Bosses at Southend Council have admitted today that in spite of more than 100 complaints about the behaviour of allotment holders near Southend Hospital, the authority is powerless to step in and resolve the problems. According to nearby residents in Fairfax Drive and Prittlewell Chase, all-night ‘orgies’ of heavy drinking, loud music, noisy sex and drug taking are making their lives hell, but a little-known local byelaw means that the only official course of action is to send letters to people who are accused of using their allotments for illegal purposes.
Julian Redtap is the Head of Allotment Engagement at Southend Council, and he spoke to our Chief Reporter about the ongoing situation. He said: ‘We would like to assure local law-abiding residents that we are doing everything within our power to get these antisocial gardeners evicted, but our hands are tied by a clause in the Southend Municipal Allotment Allocation Act of 1965. This was the era of free love and free everything really, which meant that the lawmakers of that time made sure that activities on Southend’s allotments could take place beyond the reach of both the police and the council. We are allowed to send strongly-worded letters to known offenders, but some of these people managed to negotiate 45-year leases and they have no intention of giving up their plots.’
We managed to speak to one allotment holder who wishes to remain anonymous. He said: ‘The byelaw is there to be respected, and this is why things can get a little bit wild sometimes over there. One of our older members of the community recently covered the walls and ceiling of his entire potting shed in tin foil to help him grow some specialist plant species, and his cocaine tomatoes are really going down a treat at the moment. A well-known sheltered housing block near the seafront sends down a minibus whenever we have one of our rave nights – it’s all ‘anything goes’ as far as we are concerned. Everyone chucks their allotment keys in a wicker basket and then we see where the night takes us.’
Imelda Stirrup is one of the residents of Fairfax Drive who has written to the council. She said: ‘The problems have become ten times worse since the story broke about the swinging group in the Waitrose car park. They are dangerously over-subscribed now, which means that these law-free allotments are becoming a hotbed of swinging action and other disgusting pastimes. The drugs problem is getting seriously worrying as well, and a man in his nineties nearly bashed my door down last week. He opened my letterbox and kept pleading with me to make him a grilled cheese sandwich, before getting very aggressive and threatening to climb down my chimney and do it himself – I heard a hip popping and I just called an ambulance for he silly old sod.’