All the best Simondo, why don't you give a brief update/summary, as we have a lot of newbies on board. ::)
Thanks for the support everyone, and thanks Kev, I'll give a quick re-cap.
I've been given a Notice to Quit that expires 1 April. I've been on my site for sixteen years and started getting grief from the Council in 2007 when I founded the Wash Common Allotment Society in order to give allotmenteers a voice.
In 2009, as Chair of the Society, I warned the Council that the rent review term of the tenancy agreement was unfair because tenants were locked into their tenancy by a requirement for 12 months notice while the Council could impose an arbitrary rent increase without any notice. The Council officer warned me not to raise the issue or I'd "lose support at the Council". In March 2010 the Council put rents up 47% from £4.71/pole to £6.94/pole and as they wouldn't discuss the matter I complained to Trading Standards who obliged the Council to change the tenancy Agreement.
Around this time I also stepped up the campaign for self-management after the Council resolved to not recognise the Society because, as the leader of the Council so elegantly put it, I had "slagged the Council off in the press" - I'd written a pretty measured letter to the local paper complaining about the rent increase you see. I didn't want to bow to the Council's anger at being criticised, so I did what anyone would do in the circumstances - I criticised them some more.
I witheld the increase in rent and, still refusing to discuss the issue, the Council gave me a notice of forfeiture for arrears expiring 17 May 2010. They couldn't enforce that due to the unfairness, so rather than apologise they gave me another notice of forfeiture for 13 December 2010.
This is what Trading Standards said:
I spoke to our legal representative yesterday and she is of the opinion that the 'rent review term' in the old agreement was itself not unfair, what made it unfair was the lack of ability to withdraw from the contract without penalty, ie you had to give 12 months notice and pay the higher price in the meantime.
The old agreement, we agreed was unfair, but was changed to comply with the legislation. (If they had not changed it WBC could have applied for a civil injunction to prevent The Council from using the term).
and this is what the Town Council said about the new Tenancy Agreement
Following concerns raised by an allotment tenant to West Berkshire Council Trading Standards, Newbury Town Council has agreed to make a number of changes to the Allotment Rental Agreement and Allotment Rules. Those changes have been agreed with Trading Standards, discussed with the Stewards, and ratified by the Town Council at its Community Services Committee meeting on 26 July 2010.
That should have been an end to it. I had witheld £20 of rent because the increase was unlawful, but we all agreed that and we should all have moved on. I should have been offered the new agreement along with the other 500 of Newbury's allotmenteers, and the Town Council might have usefully reflected on how it would have been better to have discussed the issue sensibly in the first place.
What actually happened was that the Council offered me the new agreement but with a rider added in biro by the parish clerk pre-evicting me on 13 December 2010.
Obviously I wasn't going to sit idle and be evicted so I've had to fight on ever since, but if the Council had just shown some honesty and accountability two years ago none of this would ever have followed.
Again the Council couldn't evict me on 13 December because of the unfairness so they scrathed their heads and in February 2011 they revoke the forfeiture and served me with a Notice to Quit 1 April 2012.
A Notice to Quit is very difficult to challenge because it needs no fault on the part of the tenant but I had a chance if I could show that the Council, who were now denying that the rent review term was unfair, had acted in bad faith. I asked to see the minutes of the committee meeting where the Council had resolved to revoke the forfeiture and serve the Notice to Quit because I suspected that they might have minuted what I guessed to be their strategy. I believe that I have a right to parish meeting minutes under S.228 of the Local Government Act 1972, but the Council refused me the minutes and an officer of the Council is currently on trial for an alleged offence under S.228 at Newbury Magistrates Court, resuming end of April.
I took out legal proceedings against the Council to get a decision on the fairness of the rent review term but the Council threatened enormous costs, like £20k if I lost, and as good as my argument was I simply couldn't afford the slightest possibility of losing that much money, so I had to abandon my claim.
Having the tenancy end on April 1 isn't such a problem if the Council just let me my plot on a new Tenancy Agreement, but their condition for doing that was that I sign a secret no-criticism protocol.
Simon Kirby agrees to:
c. Cease to make postings and pronouncements in public places (including in particular notice boards and e-forums) that are critical of or negative towards Newbury Town Council, its Members, Employees, Contractors, Customers, Tenants, and other associates, without prior discussion with the Chief Executive Officer of Newbury Town Council.
d. Not to cause nuisance to Newbury Town Council, its Members, Employees, Contractors, Customers, Tenant and other associates and in particular not to take action that entails inordinate amount of time to be spent by Newbury Town Council Members and Officers for no real benefit.
Newbury Town Council and Simon Kirby agree to keep the terms of this Agreement strictly confidential and agree not to disclose, communicate or otherwise make public the same to anyone (save professional advisers), or for the enforcement of the terms of this Agreement and otherwise as may be required to be disclosed by law.
I wasn't prepared to sign away my rights and dignity like that so I refused, so last night the Council resolved a new rule that allows them to refuse to let a plot to anyone they don't like.
So that's where I am now. Notice expires on 1 April and unless I can pull something out of the bag an abusive bullying council have won.