for 50 years at a peppercorn annual rent. It was signed by a councillor and by the previous town clerk as well as the chairman and secretary of Tommy’s Field Allotments Association.

“We genuinely believed that we had played our part in securing the allotments for generations to come. Now we find that instead of 50 years, we have, potentially, three months’ tenure.”

A Morpeth Town Council spokeswoman said: “The town council is totally committed to keeping Tommy’s Field Allotments and all the other allotment land it owns as allotments for the people of Morpeth.

“The problem with the lease only came to light in July and we notified the allotment association on August 1.

“We want to rectify the situation by getting a lease in place in time for the association’s AGM in the spring of next year, however we cannot start the process of negotiating a lease until the association becomes incorporated.

“Allotment land owned by a town or parish council is protected by law and cannot be disposed of in any way without the consent of the Secretary of State.”