ANGER at being held to ransom over a developer’s planning schemes became evident at an emergency meeting of Hungerford Allotment Holders’ Association (HAHA) on Monday nignt.
Despite a 12-month eviction reprieve announced earlier this month, some members expressed disgust at apparently being used as pawns, while district councillor Paul Hewer (Con, Hungerford) warned they were being manipulated by a developer.
The future of the Marsh Lane site – and, consequently the entire future of Hungerford Allotment Holders’ Association (HAHA) – was under imminent threat after the landowner and his development partner announced the lease would not be renewed beyond April 2016.
Developer Mark Norgate of Donnington New Homes wants to build 57 homes on 2.8 hectares of land near Smitham Bridge Road (designated HUN001) – but this has so far been rejected by West Berkshire Council in favour of land east of Salisbury Road.
Mr Norgate has said previously that, should the district council change its mind and adopt the HUN001 site, “then the lease for the Marsh Lane site could be extended – or become permanent”.
However, he warned that, unless West Berkshire Council could be thus persuaded, he and the land owner would eventually evict HAHA and concentrate on developing Marsh Lane – branded undevelopable for at least 15 years by planners.
One member told the packed extraordinary general meeting, held at the Royal British Legion club in Church Way: “I don’t like being used as a lever. I haven’t approved of [Mr Norgate’s] method all along and I’d hate to think he got planning permission by holding us to ransom.”
Hungerford Town Council and HAHA have publicly supported the development of HUN001.
District councillor Paul Hewer (Con, Hungerford), warned: “He is playing a game and he’s an unscrupulous developer. He has got you on side.”
Another speaker said: “I don’t like being used as a lever over a piece of land that won’t even be developable in our lifetime. That really bothers me.”
The meeting was unanimous in agreeing that a more permanent solution was essential.
HAHA chairman Geoff Greenland said one option was to investigate the possibility of compulsory land hire of the Marsh Lane site by the local authority.
And he revealed that HAHA had joined the National Allotment Society, thus gaining access to expert legal advice.
Meanwhile, the committee also agreed to pursue the possibility of finding alternative sites.
Mr Norgate responded with surprise to Mr Hewer’s comments, saying: “It’s an odd choice of words – he doesn’t know me, nor has he ever taken the time to contact me and talk about the situation. Anyone who knows me or deals with me on a regular basis wouldn’t describe me as unscrupulous.
“We’ve no obligation whatever to help Hungerford Town Council with the shortfall of land for allotments, and never have had.
“Many landowners would have ended the occupation by allotment holders way before now, because their existence places the land at a disadvantage when it comes to development.”