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Have local councils lost the plot over allotments?

A homemade shed on an allotment

How long would you wait for an allotment? Some areas of London have 40-year waiting lists, making growing vegetables more exclusive than the swankiest of private clubs. So what’s the future for the humble allotment?

Allotment internet forums were buzzing recently over concerns about the future of allotments.

The government is currently reviewing the 1,294 statutory responsibilities that are currently placed on local authorities – and allotment provision is one of them.

The issue even made it as far as Prime Minister’s Question Time, and in the end the Department for Communities and Local Government had to issue a statement confirming that allotments are not under threat. A spokesman told us:

‘The government is not, and has no plans to, change the rules requiring councils to provide allotments to local communities.’

Allotment demand exceeds supply

So, that’s a relief. But the fact remains that demand for allotments far exceeds supply. Figures out this week show that there are 57 people waiting for every 100 plots. Waiting times around the country vary, but in some parts of London the wait is 40 years. And worryingly, only 66% of councils keep waiting list data, which means that the actual figure could be higher.

Some councils are doing their best to reduce lists by bringing disused plots back into use and dividing existing plots into smaller ones. And 35 new sites have been created in the last year, meaning that 900 more people can grow their own. But overall this is doing little to dent overall waiting lists – it’s only helped around 1% of the 86,700 people waiting for a plot.

In theory, if enough people in an area want an allotment, the council must provide them with one – as outlined under Section 23 of the 1908 Act. However, it’s rarely that simple.

In response to such requests, most councils simply state that they have no land available – and there’s not much arguing with that.

Allotments need a makeover

So maybe it’s time to update the law on allotments. Britain is a very different place to what it was in 1908, when more land was available and the population was much smaller.

Of course, existing plots should be safeguarded by law, otherwise they’d be snapped up for development in the blink of an eye. But should the obligation on councils to provide land be reinforced? One suggestion is that if demand for growing spaces has been identified, the local authority should be required to publish a plan setting out how it can meet this.

Alternatively, the creation of growing spaces fits in nicely with the government’s Big Society concept, so maybe we should all come up with ingenious ways of growing food. Several organisations are already doing just that – Landshare, for example, are doing a great job matching would-be growers with spare land.

Some pop-up plots are also err, popping up, on building sites laying idle during the recession. Most of us could probably identify such an area – surely the law could make it easier for private groups to rent or cultivate these sites?

Let’s get radical

As one of the lucky few who actually has an allotment, I’d say the most important thing would be for sites to be for the long term – there’s nothing worse than cultivating a growing space, only to have it taken away.

Whatever happens, I think it’s time to think radically about how we find land on which to grow food. Everyone, from governments to growers, seems to agree that there’s no downside to communities growing food (apart from maybe a bad back and a glut of marrows).

There’s only so much fresh air, community spirit, homegrown meals and air mile/oil reduction you can achieve with a windowbox.

Have you got a question about growing your own fruit and veg? Put it to our experts in our Grow Your Own Live Q&A, Wednesday May 11th from 10am-noon.

Comments
Member

My London borough has a large waiting list – the last time I enquired. But the problem that the two “lucky” friends I know who have allotments faced was the almost wholesale theft of produce unless it was potatoes. This problem caused me to rethink any future use of allotments.

Member

Wow! I knew allotments were covetable nowadays, but waiting 40 years is insane!

Personally, I’d love to have one, but I think that finding one close by is essential. It defeats the object of you have to drive there everyday. They also seem like quite a big responsibility and a lot of time investment – some of my friends share one with others and that must be the perfect solution as you can still go on holiday and the other people can do the watering!

I do love the Landshare idea – so many gardens are just sat becoming overgrown and sharing with someone who wants to make use of the space is genius. It would be great to see this becoming much more widespread.

Member
Ann Soderberg says:
13 May 2011

Landshare is an excellent idea, though they seem to have the same problem that land-takers are outnumbering land-offerers but more than 1 in 10.

We are also all currently awaiting the Governments new Localism Bill, which will hopufully be published in the first 1/2 of 2012. My hope is that the bill will support ‘community land’ such as orchards, greens, playing fields, playgrounds and allottments on even footing with housebuilding as it is these things which makes a community worth living in.
The Localism bill advocates all local communities wheather a neighbourhood in a large city, a small town or village or a rural parish to produce their own plans through community involvement and consultation. This will give everyone who can be bothered to get involved to have a say on how their area will develop in the future.
The planning system guards the inclusion of these elements in new planning applications, which leaves existing communities, where all land has been snapped up for development and gardens being sold off for the same purpose over especially the poast 10 years.
It is now just up to politicians to give the same financial incentive for developers and other to implement green infrastructure such as allotments as it is to biuld houses.

Member

Hi Ann
Thanks for your comments. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the Localism Bill. I really hope it safeguards and creates the green spaces all communities deserve!