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Disbelief as Shoreditch community veg patch is ripped up by council - because gardener behind it is 'trespassing'

PUBLISHED: 17:10 07 March 2019 | UPDATED: 10:51 08 March 2019

Before: The community garden. Picture: Lou Downe

Before: The community garden. Picture: Lou Downe

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A much-loved community garden on a Shoreditch estate has been ripped up by council officers because the person who created it doesn't live there.

Workers ripping up the garden. Picture: Lou DowneWorkers ripping up the garden. Picture: Lou Downe

A much-loved community garden on a Shoreditch estate has been ripped up by council officers because the person who created it doesn’t live there.

This morning Lou Downe watched on as town hall maintenance workers pulled up the vegetables and herbs growing in the plot off Pritchard’s Road on the Whiston Estate.

Keen gardener Lou lives on a neighbouring development and started the garden 18 months ago to build bridges in the community.

It had proved popular and many people were involved in its success, but last year, after a complaint from council tenants, Lou received a “very blunt cease and desist letter” threatening to prosecute them for trespassing.

After: The garden has been completely dug up. Picture: Lou DowneAfter: The garden has been completely dug up. Picture: Lou Downe

The council says community gardens have to be led by tenants on its estates, with a minimum of five people backing the project, and this simply didn’t happen.

Lou said they met with a housing officer and after that sent dozens of emails to councillors and made repeated phone calls to the town hall to try and find a resolution but got no answer.

Then on Monday a sign went up saying: “This unauthorised growing area is going to be taken out and returned to grass.”

Lou told the Gazette: “I’ve been better!

The patch before the garden was created. Picture: Lou DowneThe patch before the garden was created. Picture: Lou Downe

“Eighteen months of hard work have come down to a notice on the fence – which was hidden from view. No phone call, no emails.

“I’m not a Hackney Council resident but I’ve been here for five years. I’m a really keen gardener and like most people I live in a property without a garden. I wanted to do something for the local community and build a bridge between the private estate and the council estate. It had pretty much everything – broccoli, spinach, butternut squash, garlic, herbs.

“Had they approached me and said: ‘You need to go through the proper channels’ I would have been happy to, but there was no such thing.”

Lou, who tried to reason with the workers as they tore up the garden, put the incident down to a “complete failure of bureaucracy” and now wants the council to help find another plot.

“The ideal outcome is to find a new site for the garden to continue to benefit the community in this area and the wildlife,” said Lou.

Hackney Mayor Phil Glanville apologised to Lou on Twitter and said he would investigate.

And director of housing Ajman Ali said the council had helped more than 60 community gardens in recent years under its Grow Your Own Scheme.

Mr Ali added: “We have to balance the competing needs and demands of all our residents. Lou is not a resident of Whiston Estate yet was using land on it. So we asked them to seek support from tenants and leaseholders to collaborate, but we were not contacted by any estate residents.

“Without that direct support from residents, we did not feel we could give them permission to use the land. In addition, land needs to be deemed suitable for growing food. This check did not take place.

“Unfortunately, we received a series of complaints from those who live on the estate about the vegetable patch, requesting we remove it.

“We had been in contact with Lou on a number of occasions last summer, and made it very clear what the process was for setting up a community garden; particularly around gaining support of the estate community. We also tried to set up a meeting at the site but Lou was unable to attend; we then wrote to Lou asking them to stop, which they didn’t. More recently, we received a health and safety complaint, and decided to take action.”

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