Way back in 2006, in my book FAY, I wrote about a Town Council sending in bulldozers to clear a village’s garden allotments; with the intention of building on them, and in the process ending a traditional, cultural way of life that had spanned centuries. This was a fictional tale, but over the years I’d become increasingly aware of the continual urban development that had seen my home city gobbling up mile upon mile of green field sites as it relentlessly expanded. I had seen farmland, and livelihoods, disappear and former rural villages literally swallowed up by the urban sprawl, losing their historical identity and individual way of life. It’s a long, slow process, but it is relentless and continues to this day. Indeed, very close to where I live no less than three thousand houses are due to be built over the course of the next decade or so… on what is now green field and green belt sites.
To be fair, my home city is not the only villain here. It’s a story that is being played out in almost every developing town and city in the country, if not the world. And, of course, we do need more housing and more places of work for an ever expanding population… It is how this can be achieved sensibly, which is the point in question. There’s always more than one solution to a problem. Better use of brown field sites for example. And what about the estimated one million properties that currently stand empty in the UK… unused, unloved, often forgotten by their absentee owners?
Let me get back to FAY. What follows is a short extract. We see the scene through the eyes of a young lad called Thomas Dobson, as he comes upon the destruction of his own beloved garden allotments:
I’ll tell you, the allotments were ruined. I could have cried. They had always been such a magical place for us kids, a world of makeshift wooden hovels you could explore forever. Greenhouses built out of old front doors; some of them still with their number and knockers on them. Rooftops made out of corrugated iron, some out of carpet, or pieces of kitchen linoleum. Cack-handed brick chimney stacks, with tin funnels held in place with rusting coils of chicken wire, so the gardeners could light themselves fires and have brew-ups on freezing cold winter days. And each plot was quite different from their neighbour, so that together they looked to me like a giant’s patchwork quilt. Some, a blaze of colour as the summer flowers came into bloom. Some planted out with neat rows of green vegetables. Others were nothing more than patches of grey soil, where the earth had been turned over in preparation. A couple, knee-high with wind-driven weeds, where the gardeners had been too long absent.
Mind you, that didn’t matter now. Now, all the allotments looked exactly the same. All of them, smashed, ruined, obliterated. Bulldozed into mountainous heaps ready to be burned or carted away to the rubbish tips. There was a huge great brute of a machine, with caterpillar tracks and a massive shovel front, standing just where the first line of greenhouses should have been. There were deep furrows behind its tracks where it had cut heavily into the ground. Everything the machine had crossed was crushed beyond recognition and churned into mush.
And where, you may ask, does real life imitate fiction? Let me tell you. My home city has an historical Town Moor; land set aside, and in the guardianship of the Freemen of the city, that has very strict rules to its use and development. It is a sanctuary of green fields among the chaos of iron, steel, brick and concrete that is the modern city. Anyway, on one small part of the Town Moor there is a particular garden allotment (garden plots that have been there since the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign of World War Two) and if I take a bus to the city I go past them… What did I see only a few weeks past? Bulldozers and diggers among the allotments raising them to the ground, exactly as Thomas Dodson described the Oldburn allotments in FAY. You might imagine; my heart sank. I could not let the moment pass.
I did a little bit of digging around (forgive my pun) into the allotment demolition, and fortunately, on this occasion, I can give a little sigh of relief. Among other reasons, the City Council has explained that the demolition is taking place because of possible toxic wastes, notably asbestos, thought to be present in some of the temporary structures plot holders historically built on the site. The allotments will be fully re-established and improved upon for the use of the local community. And for that, I shout hoorah! If I shall also keep a very wary-eye…
Our world around us is always in a constant state of change. But let the changes we make be the right changes, and for the right reasons.
This e-book edition of Fay is published by Crossroad Press and is available from all good e-book stores including: