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Not very widely reported in the Press are Parliamentary Questions & Debates about Allotments.

This is a new page where we will reprint reports from Hansard, the official record of Parliamentary proceedings. 


Allotments: Council Provision

06 March 2017 Volume 779

Question 2.42 pm  Asked by Baroness Sharples

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the Statement by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth on 7 February on the Housing White Paper, what steps they are taking to ensure that councils continue to provide suitable plots for allotments.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con):

My Lords, the Government recognise that allotments are valuable assets that play an important role in bringing communities together to live healthier lifestyles. Before disposing of allotments, councils must satisfy a range of statutory criteria set by the Government. Moreover, there is a range of measures through which communities can help to safeguard their allotments, including the National Planning Policy Framework, neighbourhood planning and the community right to bid, as well as always, it is hoped, keeping allotments free of Japanese knotweed.

Baroness Sharples (Con):

My Lords, does not the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 still apply to councils? If more than six people ask for an allotment, are they not to be given one?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

My Lords, my noble friend is right about the importance of the 1908 Act and subsequently the 1925 Act, and the Government subsequently tightened the statutory duties on local authorities in the 2014 guidance which ensures that existing plot holders are protected if a local authority wishes to dispose of the allotments. That protection is in place.

Lord Beecham (Lab):

My Lords, while allotments make a valuable contribution, public parks play an even larger part in promoting health and well-being. Last October, the Heritage Lottery Fund warned that local council cuts were endangering the condition and health of public parks, and last month the CLG committee warned of cuts of up to 97%, with some parks facing a return to the neglect suffered in the 1980s and 1990s. What are the Government doing to mitigate this threat to amenity and public health?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

My Lords, as always, the noble Lord is absolutely right about the importance of green spaces, which, as he will know, are well protected in the housing White Paper, which is open for consultation until 2 May. I have no doubt that the noble Lord will respond to it.

​Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD):

My Lords, I declare an interest as a plot holder in Saltaire. The noble Lord talked about the benefits to the community of communal space and communal gardens, but do the Government encourage developers developing new housing to move back from individual gardens and individual houses towards a greater density of houses with communal space and communal gardens—exactly what allotments are—given the current long waiting lists in so many parts of the country for allotments?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

My Lords, as I indicated, green spaces in general are the subject of consultation in the housing White Paper. The noble Lord is right about the importance of appropriate density provision, with those green spaces. We give special protection to allotments and have done since 1908. If anything, that protection has been ramped up in the 2014 guidelines. Regarding waiting lists, I have spoken to the National Allotment Society. The pressure has eased on allotment waiting lists. There is still a waiting list, but it is not as long as it was, say, 10 years ago.

Viscount Hailsham (Con):

My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that private landowners are often very well placed to make land available for allotments? Given that, will he encourage Defra to promote discussions between councillors, the NFU and other representatives of landowners to see whether they can find ways to promote such private provision?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

My noble friend makes a very important point. Having spoken with the National Allotment Society, I know that it is discussing and bringing to fruition a plan with British Telecom, making available a lot of land that is now I think 1,200 disused telephone exchanges, which will be used for allotments, and that is heartening. I certainly take on board what my noble friend said and echo it.

Lord West of Spithead (Lab):

My Lords, 100 years ago last month, the Germans declared unrestricted U-boat warfare on this nation and almost starved us to death. Of course allotments became very important, as they were in the Second World War. While allotments are wonderful things, does the Minister not feel that protecting our merchant shipping with enough warships might be more important?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

My Lords, it is like a round of Mornington Crescent with the noble Lord—he always succeeds in bringing that in. Of course I agree about the importance of allotments, not just for healthier lifestyles, but for ensuring that we have appropriate food supplies in the country.

Lord Elton (Con):

My Lords, massive numbers of houses are now planned for the future. In the literature on them I have seen no reference to the provision of allotments for new housing. That will be appended to many small communities that have plenty of provision, but there is nothing on the map to show what will be added to that provision when the new houses are built.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will take comfort from the fact that thanks to neighbourhood planning, which owes its ​root to the Localism Act 2012, many areas are bringing forward plans for neighbourhood allotments—Thame, Exeter, Norwich and Haywards Heath, to give just some examples.

The Countess of Mar (CB):

My Lords, further to the question from his noble friend, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, is the Minister aware that the National Trust provides some allotments? A number of charities have communal gardens to help people with mental health problems. Rooting around in the soil, seeing plants grow and then harvesting them is a wonderful rehabilitative practice.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

My Lords, the noble Countess makes a valuable point about all the benefits of allotments. That is why we provide special protection for and give such importance to them in neighbourhood planning, community right to bid and the planning framework I spoke of.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab):

My Lords, referring back to the supplementary question of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, does the Minister agree that one of the great benefits of allotments is the diversity of what is grown on them and the effect of that on the population of pollinators, which of course are extremely important to agriculture? Does he not think that that is a good reason to encourage farmers to make land available?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point about pollinators and the great variety of plants and vegetables that grow on allotments. I have had the opportunity to see this with my own brother—and I hope that he is listening to this so that I can benefit again this year.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Con):

My Lords, in the London area in the past the obligations were fewer for local authorities. Is it still the position that London is treated differently?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

My Lords, my noble friend, who understands London like few others, is absolutely right: that was the position in the 1908 Act. However, since the 1925 Act, London has been dealt with on exactly the same basis. If I am wrong on that, I will write to my noble friend and put a copy of the letter in the Library.

