Simon Kirby is a magnificent shed builder and keen allotment gardener, but Newbury Town Council is trying to evict him from his little patch of loveliness and what's more they've been trying to gag him! The following are Simon's words from his Facebook campaign page, Newbury Growing Pains. Please 'like' his page to show your support.
https://www.facebook.com/NewburyGrowingPainsI've had an allotment at Wash Common in Newbury for sixteen years and have been in dispute with the Town Council for more than two years now. As Chair of the Allotment Society I raised a problem with them over the fairness of the rent review term in the tenancy agreement but they wouldn't discuss it. In 2010 they put our rents up 47% and as they still wouldn't discuss the problem I reported it to Trading Standards who upheld my complaint and the Town Council had to change the tenancy agreement.
This is what Trading Standards said:
"I spoke to our legal representative yesterday and she is of the opinion that the 'rent review term' in the old agreement was itself not unfair, what made it unfair was the lack of ability to withdraw from the contract without penalty, ie you had to give 12 months notice and pay the higher price in the meantime."
I didn't pay the unfair increase, just as the Regulations say I don't have to, and the Town Council forfeited my tenancy agreement for arrears on 17 May 2010. However, they couldn't do anything about it because there are no arrears if the rent review term is unfair, but rather than accept they had made an error they gave me another notice forfeiting my agreement in December 2010. That deadline came and went because they couldn't do anything about it but they were still unable to hold their hands up to what was now victimisation.
In February 2011 they held a secret meeting at which they revoked the forfeiture and gave me instead a Notice to Quit. That's more difficult to defend because a Notice to Quit doesn't depend on the tenant being at fault and so there's nothing I can say about the unfairness of the rent review term. I asked to see the parish council minutes for the meeting where they decided this, but the town clerk refused. His case at Newbury Magistrates Court for an alleged offence of preventing access to parish minutes under Section 228 of the Local Government Act 1972 is currently suspended until the end of April.
I've been as vocal as I could about what I see as tin-pot tyranny from the Town Hall, and they don't like that. I've aslo been quite vocal in demanding allotment self-management, and they really don't like that. The Town Council spend around £100k of tax-payer money each year providing the allotment service over six sites, and at over £7.00 per pole Newbury is in the top 10% of councils by price. Self-management would provide a better service, with a cheaper rent, and at no cost whatsoever to the tax-payer. The down-side for the Council is that self-management would mean one less thing for them to spend our money on, and they do so enjoy spending our money.
To shut me up about self-management and how they dealt with the unfairness of the tenancy agreement the Council offered me a new tenancy agreement on the condition that I signed a secret no-criticism protocol. I refused. This is what they wanted me to sign:
"Simon Kirby agrees to: Cease to make postings and pronouncements in public places (including in particular notice boards and e-forums) that are critical of or negative towards Newbury Town Council, its Members, Employees, Contractors, Customers, Tenants, and other associates, without prior discussion with the Chief Executive Officer of Newbury Town Council."
This is from a Lib-Dem controlled council. Article 10 of the Human Rights Act makes it unlawful for a town council to interfere with my freedom of expression, and there are some very good reasons why the citizen should always be free to criticise the state.
So my Notice to Quit expires on 1 April 2012. The Council could end this nonsense if they offered me a new tenancy agreement, but failing that I'll have to defend an application for possession of my allotment. Basically it's unlawful for the council to give a Notice to Quit in place of the forfeiture becaue it deprives me of my right to a fair trial of my civil rights and obligations, and without the minutes of the meeting the notice doesn't have any authority, but it's an awful lot of hassle.