Thursday, 29 September 2011

Planning and the end of allotments

I have been listening to the arguments about the planning system for years and years. It has been loaded heavily in favour of developers and large companies for as long as I can remember. When an application is made to build a group of new homes or a new super store it can be turned down with local politicians making a big fuss about how they have protected the local area from the blight of development, knowing that the applicant will appeal to the central planning appeal who often approve the application, but with some modifications. There is no appeal for the locals to prevent an application that has been granted by either process.

There has long been the cosy process where some large company and a local council cooperate to allow some improvement, such as a new road using an unused part of the company's land who miraculously get granted planning permission either to extend their site or build lucrative housing on other land they own.

The current planning guidelines insist that most new houses are tiny boxes with no gardens because they must meet a criteria to cram a certain number of homes into each hectare. They have stupid restrictions that minimise the size of driveways so second cars end up being parked on the roads, blocking the footpaths and cycleways the council insisted on.

All of this, and much more, is badly in need of change, so when I heard the Government was reforming the planning laws I was hopeful. In addition they trailed it by saying that local people would gain more control over the process. As soon as I saw the minister in charge was Mr Pickles my heart sank. I don't believe he is fit to lead a dog for a walk and certainly not lead a Government department and the fiasco he has produced confirms my belief. Actually I don't believe Mr Pickles did write the document, but he is the front man for it.

The essence of the proposed reform is that planning applications in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding natural Beauty and existing green belt will be resisted, but everywhere, everywhere else the presumption will be to approve development of any kind except for coal mines. There will be no option for locals to appeal so developers will have a free-for-all. The worst is that these changes are supposed to promote growth. Great. Lets chase growth by smothering the country with concrete.

Green field sites are an obvious target, but that requires services, like water, gas etc to be extended to the new area. This makes allotments look very vulnerable. Plots of land inside villages, towns and cities, like allotments, are already close to facilities and services so building on them would be easy and cheaper. Cash-strapped councils would make a tidy sum from selling the land for development. You don't think it will happen? Well I want to be sure and the only way is to ensure these outrageous plans are scrapped.

I want the planning laws reformed, but not scrapped. Please write to your MP to object to a free-for-all for developers and to encourage real reform, allowing local plans to determine the local priorities and to remove the opportunities for corrupt and disingenuous practices. If you want any and every piece of green space concreted over don't bother.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Final beetroot

Yesterday we dug up the last of the beetroot. I thought it would be a small harvest, but actually it was loads. Jean boiled it, sliced it, bagged it and froze it so we will have beetroot for some weeks to come. Another batch of French beans have been added to the freezer. As the days get shorter and cooler I'm not sure we'll have any more, but they have been a success and I'd grow them again. We've been taking more sweetcorn and it's lovely, but one of the cobs today has not got many kernels on it, so the fertilisation has failed again this year, at least to some extent. I have tried to take pollen-bearing flowers and dust them onto the female flowers, but clearly I missed that one.

The rabbit trouble continues, with a small hole in the bank next to our plot. I have filled it in with stones picked from the freshly ploughed field next to the bank - the farmer will be happy to have fewer stones and I'm happy to block up the rabbit hole, not so sure about the rabbits though. They have abandoned the hole for now. I don't know if it was me or the fox that left its tracks in the freshly ploughed soil. I'm going to find a way to put wire netting over the bank to deter the rabbits from digging there. There is another rabbit hole near to Jim's plot. There may be a hole under someone's shed too. It seems we need to deal with them quickly to persuade them to move on before our crops are eaten or Jim gets his gun out.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The delight that is fresh sweet corn

There are highlights of the year on the allotment, particularly when each crop is ready for the first harvest of the year. The first asparagus and the first rhubarb herald the spring, the first beans and the first salad crops the start of the summer season. All of these I look forward to, but none as eagerly as the first sweet corn. Today it arrived.

Our first cob was ready, with brown tassels and a fat cob so I opened the leafy parcel to reveal the little corn kernels which produced a milky ooze when squeezed with a thumb nail. That means it was ready to eat. I took one cob to try and it was wonderful. We have many more to look forward to.

Once you have tried really, really fresh kernels you will always be disappointed by the ones shops sell - they can never be fresh enough.

We also took some carrots, beetroot, French beans, courgettes and Jim gave us a cucumber which was also very much tastier than a shop-bought one, just because it was so fresh. Jim does know a thing or two about growing good stuff too.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

More rabbit trouble

The fence around the plot was patchy, with some of it from before we took the plot over. Last winter some of it collapsed under the weight of snow and rabbits invaded by clambering over the mound of snow with a collapsed fence under it. When the snow had melted we still had a problem with a warren that had an entrance into the plot and a hole in the fence that had gone unnoticed. All of this we dealt with, including replacing parts of the fence with a new one. Part of the plan was to move some of the fruit bushes to a space outside of the fence near the hedge between the plot and the fields. This turns out to be a mistake.

Rasps stripped by rabbits
The unfenced raspberry canes have been eaten by rabbits. This is a serious loss, because next year's fruit would have grown on the canes the rabbits have eaten, so we will get much less fruit, if any, next year. Fortunately I had only moved the raspberries, I was going to move the gooseberries and blackcurrants too, but I hadn't decided the best way to do it. Now I need to fence the fruit space first, which is a nuisance because I used the unfenced space as a way onto the back of the plot without needing a gate. Now I need to think again.

We have dug the remaining onions, taken some lovely carrots and more beetroot is boiling in the kitchen. We planted out some broccoli along with some spring cabbage Rob gave us - I have covered the young plants to keep the birds off. The sweet corn is forming more cobs, but none are ready yet. Leeks are swelling nicely. We sowed some spinach to grow in the cooler autumn days which it seems to like.