Baroness Andrews (Lab):

Does the Minister agree that, once we have left the European Union, we will probably have to grow a lot more of our own food, and therefore that we will need many more allotments—in which case we will certainly have to look at the law again? Does the Department for Exiting the European Union have this on its agenda?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

My Lords, first, as I indicated in my earlier response to the noble Lord, Lord West, growing our own food is of importance anyway. I do not know whether we are looking at this in particular through the Department for Exiting the European Union, but it is of extreme importance—as ​are all the other benefits of allotments, which is why they are so important, as indicated in the exchanges today.

Lord Lexden (Con):

Is my noble friend aware that concern about public parks—to which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made reference—is widely shared across this House? Will he say what the Government are doing now to safeguard their future while the consultation exercise grinds along?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth:

My Lords, I share the view that this is extremely important, as my noble friend indicated. As I said, this is acknowledged in the housing White Paper. We face many challenges, of which building more houses while protecting the green belt and public parks is one. As I said, the consultation will be open to take views until 2 May.

END


Allotments

Published Wednesday, March 21, 2012

This note covers issues arising from allotment gardens, including what happens when developers want to build on the site

Jump to full report >>

• This note describes the law on allotments, including some issues that frequently arise. The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Ltd has a very useful website and is the main centre of allotment expertise.

• The law on allotments appears in several Acts of Parliament, some more than a century old.

• The Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 imposed a duty on councils – which remains in force - to provide allotments if six or more people say that they want them. However, there is no time limit and many people would have to wait decades to obtain an allotment.

• Building on statutory allotment land is only allowed when the allotment holders are offered alternative sites.

• Despite these controls, many people have asked for the provision of more allotments to satisfy demand.

• The Government argues that the neighbourhood planning regime, for which the Localism Act makes provision, could lead to many new allotments.

Commons Briefing papers SN00887

Author: Christopher Barclay

Topics: Food, Leisure

Download the full report

Allotments (   PDF, 201.69 KB)

Source: Hansard Online



16th December 2008: Column 580w

Communities and Local Government

Allotments

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what plans she has to bring forward legislative proposals on the size and number of allotments provided by local authorities. [243583]

Mr. Iain Wright: We do not have any current plans to bring forward legislative proposals on the plot size and number of allotments provided by local authorities.


16 Dec 2008 : Column 582W

The provision of allotments is the responsibility of local authorities. Section 23 of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 places a duty on local authorities (except for inner London boroughs) to provide sufficient allotments where they consider that there is a demand for them in their area.

Furthermore “Planning Policy Guidance Note 17: Planning for Open Space, Sport & Recreation, 2002” encourages local authorities to ensure that they provide an adequate number of allotments for their community and ascertain what is sufficient for their local area. The accompanying guidance to PPG 17 advises local authorities on setting local standards.

 


 

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Allotments
4.30 pm

 

Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): I am pleased to have secured this debate, Mr. Bayley, and I am privileged to serve under your chairmanship.

This is the second debate that I have held on the subject, the first being in 2004. I spoke then of the virtues of allotments and lamented the decline in their number. Although allotments can be owned privately by individuals or charities, or let by companies such as Railtrack or Network Rail, most are owned and let by local authorities. The vast majority of allotments fall into that category, so for the most part I shall dwell on the legislation and administration that governs that sort of allotment.

In the brief time available, I want to take stock of developments since the 2004 debate and note the unfortunate lack of progress since then. In my opinion, the benefits that allotments bring to individuals and communities cannot be overstated. I have spoken to many allotment holders in Wirral, and they all point to the physical benefits, and, interestingly, the mental benefits, of working on an allotment. Growing one’s own vegetables and fruit is relatively cheap, and it is a distinct advantage for those who are feeling the pinch of economic pressures. It is also good for those who want to contribute to biodiversity.

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West) (Lab) rose—

Ben Chapman: I give way to my hon. Friend and neighbour.

Stephen Hesford: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is a doughty fighter on this subject, and I commend him for the work that he has done. He is indeed my neighbour on the west of Wirral.

Is it not the case that in the western world there is a lack of allotment provision? That is a great frustration for our constituents. Will it be part of my hon. Friend’s submission that councils should be urged to do more to even out the provision of allotments across boroughs such as ours?

Ben Chapman: It is a pleasure to have my hon. Friend’s support, particularly in this context. I endorse all that he says. I shall cover those points, but it is true that in our part of the world—in west Wirral—there are no allotments, and there are waiting lists throughout the borough.

