Tue, 30 Jun 2020
A WASH Common resident has had his eight-year allotment ban lifted by Newbury Town Council.
Keen gardener Simon Kirby was evicted from his beloved plot by the town council in 2012 after he complained that its notice period for rent increases was unlawful.
At the time, the council increased allotment rents by 47 per cent from £4.71 per pole per annum to £6.94 per pole per annum, which would have cost Mr Kirby an extra £20 per year.
West Berkshire Council’s Trading Standards team upheld his complaint and agreed that the review term of the tenancy agreement was unfair.
However, his repeated attempts to “right an injustice” led to him being labelled a “vexatious complainant” by the town council and ended in a court case costing the taxpayer £10,000.
In 2015, he once again asked for his allotment back – but his request was rejected because he refused to comply with one of the five conditions, which was to ‘obey everything the site steward told him to do’.
Mr Kirby said that he “would not dig his potatoes and onions in the nude” if he was told to.
But at a virtual meeting last week, the new-look town council confirmed that Mr Kirby’s ban would be lifted and he would be invited to apply for an allotment again.
However, he was warned he may face a lengthy wait.
Newbury resident and Labour Party secretary Tom Tunney, who was speaking on Mr Kirby’s behalf, asked councillors: “Given what this has put Mr Kirby though, what does the council intend to do to make right and fix any wider impact this has had?”
Newbury mayor and town councillor Elizabeth O’Keeffe replied: “Mr Kirby’s application will be considered the same as all the others, but he will have to be aware that there is quite a waiting list now with up to 80 applications in hand for vacant plots.”
Speaking to the Newbury Weekly News this week, Mr Kirby said: “It’s bittersweet really.
“I see it as my ban being lifted rather than overturned because the council has still not acknowledged that it was wrong to increase the rent.
“It has also not apologised for the unfairness of my treatment and this is a serious concern as they have a two-strikes policy and if I am evicted again I will never again be allowed an allotment in Newbury.
“If they leave me alone and don’t come after me then it will be fine and I’ll be happy, but I’d be a fool to think they will do that.
“It makes a nonsense of consumer rights if an allotmenteer can be evicted in retaliation for doing no more than asserting those rights and Newbury Town Council really need to invite an independent enquiry into what’s gone on.”
The chief executive of Newbury Town Council, Hugh Peacocke, said: "The council has invited Mr Kirby to apply for an allotment plot and advised him that his application will be treated the same as any other."
The disagreement started in 2010 when Mr Kirby started civil proceedings against the town council.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) brought a criminal case against the town council’s then chief executive, Graham Hunt, after Mr Kirby alleged that he refused his request to see the minutes of an urgency sub-committee meeting held in February 2011.
But the case was dropped by the CPS because it was not brought in time.
Mr Kirby previously accused the town council of acting “tyrannically, unlawfully and unfairly” and described its treatment of him as “humiliating and insulting”.
In 2015, the rejection letter from the council said: “Your descriptions of the conduct of the council as ‘unfair’, ‘unlawful’, and ‘dishonest’ are, in our opinion, wholly unfounded and without merit.
“While you hold and publicly express those views, we do not believe that a working relationship with you is possible.”
The letter added: “Moreover, you have no legitimate grounds of grievance.
“Once you failed to pay the 2009 rental, the council was fully within its rights to terminate your allotment lease.”