Crunch auction this week to determine whether Honiton gets more allotments

PUBLISHED: 11:00 23 July 2018 | UPDATED: 09:18 25 July 2018

Around 80 people in Honiton are waiting for the opportunity to cultivate their own allotment. Photo: Getty Images

Around 80 people in Honiton are waiting for the opportunity to cultivate their own allotment. Photo: Getty Images

rachel dewis

In four days’ time, Honiton Town Council will chance its arm in an auction as it looks to secure a parcel of land to transform into 22 allotments.

Former Honiton mayor John Zarczynski.Former Honiton mayor John Zarczynski.

If it is successful, it will be a rare coup for an authority which has only provided five years of allotments in its 44 year history.

But it will be a divisive win - one that will upset more than one third of the authority.

At a extraordinary meeting held last Monday, a verbal battle of opinion was fought, in which impassioned councillors argued why the authority should - and should not - look to successfully scoop a 1.62 acre plot at Merryfield, in Roundball Lane.

Cllr Henry Brown., mayor of Honiton.Cllr Henry Brown., mayor of Honiton.

“A rare opportunity”

“I don’t think it has been stressed enough that the reason we are doing this tonight is because this kind of land coming up is so rare.”

Cllr Jill McNally said it could be years before the authority is presented with another opportunity to secure land for allotments in Honiton.

Councillor Duncan Sheridan-Shaw, deputy mayor of Honiton.Councillor Duncan Sheridan-Shaw, deputy mayor of Honiton.

She added: “This would be one of our assets, if we do it.”

Her views were echoed by Cllr Vera Howard, who said it was ‘important’ that the council bid on the land to turn into allotments.

She said: “We have tried several times before and we were not successful.

“I think we should try for it and see what we can do.”

Honiton Town Council is currently in negotiations with Combe Estate to provide 30 allotments at land adjacent to Battishorne Way. But with a waiting list of around 80 names, there still looks to be a strong need for allotments in Honiton.

Cllr John Zarczysnki said: I remember when the council debated whether to build this place [The Beehive], for a number of years, taking into consideration that two town polls rejected this project, we were not sure if anybody was going to use it - when we committed ourselves to virtually a £2million project.

“Allotment land is very much a similar situation - if you don’t advertise something, you don’t know what response you are going to get.

“I know this council has tried for years to secure land every time a piece of land has come up, we did not have the money - or the money we did have put aside was used for other purposes.

“This is a one-off opportunity that might not come up again.”

“CUB would be killed”

“My grave concern is that if we approve this [motion to bid for the land], it kills the Community Use Building (CUB) dead in the water.”

Cllr Henry Brown said while the opportunity was ‘fantastic’, the town had already agreed to allocate 30 allotments in Honiton.

He said: “We as a council do have a responsibility for social services as well.

“I think there is a huge importance in what the CUB does and personally, I cannot warrant approving this when that service would be killed.”

The town council is waiting to hear back from Devon County Council after it presented a business plan to take on the freehold of the CUB, based in School Lane.

Cllr Mike Jones said it was ‘unfortunate’ the land had come up for auction while there was so much uncertainty surrounding the future of the CUB.

He said: “With the CUB, we actually have got 400 people who go through those doors weekly... When we are looking at impact on what we are trying to do as a council, the impact here is potentially 400 people are going to be let down if we get the offer of this building.”

“We could lose our town”

“My concern is we could potentially lose our town over allotments.”

Deputy mayor Cllr Duncan Sheridan-Shaw said Honiton has not got any ‘robust’ plans for tourism, high street services or even a Neighbourhood Plan.

He added “We have no social media aspect which touches on our town at all and we have to pay a lot of money to fix these things.”

“My concern is we are facing the downfall of modern high streets, modern towns and modern societies.

“I am not sure how much allotments will play into fixing that. We have the potential to invest that money elsewhere to benefit more people than a potential 100 plus people who will use allotments - that have no structured plan at the moment, as I see it.”

A motion to bid for the land at Roundball Lane was approved by a vote of eight for, five against and one abstention.

Symonds and Sampson will auction off the land this Friday.

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