Allotments are a good place to source organic products. They are minus the food miles and the carbon footprint, and they have recently become more fashionable and vital. They are set to become ever more popular, and more of an imperative among a broader ranger of people in light of rising food prices. Many plot holders have told me that increasingly diverse groups now use or hope to use allotments. It is not simply a hobby for retired men, as the stereotype used to be.

The September 2006 publication “Growing in the Community”, commissioned by the Local Government Association stated that

“allotments have a distinctive contribution to make to the achievement of social inclusion at local levels, as communities of interest bring
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in a wide range of people, including people from different gardening traditions and cultures, together for a common purpose”.

In practice, that seems increasingly to be the case.

Gardening in one’s own space brings feelings of satisfaction and tranquillity, with the opportunity to chat to fellow plot holders. Indeed, the more indirect advantages of working on an allotment have been exploited by some local mental health charities. They run various allotment schemes, including one run by the Restore charity in Oxford. I am told that it cultivates an allotment site of two acres outside the city centre in Cowley, where people grow fruit, vegetables, flowers and willow.

Children who have the opportunity to work on an allotment gain a wealth of outdoor experience and knowledge about growing fresh produce, and about nutrition. Their work on allotments contributes to solving the problems of childhood obesity. One might presume that such children are more incentivised to eat their greens if they grow the greens themselves.

There is much evidence to suggest that allotments are rising in popularity. More than 30 books on allotments have been published since 2001, and waiting lists for allotments grow ever longer. According to statistics provided by the National Society for Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, 51 of Bolton’s 61 allotment sites have reached full capacity, and all the others are close to full. If that information is indicative of what is happening in other areas of the country, it suggests that allotments are hugely popular, and in demand.

In Wirral, it is thought that about 400 people are on waiting lists. I repeat that in the west of Wirral there are no allotments. In Blyth Valley, there are approximately 900 plots, but in 2007 there were 850 people on the waiting list. In Yorkshire, six towns have a combined waiting list of more than 3,500 people. In many areas, including York—although you might know better, Mr. Bayley—Medway, Peterborough, Solihull and Worcester, to name but a few, waiting lists have increased considerably over the past few years. In some places, people have been waiting for more than seven years.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): In Croydon, only 200 people are on the waiting list, but the list is closed. In some cases, the numbers greatly underestimate the demand for allotment provision.

Ben Chapman: Absolutely. That situation will apply in many other parts of the country. We may be looking at an even bigger problem than I have outlined.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I should declare an interest: I am the holder of an allotment plot in east Finchley, near my constituency.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, especially in London, there is huge pressure from developers and local authorities falsely to reduce the demand for allotments, selling them off to ensure that they become building land, whereas in truth they should be doing their best to ensure that every new development includes some allotment space, particularly in densely built-up urban areas? That would increase the number of allotment spaces, not reduce them. It seems that the number is reducing at a time when demand is rising fast.

Ben Chapman: I agree. Indeed, I was the sponsor of a ten-minute Bill that addressed that very point.

I hope that I have established today, as I did in my speech in 2004, that allotments are a good thing. They are increasingly popular, more so than in 2004. In principle, we should encourage people to rent and use them and benefit from them. Why are there still not enough?

The 1998 report on allotments by the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee concluded that

“the Government should issue a Green Paper as soon as is practicable...and develop a consolidating piece of legislation”.

That has not been done. The Committee also said:

“The Government should aim to introduce the resulting Bill within the lifetime of this Parliament.”

That was 10 years ago. Sadly, there is much evidence to suggest that almost no progress has been made.

In 2004, I asked for specific, simple improvements that would not require legislation. I asked for greater protection for allotments from development, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). In the absence of Government-led initiatives, I sponsored a ten-minute Bill that attempted to address that question. It received considerable support from Back Benchers. I also asked for better security measures, yet allotment holders in my constituency tell me of their struggle against persistent and ongoing attacks of vandalism on their sites.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. In securing this debate, he has inspired my constituents. Christopher Martin of Thornaby asked me specifically and purposefully to attend. He is pleased that we are debating the matter.

It is fortuitous that I am speaking, because Stockton borough council seems to be an exception to the rule. It has invested more than £100,000, which means that allotments are secure and their pathways are infinitely improved. We have only 200 plots, and 60 people are on the waiting list. There is great demand, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend is making such a powerful case. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response, because if the Government were to be slightly more generous in their grant-related expenditure or their standard assessments, local authorities could be much more positive. I hope that my hon. Friend accepts that.

Ben Chapman: Indeed. I hope and pray that all councils will follow Stockton’s example, no doubt encouraged by the efforts of my hon. Friend.

