Lease negotiations for allotment site in town

Coun David Bawn.
Coun David Bawn.

Both sides involved in allotment lease negotiations at a key site in Morpeth have given an update on their position.

Last summer, the Tommy’s Field Allotment Association revealed a letter it received from solicitors Eversheds said a long-term tenancy agreement signed in 2012 with Morpeth Town Council was null and void because the association was an unincorporated body.

The association has now become an incorporated company capable of holding a lease.

Negotiations have been on-going since the end of 2017 and the town council has now confirmed that it has made an open offer of a term of up to 25 years to the current allotment body.

Such a lease will be based on the agreed National Standard lease prepared by the National Allotment Society, of which both organisations are members.

The council’s finance and general purposes committee chairman, Coun David Bawn, said: “We hope that this open offer will be accepted and allay any fears or concerns that holders of the allotments may have and we hope the association will engage positively with the council to conclude the terms of the lease.

“We also want to make clear that the protection of the land and the tenure of the allotment holders as allotment land rests in the statutory protections afforded to allotments and the statutory guardian for such protections is the town council, not in any lease to an allotment association to manage the allotments as tenants of the town council.

“Such a lease does not provide any additional statutory protection.”

Phil Slater, chairman of Tommy’s Field Allotments Limited, said: “There were no other issues of us not complying with the lease that was drawn up by the town council in 2012.

“It was acknowledged that as a self-managing organisation, we had done an excellent job in maintaining the site and radically improved it with the investment of some £30,000 in improving the site for the benefit of both the allotment holders and the town.

“We have done what the town council wanted and have become incorporated and whilst we welcome its move to a more realistic term of tenure, it now wishes to basically impose upon us a standard lease that requires adjustments in order to be relevant to the unique qualities of Tommy’s Field.

“This is despite us providing it with a detailed list of modifications to its proposed lease, to which it has not bothered to respond.”

The association also brought up a closed session item at a recent meeting of the committee. It said if it was about the lease discussions, it should be part of the open proceedings as there would be ‘no negotiations’ given that those present from the public would not be allowed to speak at that point of the meeting.’

Secretary Doreen Wright said that without knowing the topic to be discussed in closed session, “it is impossible to know whether this matter is in the public interest or not”.

Coun Bawn said: “The Local Government Act provides the circumstances in which a council can go into closed session. One of the listed grounds is when items of a commercially sensitive nature are to be discussed. The terms of a lease currently under negotiation clearly fall within this definition.

“The town council needs to be able to formally agree its position with regard to the provisions of a lease in private.

“Town councillors would not expect to present in the room when the committee of the Allotment Association discuss their position in regard to the negotiations.”