Gardeners dig in again after asbestos scare

VILLAGE allotments are finally open for growing more than four years after an asbestos scare closed them down.

Determined plot-holders in Widdrington Station refused to be beaten by a catalogue of problems with the six Margaret Street allotments that began when contamination was found in September 2006.

The site, which had only been handed over to tenants four months previously, was immediately sealed off and in the years that followed there have been a series of delays to restore the plots, as well as fears that they could be turned into a car park, or used for housing development.

But gardeners were adamant that they would get back to their land and have finally dug out a victory.

Widdrington Station Allotment Society Secretary Keith Moore, who has steered the project, said: “The allotments are now open. All the work is finished and people are back on the plots.

“It is a weight off my mind to see the end product. You would think the site was cursed with the amount of problems we’ve had, but we stuck with it and bit by bit we got there. It looks brilliant.”

The allotments were created when Castle Morpeth Council demolished derelict garages and handed over the site for cultivation, but just months after it came into use tenants were ordered off the land when traces of white asbestos were found.

Official investigations were carried out and in December 2007 the Herald revealed that plans were being made to turn the area into a car park.

Tenants were later told that they would be allowed back onto the land, but shortly after Castle Morpeth Housing took control in a council stock transfer it announced proposals to build six bungalows there.

A further survey to explore the options was carried out in August 2008, but in October 2009 the plots were handed to the newly-formed allotment society on a 10-year lease.

However, it was agreed that the group would have to take responsibility for clearing the site, including putting in a breathable membrane, covered by road planings, and raised beds to avoid any health risks, all at a cost of around £25,000.

The society secured cash from Northern Gas Networks, Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Council, the Leader scheme and Maidens Hall Community Benefits Fund.

But there was a further setback when work was delayed due to the severe winter.

Now the safety measures have been installed and the society has also taken the chance to make the site disability-friendly, with two plots specifically for disabled people.

Allotment Society Chairman Sheila Frazer, who is the only original tenant to return to the site, said: “It’s brilliant to be back.

“It’s just great that we have the raised beds now and we have got the allotments back after so long. Everybody is busy with them already.”

Due to the success of the scheme, the group is now hoping to secure another six plots in Ena Street.

Isos Housing Director of Development Michael Farr said: “It’s taken a huge effort by all the partners involved to allow the Widdrington Station Allotment Society to start cultivating this site again. We must thank Keith Moore and his colleagues for all their efforts on this project and we wish the allotment holders well as they start growing fruit and vegetables again.”