As I said, vandalism continues, and allotment holders perceive a lack of response—that councils are not introducing measures against it. In 2004, I asked for a big push on the promotion of allotments. The fact that the issue was discussed at length in “Growing in the Community” suggests that it has not yet been fully addressed. I asked for more investment in plots to provide facilities such as a regular water supply and toilets in order to broaden the range of people, especially women, able to spend time at allotment plots. However, Wirral’s allotment societies have not been offered a
22 July 2008 : Column 232WH
significant regular increase in what I regard as the pitiful amount of funding that the councils give for the purpose.

I suspect that the situation is the same elsewhere. I asked for more plots, but we have ever-longer waiting lists. Any increase in plots has not been synchronised with demand. Four years after my original debate, I find myself asking for the same provision, which is not good enough.

Let me give another example from my constituency, which I imagine applies equally to my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford), to illustrate what allotment holders and societies are up against. The council has published an allotment strategy, complete with plans to prevent vandalism and provide toilet facilities where possible, but there is little evidence that it is being implemented, or that it will be. The council’s view is that it cannot allocate resources until it knows the full picture, but that will happen only when the necessary research is conducted, and nothing much is happening in the interim. My constituents tell me that the council is not fulfilling its responsibilities to market and provide allotment usage in any form, and that there is little knowledge about allotment provision.

It has been suggested that the council’s long-term strategy is to encourage self-management of sites, including funding, through allotment societies, which should apply to the lottery and other sources. Only allotment sites that have formed societies can avail themselves of grant funding, and a committee has to be formed and a bank account opened before funds can be applied for and released. At least 16 sites in Wirral have not formed allotment societies. It seems to me that the council, like others, is trying to shift the burden of responsibility to the allotment societies, by giving them the burdens of management and funding. Frankly, allotments seem to be near the bottom of the council’s list of priorities. In essence, the process of amelioration, if it happens at all, is slow, and slower than it should be. I believe that my area is not an exception, but a reflection of what is happening in the rest of the country.

What are the causes of this disappointing lack of progress? Principally, there is a lack of reliable national data on unmet demand for allotments. If we do not have a clear picture of national demand, how can we take appropriate action? The last review of the issue was carried out by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2004-05, but the returns have not yet been analysed, so we are none the wiser. The most reliable statistics we have are from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee report of 1998. The data show that in 1943 there were 1.4 million allotments and only 300,000 in 1996. Worryingly, we have no evidence to suggest that numbers of allotments have not plummeted further. There is certainly no evidence from my own constituency or from research that I have conducted that there has been a widespread, consistent attempt by local authorities to provide new allotments to keep up with demand.

I have asked a large number of parliamentary questions on the subject of allotments in the past five years. More than half the answers to those questions stress the fact that local authorities rather than the Government have a duty to provide allotments according to local need. However, I think that the Government have responsibilities, too. I appreciate that the green spaces database has now
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been launched, which will in time give us the information for which we have waited so long. I welcome that, but it will not help to bring back the allotments that have already been lost. Indeed, some would argue it is too little, too late—I argue that it is too token.

The other major cause of a distinct lack of adequate allotment provision is the legislation. The Smallholdings and Allotments Act 1908 contains a mandatory obligation on the municipal authority to provide and let allotments, but the obligation is not bound by any period of time, thus in effect absolving the authority from the responsibility to look for suitable land. No realistic sanctions can be brought against a recalcitrant authority, apart from an action before the county court on the basis that it is in breach of its statutory duty. Generally, would-be allotment holders are unable to go to such expense or take such risks simply to prove a point. Where local authorities seem to be matching demand, the standard 300 sq yd plot is being subdivided. As such, the figures are somewhat misleading, but the plots are less useful for growing food, as that requires more space.

There are many competing factors where local authority land is concerned, not least potentially lucrative buildings, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North referred. Councils, including Wirral, find it difficult to provide money for allotments, but they do not necessarily find it difficult to find money for other things.

The problem can and should be remedied. Current legislation could be changed to put time limits on a municipal authority in which they must provide and let allotments. There should be sanctions to deter non-achievement of such objectives. The word “sufficient”, which is always used in regard to the requirement on local authorities to provide allotments, is wet and open to whatever interpretation a council may choose. Generally speaking, “sufficient”, to the layman, means, simply, “insufficient”.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I thought that I would come along to support the hon. Gentleman today, and I would very much like to commend his words on behalf of my constituents. I think he has made an excellent contribution.

Ben Chapman: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman—his remarks are much appreciated.

I understand that the Department for Communities and Local Government—no doubt the Minister will tell us about this when he responds—has already put out to tender a contract for work advising on how it can maximise allotment potential. That is good news, but there is no point looking into allotment potential if there is little scope for using such potential. Other issues, such as the upkeep and promotion of allotments, need to be addressed. Local authorities are used to being set targets in other areas, and I see no reason why targets for allotment provision and facilities cannot be introduced. As it is, local authorities, rather than Government, respond to local demand for allotments, and they should be encouraged to develop their own allotments strategy. To make that manifest, enough provision must be made in budgets. That can only be achieved with effective and rigorous backing and monitoring from Government.

