Wednesday, 4 May 2011


A quiet revolution is taking place in Ashton-under-Lyne. Like the 'Diggers' of the seventeenth century who in 1649 reclaimed the common land of St. George's Hill in Surrey, from the Lords of the manor by digging and cultivating it, members of Ashton Allotment Action, have now started to dig and cultivate land which was once allotments and market gardens on the Ashton Moss.

According to the action group, in 1996 at the time of the development of the M60 motorway, allotments at Ashton Moss, were taken out of use and the land was given by Tameside Council to the local estate agent Cordingleys. Why the land was given to a local estate agent is not entirely clear, but the contract apparently stated that the land was to be developed for business and leisure use and would provide alternative allotments sites.

The Cordingley family, we would hasten to add, have been surveyors and land agents in the Tameside area since the early 19th century and they administer 'the still extensive residue of the Earl of Stamford`s estate'.

Curiously, since giving the site to Cordingleys fifteen years ago, no allotment land has been allocated to the people who are on Tameside Council`s allotment waiting list. Although the group point out that there was some development of the site by Cordingleys seven years ago, much of it remains mismanaged, uncultivated, and overrun with weeds, which needs to be cleared. The group also claim that they have been told that "the site is not due to be handed over in the near future".

Ashton Allotment Action have therefore decided to take matters in hand and have taken over control of land allocated for allotments in the same spirit as Gerrard Winstanley and the 'Diggers' did on St. George's Hill. Ironically, St. George's Hill is today, one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the country.

However, unlike their 17th century English radical forebears, who as agrarian communists believed in the expropriation of land and that the common land should be given to the poor, the action group - which includes local members of the Green Party - are calling for Cordingleys to hand over the allotment sites to the council and are demanding that they pay reparations to future allotment holders, so they can buy agricultural equipment to clear the site. They also want the council to call a meeting of all people who are on the council's allotment waiting list to allocate allotment plots and to establish an allotment association.

The action taken by the Diggers back in 1649 was a timely project. It came at a time of excessive food prices in England in the 1640s. But the project was short-lived as the Diggers were eventually dispersed by force (mob violence) and legal harassment. Nevertheless, because of rising food prices we have seen nowadays, an increase in demand for allotments that is not being met by local authorities, who by law, are obliged to allocate so much land for allotment use. Section 23 of the 1908 Allotment Act, gives people a right to demand plots from their local authorities.

The action taken by Ashton Allotment Action, raises a number of important questions. Why was land once owned by Tameside Council, given to an estate agent? If this is the case then this needs to be looked into, and questions need to be asked about the contractual relationship between Cordingley`s and Tameside Council concerning this land and why, despite fifteen years having elapsed, land has not been allocated to people who want allotments on this site?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This weeks Tameside Advertiser 'Digging in For Squatters Rights' says that 700 people who want an allotment in Tameside are currently on the council`s allotment waiting list. Almost half of these want a plot on Ashton Moss. The land is privately owned by Staley Developments Ltd. Cordingleys the estate agent act on their behalf.
Until recently the councils website was inviting people to contact them about a plot on Ashton Moss but this has now been removed.
A Tameside Council spokesman told the newspaper that it was aware people want allotments on this site but the development is not yet complted and remains in private ownership. Cordingleys say they are in negotiations with the council.