We need to be talking about allotments more

They may not be sexy or glamorous, and they may rarely come up on the doorstep when talking to residents. Yet since the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, the demand of allotments has skyrocketed, and we as a party need to start talking about them more.

Allotments have the potential to do so much to help some of the important issues facing our country. Growing our own fresh food dramatically reduces food miles and the carbon footprint of supermarkets. Studies have indicated that allotment sites vastly increase biodiversity, showing that they can increase insect populations by 70%.

Also, with our nation facing a health and cost-of-living crisis, what better way is there to resolve this with more people exercising on their allotments growing cheap healthy food? Allotment sites are a great catalyst for bringing communities together. Whatever your ethnicity, country of birth or age, I’ve seen them talking and chatting together, side by side as they work their plots. It’s getting to the point where I have trouble finding an issue that can’t be helped by having more allotments.

I undertook some research and talked to allotment holders in my local town of Medway, to see what the current state of the application process was, and the results were not great. In just the last 4 years, the waiting list has tripled. From 695 applicants in 2018, it has grown to 2009 in 2022, tripling in four years. The average waiting time for a person is now 2.5 years, and one person has waited 5 years. Speaking to allotment wardens, they say even though they have sped up the process of identifying disused plots and getting them to new tenants, the demand just keeps growing.

In 1971 the government introduced a recommended number of plots per household and councils still use this as benchmark today. It recommends 15 full sized plots per 1000 households. In Medway we have just 9 plots per 1000 households, so clearly Medway needs more allotment sites.

And this picture is mirrored across the country. In the 2022 Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) market allotments survey (found here), reported a 26% increase in applications taking place longer than 18 months compared to 2021. And the Guardian reported (here) that there is now a national waiting list of 157,820, and with waits of up to 15 years. This will continue to get as worse as high housing demand means more homes are built with smaller gardens, that have no room to grow fruit and veg. There is a huge national demand by people for land to grow their own food, and this demand will likely continue to grow.

During WWII people of all ages picked up a spade and dug for Britain, as they knew it was vital for the war effort. We are seeing a similar spirit today with the war against climate change and against the cost-of-living crisis. Yet it’s so sad that they are being put off and discouraged because they are having to wait up years and years to get their own piece of ground to grow on. The Liberal Democrats need to step up and start talking about allotments.

There are many possible local reasons to why applications are slow in each authority, and each local authority will have to deal with them on a case-by-case basis. But I believe that as a national party there as some things we can do to encourage local authorities to think about allotment provision more.

  1. Make having an Allotment strategy mandatory for all local authorities. Many authorities have them, and some are really well written, yet the APSE survey only found 42% have an allotment strategy in place.
  2. The Allotment Strategy should be incorporated into the local authority’s local plan, ensuring that they have plans on how to maintain provision of allotments as the population grows.
  3. Ensure new allotment provision is considered during planning applications of large developments, with developers meeting the cost of building any new provision required.

We are famously a nation of gardeners. The Liberal Democrats should be the party that unleashes this knowledge and enthusiasm and get people digging for Britain again.

 

 

* Stuart Bourne is a Lib Dem Member and Elections Officer for Medway Lib Dems

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9 Comments

  • A strategy is one thing, it is another matter getting land. I suspect very few of the 1000+ home developments around the country include land allocated to allotments. Which then causes further problems, identifying land and then getting the change of use through planning. Naturally, such land tends to be some distance away, making the allotments unattractive to those they would most benefit…

    A question has to be whether the 15 plots per 1000 households is low and thus also contributing to the lengthening waiting lists.

  • Sandy Smith 13th Oct '23 - 5:08pm

    I’m not convinced that allocating scare land within urban areas to allotments is the best use of that land. I, personally, would prefer available land to be turned into more green, open spaces that can be used and enjoyed by everyone rather than turned over to providing allotments for a comparatively small number of people.

  • william wallace 14th Oct '23 - 7:34pm

    Housing developers prefer to build detached houses with gardens. Many of these gardens are under-used and neglected. Denser housing would leave more room for shared open space and for allotments. Saltaire is a dense village of terraced houses, with a park, tennis club, cricket and football pitches, bowling greens – and allotments. Since we work on our allotments instead of in gardens, we also- know many more of our neighbours.

  • Nonconformistradical 14th Oct '23 - 9:42pm

    Maybe not so much allotments for individual people – but community green spaces – which could include growing fruit and veg? Perhaps involving local residents with gardening knowledge passing that knowledge on to others especially to young people.

  • Nonconformistradical 14th Oct '23 - 9:51pm

    @William Wallace
    ” Saltaire is a dense village of terraced houses,……….”

    We don’t all live in World Heritage Sites!

    Preseumably the terraced houses were the homes of the original millworkers…?

  • “ Housing developers prefer to build detached houses with gardens.”
    Because that is what sells to the sector they wish to sell to. However, “garden” increasingly means a patio and grassed area slightly larger than that required by a rotary washing line.
    To deliver on the housing targets everyone goes on abut and go someway to achieving our energy efficiency etc. goals, we are giving to have to build dense settlements of terrace houses, with meaningful public green space.
    Personally, I suspect we need to follow Tokyo and build communities where there is a greater amount of shared facilities from laundries through bath houses etc. – with high density housing (“15 minute cities”?) does every house really need a garage/car space, full bathroom and utility room etc.? However, suck thinking will be alien to many in this country, as many still dream of owning their own castle.

  • Jason Connor 17th Oct '23 - 1:05pm

    Allotments are often used by community groups to help people living locally grow food, often for the benefit of people on lower incomes. I don’t see this as a misuse of scare land when there are plenty of properties sitting empty for potential housing use. Allotments need some kind of protection status in the same way community halls on council estates need preserving from housing development, before they all disappear.

  • Peter Hirst 28th Oct '23 - 1:23pm

    Smaller gardens and more pubic open green space including allotments is the way to go. this should be inserted into local planning guidance. Large gardens are generally are just a suck to potential purchases to increase the attractiveness of the purchase. In practice large gardens require a lot of maintenance and this is not as desirable as we age. More intense questioning of existing allotment holders to see if they still desire their’s is needed with perhaps more division into one third of the standard allotment size or even smaller if there is the demand. It should also be easier to remove someone from holding an allotment.

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