Ultimately, my main message is that there needs to be a sense of urgency regarding allotment provision. As I mentioned in the first part of my speech, and in 2004,
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allotments make many positive contributions to people’s lives and communities. There is enormous scope for joined-up government, incorporating objectives from different Departments, from health to biodiversity and education, and social interaction and cohesion within communities. That the Government have up until this point failed to capitalise on what allotments have to offer shows a failure of drive and imagination. The launch of one database here and a stand-alone publication there is not enough. We must do better. Allotment provision provides a big bang for a relatively modest buck. Let us ensure that it happens. The sad paradox of increasing demand and decreasing opportunity should not be allowed to continue.

4.47 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Ben Chapman) on raising this important and increasingly relevant debate on provision for allotments. I agree wholeheartedly that allotments are valuable green spaces and that they provide many great benefits for communities. As he mentioned in his excellent contribution, they provide opportunities for people to exercise, socialise and, more importantly, to grow their own produce, which has an impact on carbon footprints.

My hon. Friend will be aware that interest in allotments has undergone a recent revival in line with current thinking on healthy eating, organic food, exercise and reducing carbon footprints and—let me be blunt—the rising food prices that we have seen in the past few months mean that allotments will be increasingly important to communities. We should welcome that and embrace it as much as possible.

For many years, the Government have recognised the importance of allotments. The provision of allotments and their protection is set out in statute and departmental guidance. It is clear—I say this especially because we are pushing for matters to be decided as locally as practicably possible—that the provision of allotments should be the responsibility of local authorities.

Section 23 of the Smallholdings and Allotments Act 1908, as amended, places a duty on local authorities, except for inner London boroughs, to provide allotments where they consider that there is a demand. If a local authority is of the opinion that there is such a demand, it is required to provide a sufficient number of allotments for letting to those residing in the area who want them.

Jeremy Corbyn: That is a very important point. Inner-London boroughs are not required to provide allotments in the same way as other local authorities, but the corollary to that ought to be that the outer-London boroughs take into account the demand of people from inner London to get allotments in outer-London boroughs. As far as I am aware, none of them currently does that. That means that people living in inner-London boroughs who could benefit from allotments often find them almost impossible to get.

Mr. Wright: My hon. Friend raises an important point. I shall contact London Councils to find out whether there is strategic, joined-up thinking about the provision of allotments in the capital. I am keen to help him in that regard.

Importantly, communities can and should influence the provision of allotments in their areas. Written representations on the need for allotments can be made to a local authority by any six resident registered electors or persons liable to pay council tax, and under section 23(2) of the 1908 Act, the local authority must take those representations into account. The council must assess whether there is demand for allotments in its area. If it decides that there is, it has a statutory duty under that Act to provide a sufficient number of plots.

Ben Chapman: That is the problem—“sufficient” can be defined in a variety of ways. Although councils are required to take account of representations, they are not required to actually do anything about them.

Mr. Wright: I shall mention community empowerment later, and this is a good example of a matter on which a community can hold its local authority to account by lobbying, petitioning or whatever. As we suggest in the community empowerment White Paper, there is an increasingly relevant need for allotments to be provided.

I turn to departmental guidance on open spaces, which helps to support the legal framework that I have mentioned. My hon. Friend will know that through planning policy guidance note 17, “Planning for open space, sport and recreation”, and planning policy statement 3, “Housing”, the planning system provides a robust framework for the protection and provision of all types of open space, including allotments. PPG17 advises local authorities to make provision for all types of public open space and states that they are expected to undertake robust assessments of local needs and audits of existing open space, and to establish standards for new provision.

Using that information, local authorities should plan to meet the future needs of their population, such as those linked to new housing developments, and can include provision standards in their development plan. PPS3 states that local planning authorities should have clear policies for the protection and creation of open space. New housing developments should incorporate sufficient provision—there is that word again, I am afraid—if such spaces are not already adequately provided within easy access of the new housing.

That is an important point, because as Housing Minister I am keen to ensure that we have more homes for the population of this country. However, I am equally aware that gardens may be smaller than they were a century ago, and that there might not be scope to have a vegetable patch in one’s garden, as people of previous generations might have had. As part of a coherent strategy for the building of new development, it is important that sufficient consideration be given to the provision of allotments and open space in general. I am passionate about ensuring that that happens.

Under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, it is possible for local planning authorities to negotiate agreements to provide allotments with developers before granting planning permission. Research conducted in 2003-04 by the university of Sheffield shows that 20 planning obligations to secure developer contributions for allotments had been recorded by the local planning authorities that responded to the survey, which represented
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about a third of all local authorities. Of those contributions, 19 were financial payments worth some £130,000. Those data show a reasonable use of planning obligations to secure developer contributions for allotments.

Ms Dari Taylor: We all know about PPG17 and the 1908 Act, and we know that planning gain should reflect that guidance, but the fact is that there are 200 allotments in Thornaby and 60 people waiting. The chances are that they will wait for ever. Other Members do not have allotments in their constituencies at all. We need something more than the current legislation if we are to secure the type and number of allotments that we require.

