Final decisions still have to made as Julie Rogers and the council team were waiting to get feedback from the meeting, before putting together the proposals which will be passed to the cabinet for approval in the autumn.
The Working Group will continue to meet and anyone who has ideas or who would like to represent the views of the plotholders on their site should get in touch with Julie Rogers at the Civic Centre or by email at JULIER@ashford.gov.uk. New Working Group members with contributions to make will be welcomed.
At the meeting Julie Rogers apologised for the unfortunate wording of the survey which led people to expect a huge price rise. Though a rise will be unavoidable, the level of rises being considered depends on other money-saving ideas, and there will not be a large increase per rod or perch.
A number of measures are being considered to reduce costs and most of these are administrative and will not make life harder for the plotholder. A number of ways are being considered of taking action to avoid plots sitting empty or neglected; something all allotmenteers will welcome. However, changes to concessions are also being discussed to bring Ashford into line with other local authorities. Some money-saving changes being considered will affect new plotholders but not existing tenants.
Water management is still very much under discussion though some ideas put forward so far have been rejected as too impractical or unfair. The main proposal which will go forward as soon as notices have been put up on sites is that watering with hosepipes will no longer be allowed. To make things fair, hosepipes may be used by (especially of course by those a long way from a water point) to fill butts or even, in the case of those with health problems, to fill cans. As we understand it, what will no longer be allowed is holding a hose and using it to squirt or spray water over the plot. The council is looking into ways of helping people obtain water butts cheaply, and projects for fitting shed roofs with gutters and downpipes are also being looked at.
This measure is being brought in after full discussion and after plotholders on the working party had assessed the amount of a site's water use which is down to hosepipes in comparison with cans. It should not affect good gardening and will only work to avoid waste. Many gardeners who actually have hoses on their plots find they are not the best way of watering and prefer not to use them except to fill butts anyway. For tips on the best use of water see Using Water Wisely in the advice section.
If water wastage can be tackled succesfully, then it is hoped that the much-feared introduction of water charges may be avoided. The common sense and co-operation of all plotholders will be needed to reduce water costs, and the working group believes this can be done without damaging good gardening practice or affecting people's crops.
The meeting was very positive with useful discussion and no hint of strife. All those present had ample chance to speak, and Julie Rogers also invited feedback, comments and suggestions in writing from all those present. Many people took the opportunity to contribute and all written notes were carefully collected by Eileen for consideration by the Working Group later.
More later with details, exact proposals and what happens next.