Dear Valerie Vaz,
I’d like to take the opportunity afforded by the Collate platform to thank you publicly for the excellent work you have been doing to represent your constituents as Member of Parliament for Walsall South.
I contacted you in 2020 on behalf of my local allotments association, explaining that we have a great community of plot-holders here who have been working hard to expand our community remit through local school visits and the creation of a community plot intended for use by groups working with vulnerable individuals and for mental health. The allotments have also proven a great resource for all of us during the coronavirus pandemic for growing food, getting exercise and relieving tensions, as you might imagine.
However, I also explained that we have a problem. All the plots on our site are accessed by a single driveway, which is in a poor state of repair, and we have already had a couple of accidents with people tripping over the loose surface. We have a disabled member on a mobility scooter and lots of elderly members, plus we want to continue to invite schools and other groups for visits, so we really need a new surface on the drive that is smooth, safe, and made to last.
The site is owned by Walsall Council, but they had been intermittent in communication for years and eventually said there was no budget to help us. I asked if they would help us to source and apply for external grant funding instead, but the request was ignored. This situation has proven doubly frustrating when just down the road there is a £78 million public works project underway to rebuild M6 Junction 10. In those terms, it would cost a pittance for us to have a new drive that would add such value to our community. I requested quotes from local firms on the cost of doing it privately, but it comes in at around £48,000, which is well beyond what we could hope to raise ourselves.
You duly took up our cause and wrote to the head of Walsall Council on our behalf, urging help with the driveway. While the response remained the same in terms of funding, your intervention did prompt attention and we were visited by council officers who assessed the drive and promised to work with us to apply for grants. You also contacted the head of Highways England, who in turn asked the contractors for the Junction 10 works if they could help us with any surplus materials from that project. We were visited by representatives for the contractors, whose response was initially very encouraging, but ultimately they have been unable to help us with the driveway. I saw that you have also in the meantime been interviewed by the local press, and mentioned our site along with other community needs in questioning the spending priorities of the local authority.
Thank you for your most recent letter, dated 9th June, in which you said you have spoken to the founder of a garden design company who may be able to facilitate access to repurposed stone for improving the driveway and access path. We would certainly be very interested in this possibility. The area in question covers circa 1400 square metres. Feel free to put me in touch or to contact me by email for any further specifics. You also asked about my most recent contact with the council. Council officers have been sending out general mail outs about small grant opportunities, but I have not had specific contact with them regarding the driveway this year.
I’m very much aware that while this matter is important to our community, in the scheme of things and within your remit as an MP, it is a minor, very local issue. Throughout the past couple of years, you have nonetheless maintained regular contact and shown real concern and persistence for our community. This letter is just a mark of appreciation to thank you for your ongoing efforts.
I’m also interested in any opportunities that may arise for you to influence policy at the national level. I recently wrote to the Defra minister through this platform to make the case for greater government recognition and support of the role that allotments and related community and home growing schemes can play in building food security and household resilience. I also wrote to the shadow Defra minister on the subject of the broader ecological and economic resilience of our food systems. The cost of living crisis, the unsustainability of our food production and the uncertainty of climate impacts make the case for cohesive and decisive national food security strategy all the more imperative.
Many thanks and best wishes,