Mr. Wright: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her passionate criticism. As a north-eastern MP, I am very frightened of her and concerned to address her concerns. She makes an important point.

Yesterday my noble Friend Baroness Andrews met the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who promoted the ten-minute Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South, mentioned, to discuss precisely that issue. I understand that their discussion focused on what action could be taken to ensure that local authorities are aware of both the benefits to local communities and their duties in the legislative and planning framework. That important work will be undertaken by a green space organisation once a grant has been awarded, and it will involve supporting a dialogue between the Local Government Association and key allotment organisations to decide how best to support local authorities and link up with wider agendas such as health and education. It is important that we put a rocket up local authorities to ensure that that takes place and that the concerns that have been clearly articulated today are addressed.

However, our legislation is strong and provides for the protection of allotments, which is a unique protection. Section 8 of the Allotments Act 1925, reinforced by planning guidance, states that allotments cannot be treated as previously developed land. That might seem a technical matter, but in practice it makes it very difficult for them to be disposed of or built on. A council can dispose of an allotment only in exceptional circumstances and if it can fully justify to the Secretary of State that there is a need for a change of use, against extremely robust criteria.

In 2002, we sought to strengthen the existing protections. In 1998, a Select Committee inquiry on allotments concluded that the criteria for assessing allotment disposals were too weak. As a consequence, we strengthened the criteria for the disposal of statutory allotments. As I said, they were reinforced by PPG17. The purpose of that was to ensure that the community’s need for the allotments in question would be taken into account and that they were considered surplus to need. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South mentioned the difference between the number of allotments in 1943 and now, but that change has meant that the loss of allotments has decelerated. That is welcome, but of course we need to turn the curve and ensure that more allotments are provided.

The key is to ensure that allotments are there for those who want them and that they are properly protected and managed. Responsibility for that lies with local authorities, but central Government remain incredibly
22 July 2008 : Column 237WH
interested. We have taken a number of actions in the past 12 months to reinforce our commitment to allotments. For example, we published in June 2007 revised guidance for plot holders, “Allotments: a plotholder’s guide,” to ensure that they know their rights.

In the past year we have also worked closely with the LGA to produce a second edition of “Growing in the community”, which was launched in March 2008. That updated guide reflects the significant developments in the allotment movement since 2001 and contains some excellent examples of current good practice, showing innovative use of allotments that has benefited all sections of the community and highlighting their importance in promoting health, community engagement and community cohesion. It also includes a section on allotment provision, an up-to-date policy framework, a guide to legislation and examples of good practice affecting allotments. The LGA has sent a free copy to each local authority, and we hope that it will help local authorities to make full use of the legislative programme and the protection afforded to allotments.

We are working closely with organisations with an interest in allotments to consider a point that my hon. Friend
22 July 2008 : Column 238WH
mentioned: how to engage more effectively with local authorities to ensure that they are clear about their responsibilities under legislation and planning guidance. We will offer clarification through the revised good practice guidance.

Allotments are an incredibly important matter, and one in which I am passionately interested. I am quite keen to get an allotment myself, because I am interested in the health benefits—they are sadly needed, as hon. Members will see—and in people growing their own produce. That is important, and I would like to encourage it as much as possible. Members have expressed the view that allotments provide great positive benefits for the community in healthy living, active ageing, community cohesion, combating climate change and protecting and enhancing community empowerment. That should be recognised in local authorities’ development plans and enforced as much as possible.

The sitting having continued for two and a half hours after half-past Two o’clock, it was adjourned without Question put.

Adjourned accordingly at Five o’clock.

 

  21 May 2007

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

How much new allotment land has been created in the last 10 years; and how much has been lost without replacement. [HL3474]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): We do not hold data on the amount of allotment land lost over the last 10 years, but we do hold a national figure for the last five years.

Government Office records indicate that in the last five years there have been disposals affecting 225 statutory allotment sites, in accordance with the legislative and planning framework in place to protect statutory allotments. Not all disposals result in the disposal of the full site—some relate to disposal of only a few plots.

We do not require local authorities to provide figures for the disposal of temporary or private allotments, or allotment gains, or gains for other types of green spaces, as it is a matter for local authorities to determine levels of provision to meet communities’ needs. We are aware that many local authorities are responding proactively to the recent resurgence in public interest in allotments.  

 


 

 14 June 2007 

 Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, given that three out of 10 local authorities have an allotments policy, they will consider calling a halt on allotment disposals by local authorities, at least until all local authorities have an allotments policy. [HL4217]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): Local authorities are not required to have an allotment policy in order to dispose of allotments. However, in planning terms, they are required to undertake an audit of existing green spaces and make an assessment of community need for green spaces, including allotments. Existing open space should not be built on unless an assessment has been undertaken which has clearly shown the open space or the buildings and land to be surplus to requirements.

