Seaside gardeners given their marching orders

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The Independent Online
THE LIST is almost endless: Brussels sprouts, pumpkins, marrows, runner beans, herbs and sunflowers just for starters. Then there's the hens and dogs; not to mention bees and the honey they produce, which is sold by proud members of the Whitehawk Hill Allotment Gardeners' Association in Brighton.

And every item is a problem, because keeping livestock is strictly against allotment rules. So is selling produce. "Some members of this group have not proved to be good allotment neighbours," Brighton and Hove Council said yesterday.

Worst of all, the authority insisted, clashes with more traditional plot- holders next door had led to threats of violence. "This has caused them great fear, which has kept them from working their plots." So the association's members have been given 10 weeks' notice to quit.

They say they are being victimised because they are less "conventional" than the other, more traditional, allotment holders. "We are WHAGA ... and we come in peace," reads the sign pinned to their gate. The group's leader, Hilaire Purbrick, 36, said the makeshift shop he was standing next to was hardly a Sainsbury's. His only customer was a pregnant lady with a craving for sprouts.

The land was neglected seven years ago when he decided to take it over and form a co-operative of gardeners. Today the 20-strong group includes a librarian, midwife, pensioner, blacksmith and jobless people who grow every variety of vegetable and wild flower imaginable on their 15 allotments.

They have plans to make a disabled access plot while encouraging youngsters from the nearby problem estate to take up horticulture.

Vicky Simes, 25, a librarian, said: "It is a magical site. On a clear day you can see the Isle of Wight. I wanted an allotment but didn't think I could cope on my own. I've come here every day since joining and it's like having a new family. The council just wants to keep people in individual plots so they never speak to each other."

The council said two years of protests had forced it act. The group, which admits it does not pay a full rent on the site, has until 30 November to leave. "This group does not have leases nor have they signed any agreement with the council, which all other allotment tenants are obliged to do," the council said.

"Legitimate plot-holders are complaining and it is our responsibility to protect their rights. The [association] have broken every rule in the book. We have offered them another piece of land away from other people but they have refused to co-operate."

Mr Purbrick is unrepentant and, setting the ground for an imminent conflict, insisted: "We would rather die than leave these allotments."