Council bans allotment children

A children's nursery in Shropshire says it has been banned from taking pre-schoolers to an allotment for health and safety reasons.

Stables Day Care Nursery in Wem have taken children to a council allotment for two years so they can learn about food growing. But the council has stopped the children’s visits after reaching a unanimous decision to ban them following complaints from other allotment owners.

Wem Mayor Peter Broomhall said taking the children to the site for "business purposes" was not allowed. He said the issue was one of tenancy rather than health and safety.

The nursery’s owner says the problem centres on a fence and raised beds they have built at the allotment. Nursery owner Beccy Ahmad said: "We’ve had the plot for two years and we try and go as often as we can, but the council has stopped us. We still visit but it’s few and far between because I’m worried the council will send people to turn up and get us off the plot.

"As far as we’re concerned I’ve done my own risk assessment and put up the fence to keep the children contained. It’s just a deterrent to stop the children from wandering around the allotment.

"We have a high staff to child ratio with never more than eight children on the allotment and three staff to look after them. I can’t understand why the council is not overturning their decision, and no-one else can understand either.

"The worst thing now is that the council won’t even speak to me about it. I have emailed them and they won’t reply so I’m going to organise an open meeting to talk about it if the council won’t answer me.

"They say they are worried about the fence and raised beds. They will change the allotment tenancy agreement to get us turfed off but I’ve contacted the National Society for Allotment and Leisure Gardeners and they say they aren’t allowed to do that retrospectively.

"Our tenancy agreement says the only fence you aren’t allowed is a barbed wire fence and ours is just a little fence donated by a businessman who put it up on a Sunday.

HSE regional director Rosi Edwards said: "Reasons of 'health and safety' have apparently been used by the council in taking a decision to stop children visiting an allotment in Wem. However, I just want to make clear that that there is nothing in health and safety law which would prevent them doing so. There is some indication that the measures taken to safeguard the children at the site presents an inconvenience to others, so it would be better if this matter could be resolved by trying to find a solution which is acceptable to all parties rather than denying children an enjoyable learning experience."

A letter from Wem Town Council to Defra minister Owen Paterson said: "As you will be aware Town & Parish Councils have a duty to provide allotments (if there is a demand) under the various Allotments Acts and the Allotments Act 1922 defines an allotment as 'the expression "allotment garden" means an allotment not exceeding forty poles in extent which is wholly or mainly cultivated by the occupier for the production of vegetables or fruit crop for consumption by himself or his family.'

The Town Counil did not consider it in keeping with the spirit of the Allotments Act that the allotment be used in conjunciton with a private nursery. There were also safety concerns with the open water troughs etc on the allotments."

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