Furthermore, allotments are additionally protected in law. Statutory allotments are protected via Section 8 of the Allotments Act 1925, which requires that local authorities seek the Secretary of State's consent for disposal or appropriation to another use. Consent cannot be given unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that:

the allotment in question is not necessary and is surplus to requirements;adequate provision will be made for displaced plot holders, or that such provision is not necessary or is impracticable;the number of people on the waiting list has been effectively taken into account; andthe authority has actively promoted and publicised the availability of allotment sites and has consulted the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners.
We therefore have no plans to change current procedures to dispose of allotments.

We also encourage and work with local authorities to develop local green space strategies, which should include provision for allotments.


 19 June 2007

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made on the commitment made in the Living Places: Cleaner, Greener, Safer report by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in October 2002 to improve information on allotments by updating the 1996 survey. [HL4216]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): We commissioned the University of Derby in February 2004 to undertake an update of the 1996 English allotment survey. The survey was expanded to cover community gardens and city farms. Fieldwork was carried out between March 2004 and mid-June 2005. A summary of the key findings was published on 28 September 2006. Additionally, we are developing a green space database to provide a more comprehensive information base on green spaces, including allotments.


 21 June 2007

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Written Answer by Lord Davies of Oldham on 6 June (WA 198), what statutory powers are available to the London Development Agency to evict allotment holders from Manor Gardens allotments; and which of these powers the agency intends to use. [HL4246]

Lord Davies of Oldham: The London Development Agency (Lower Lea Valley, Olympic and Legacy) Compulsory Purchase Order 2005 was confirmed by the relevant Secretary of State in December 2006. The London Development Agency (LDA) therefore intends to use this order to acquire any interest plot holders of the Manor Gardens Society allotments may have in the land they currently occupy. The LDA has not considered any other statutory powers available to it to acquire these interests as it is not considered necessary in this circumstance. It is currently working with the allotment users to agree a relocation programme to the interim site proposed in the London Borough of Waltham Forest.


 28 June 2007

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many local authorities are not fulfilling their statutory obligations under Section 8 of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908. [HL4218]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): Under the Allotments Act 1925, a local authority must obtain consent from the Secretary of State before selling, appropriating, disposing of or using for any other purpose land which is designated for use, or is being used, as an allotment. The duty to obtain consent before disposal falls upon local authorities to fulfil. We have no evidence to suggest that local authorities are not fulfilling their duty.


 01 October 2007

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assessment they have made of the demand for allotment plots in inner London; and whether they have any plans to increase provision of green spaces in general and allotment plots in particular in inner London. [HL5158]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): We are not aware of any London-wide assessment of the demand for allotment plots. Provision of allotments is the responsibility of local authorities. However, the Mayor's London Plan sets out a clear policy to work with London boroughs and other strategic partners to protect and promote London's network of open spaces including allotments.


 10 Jan 2008

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many allotments have been lost over the past 10 years; and whether any new allotments have been established in the same period.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, in the past 10 years, there have been disposals affecting 580 statutory allotment sites in England. We do not require local authorities to provide figures for the disposal of temporary or private allotments and it is a matter for local authorities to determine levels of provision to meet communities’ needs.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Would she perhaps consider revising guidance to officers who are concerned with this area so that allotment holders can feel confidence in their dealings with local councils? There are also waiting lists in many areas and concern that exchange allotments may be much smaller and so not viable.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness is a vigilant critic of government allotment policy. I am very pleased that we have seen a revival of allotments in this country and we are doing all we can to protect that. The noble Baroness is quite right. We have very robust legislation. Allotments are uniquely protected in law as green space and have been for a century, but we find that allotment officers often do not know the law and do not know how to apply it properly. We are revising guidance with the LGA and it will be available very shortly—in the spring.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, are the Government concerned that in many parts of the country we have allotments that are overgrown and unworked, particularly in the south-east—I come from the Brighton area where we have a substantial number that fall into that category—yet we are desperately short of land for housing, particularly social housing? Is it not time that we had a flexible approach on some of these issues?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Part of the problem is that allotments fall into disrepair and become an easier target. To address that we recently put out help for allotment holders warning them about this. We have also invested in the allotments regeneration initiative, which is a collection of extremely experienced and passionate people who provide direct help for allotment officers and allotment holders. The noble Lord should be aware that under our planning policy—PPG 17 in particular—there is no provision for building on allotments. We have to audit our open public space, protect it and make sure that if we do build on it, it is surplus to requirements. The law provides that.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am well aware of the problem identified by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe. That said, the allocation of any land within any built area—I use that term so that I do not fall into the trap of urban areas perhaps not including villages—is always a very difficult local issue. Surely the sacrifice of any of that land should always be a last resort rather than, as it sometimes appears, the first instance that people look at.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, our planning policy statement on open space and, most recently, our planning policy statement on housing—PPS 3—made it absolutely clear that new housing development should not be at the expense of open space and that an allotment should not be built on unless it is clearly shown to be surplus to local requirements. Having said that, it is important to bear in mind the fact that by no means all allotment loss goes on housing or development. About a third of allotments go for enhanced green space, which is a very good thing.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister accept that although there has been a great revival of interest there has certainly not been a revival of provision? In London, as well as in many other cities, the chances of getting an allotment plot are so bad that you will get a graveyard plot before an allotment.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, there is an issue about providing equivalence in terms of allotments. Allotment officers need to know that if they provide alternatives they have to be of equal quality. London has a particular problem because it is managed slightly differently. When we consider the relative loss of allotments—182,000 since the high point of the war over the period to 1997, and only 10,000 statutory plots lost since 1997—we have stopped the rot. There is a lot of optimism about getting a plot these days.

 The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that an interest in growing things, enjoying the fresh air and taking physical exercise needs to be fostered in the very young for it to be carried on into adult life? Will she say what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to encourage youngsters—six and seven year-olds—outside school to grow their own things, watch them growing, and eat them when they have grown?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, many encouraging things are happening. For example, there is a growth of gardening clubs in schools. A lot of the allotments—I was at one in Dorset Road in Bromley the other day—have connections with schools and encourage people from all over the community. It is interesting to see the different sorts of things that are grown by different members of the community. For example, in St James’s Park this year we had a wartime plot, which made a link with the history of wartime growing. It was absolutely fabulous—the biggest cabbages you have ever seen in your life; they were perfect. A lot of young people were involved in that as well.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, having been responsible for allotments as a member of the GLC, I was aware that outer London had allotments but that inner London was not expected to provide any. Can the noble Baroness say whether the same applies to other large cities or whether London was unique?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. London is a special case. I do not think it is under a duty to provide allotments in the same way as other parts of the country. Arrangements are reached with other boroughs. I am fairly certain I am correct about that but I shall write to the noble Baroness with more detail. There was a report in 2006 on London allotments, which looked at the waiting list.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, have the Government made any assessment of the amount of dangerous asbestos in allotment sheds up and down the country? This is very expensive for the allotment owner to remove. Do local councils have any guidance on this issue? I declare an interest as the part-owner of a very dodgy allotment shed.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Baroness is, unfortunately, in rather good company as the owner of a dodgy allotment shed. I have absolutely no briefing on asbestos and garden sheds. I can only apologise to the noble Baroness. I am sure there is somebody in my department whose speciality is precisely that kind of thing. I will find them and get back to the noble Baroness.

Lord Elton: My Lords, reverting to the problem of overgrown allotments, is it not the case that every allotment requires some very heavy digging, at least once a year? This may be what discourages some older members of society from keeping their allotments in apple pie order. Is this not very suitable, heavy, productive and instructive work for those serving community service orders?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, as my noble friend says, it is better than going to the gym; he is probably right. What I have found interesting as I have toured these allotments is the number of young people there, particularly young mothers who want to grow their own food because of a preoccupation with healthy eating. A lot of mentoring by older members of the allotment societies on how to care for the plot goes on. It involves a lot of hard work, which is something that we all have to learn.


 21st April 2008

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Answer by Baroness Andrews on 10 January (Official Report, col. 941), whether they have revised their guidance on allotments; and, if so, what changes have been made. [HL2931]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): I am pleased to confirm that a revised edition of Growing in the Community—A Good Practice Guide for the Management of Allotments was published on 13 March 2008 by the Local Government Association.

The revised guidance reflects the significant developments in the allotments movement since 2001. It contains a wealth of new examples of good practice, showing innovative uses of allotments benefiting all sections of the community. The guide explores current thinking on allotments, highlighting their importance in promoting health, community engagement and community cohesion.

The guide provides an up to date policy framework. It outlines the legislation, and policy guidance, and sets out best practice affecting allotment gardening, and signposts further information.


 13 May 2008

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have issued guidance to local authorities on what constitutes a “sufficient number of allotments” under Section 23(1) of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908; and [HL3504]

How many local authorities provide at least 0.5 acres of allotment land per thousand residents, in line with the interpretation of “a sufficient number of allotments” in Section 23(1) of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 proposed by the Thorpe report of 1969. [HL3505]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): It is up to local authorities to assess the needs of their community in line with Planning Policy Guidance Note 17: Planning for Open Space, Sport & Recreation,2002 and ascertain what is sufficient for their local area. Setting national standards for provision cannot cater for local circumstances, such as differing demographic profiles and the extent of built development in an area. The accompanying guidance to PPG 17 advises local authorities on setting local standards.

A revised good practice guide, Growing in the Community, was published by the Local Government Association in March 2008, and includes a section on allotment provision and how to assess the need for allotments as outlined in PPG17.

Data on how many local authorities provide at least 0.5 acres of allotment land per thousand residents are not held centrally.


 

 

 

 



Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): I am pleased to have secured this debate, Mr. Bayley, and I am privileged to serve under your chairmanship.

 




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