Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary Memorandum by South East Regional Allotments Committee (AL 27(a))

  There is an important aspect of the Planning Programme to bring to the Committee's attention.

  This has arisen since many more District Councils have handed over both the Finances and the Assets [land] to Parish Councils. If a Parish Council decides to develop all or part of the land it is not our understanding that they need to apply for Section 8 permission.

  However the point we wish to have examined is—That District councils can as a Planning Authority not have to concern itself as to whether the land is Statutory or non-Statutory. We hope this point will be brought before the Minister.

  This is our understanding of Planning Programme but as we have no financial resources to pursue this theory we would wish the Minister to answer this point.

Memorandum by Allotments 2000 (AL 28)

THE FUTURE FOR ALLOTMENTS

  In preparation for the above Environment Sub-committee Inquiry, I enclose herewith a submission from the organisers of the Allotments 2000 campaign, run by Amateur Gardening magazine.

  The campaign is self-funded and has no commercial bias.

  As a magazine for dedicated gardeners, we consider it a duty to:

    (i)   raise the profile of allotments; and

    (ii)   promote the maximum use of them.

  This has resulted in a tremendous amount of correspondence detailing dozens of site disputes nationwide.

  The enclosed submission is a small but representative sample, and we urge that it is considered for use as evidence.

UK ALLOTMENT HISTORY

  Britain's allotments were created out of the Enclosure Acts of the 18th century and grew with the industrial revolution. In 1860 on the Hunger Hills site in Nottingham some 30,000 people gardened on 10,000 plots.

  But the allotment movement has always had to fight for its land. In 1886 an Allotments Bill was introduced, but was held up so long that gardeners in Spalding formed an Allotments Party to fight a by-election and ended up trouncing the Conservative candidate. The Bill became an Act and in the later local elections the Allotments Party won overall control of the county council.

  The use of allotments again took off during the two World Wars. From 1914-18 the Every Man A Gardener Campaign grew from 600,000 to 1.5 million participants, and in the Second World War Dig for Victory, allotment holders produced 1.3 million tons of fresh produce and played a vital part in winning the war.

  In 1949, the Government-sponsored Allotments Advisory Committee wanted four acres of allotment for every 1,000 people; making 200,000 acres—in fact, there was only 67,804 acres and between 1950 and 1964 the number of allotments fell from 1.1 million to 729,000.

  Five years later, the Thorpe Report revealed allotment land was shrinking rapidly㬾 district and borough councils had no allotments at all.

  In the late 70s and 80s allotment gardening suffered a setback when people turned to supermarkets to buy their vegetables.

  But with the environmental push and food scares of the 90s, plus a growing elderly population more interested in gardening, demand for allotments is once again growing.

  For nearly 30 years, no serious thought has been given to allotment law.

  The Allotment 2000 campaign was formed to press for a reassessment of the number, location and usage of plots and their protection against the threat of development.

ALLOTMENT 2000

  Allotments 2000 was launched by Amateur Gardening magazine in January 1997. The campaign's organisers believe that it is vitally important that every keen gardener can make use of a bit of land, whether they have the luxury of it adjoining their place of abode or not.

  The aims of the campaign are to:

  —   ensure all existing allotments are tended;

  —   make sure all current allotment sites are fully protected from being sold off;

  —   encourage more land to be dedicated to allotments;

  —   see a wider variation of how plots are used (i.e., leisure activities);

  —   instigate a cross-party parliamentary inquiry on the future of allotments in the UK.

Patrons

  Among the Campaign's patrons are:

  —   Actor and keen gardener Bill Treacher (Arthur in EastEnders).

  —   Actress and organic gardener Thelma Barlow (Mavis in Coronation Street).

Allotment Awards

  In addition to the campaign, but not integral to it, Amateur Gardening in association with the Royal Horticultural Society and National Vegetable Society, last year organised the first Allotment Awards, which found the Best Allotment Gardener, Best Woman Allotment Gardener, Best Vegetable/Flower Gardener and Best Continuous Cropping Gardener. The Allotment Awards for 1998 are just about to be launched.

Response and reaction

  Since March 1997 we have received some 50 letters from allotment holders around the country whose plots are threatened with development.[6]

  Many of our readers have written to their MPs asking them to support the campaign and several MPs have backed us.

  Amateur Gardening magazine has carried around 60 news stories, letters and articles about allotments.[7]

  Staff from the magazine have appeared on numerous TV and radio transmissions to spread the Allotments 2000 message. Other articles have appeared in the national press and magazines.

CASE STUDIES

  "Last December [1996] I became the `owner' of an allotment in the Saintbridge Allotments [site] . . . speaking to different allotment holders they have mentioned things that were `promised' by various Council officials that have never come to fruition, like new and better fencing and gate (the gate is now no longer—post having given up and rotted away) to keep out vandals and thieves . . . I know of several people who have given up allotments because of theft and vandals . . . we aren't allowed to plant fruit trees or any perennial type of plant which is ridiculous when you think that includes mint and rhubarb!" (9 September 1997) Jane McRae, Gloucester

  "Having just been involved in a long and bitter battle with Havering Council over allotment land (at Macdonald Avenue, Ardleigh Green, Hornchurch), it appears the developers have won again. Approximately 40 per cent of the allotments . . . are about to be destroyed. After attending a meeting on 25 September of the Development Control Committee, I was horrified to discover that the remaining land will also NOT be safe from further development . . . " (26 September 1997) Julie Donovan, Essex

  "The trustees of the allotments where I garden served us with notice to quit our site by 31 March 1998 . . .

this was followed up . . . by an estate agent's letter offering us an alternative site. To date we have received no further correspondence . . . " (18 October 1997) John Agar, North Yorkshire

  "Although over 50 per cent of our [Swan Mead Allotments, Basildon] plots are taken, we read in our local paper that we are going to be moved off our site to make way for building starting in December 1998. We have had no official word yet from our Council to deny or confirm this startling news. We need much more notice than that . . . " (12 November 1997) Edwin Perry, Essex

  "About five years ago a friend of mine was refused a plot at one end of our allotment site . . . it transpired that the reason for the refusal was that Thurrock Council weren't letting any more plots at either end of the Rosedale Road site . . . because they planned to shorten the site . . . (there were rumours of house-building).

  This motivated me to start up an Association . . . and have gone from strength to strength . . . we have an excellent relationship with the Council who have helped us enormously; they've even cleared and rotovated some of the derelict plots, and now all 39 are taken and we have a waiting list . . . and my friend of five years ago is happily installed." (23 January 1998) Christine Pellerini, Essex

  " . . . concerning the tenancy of plots in the Wakefield Metropolitan area: according to the allotments officer (Mr Slade) almost all council sites have vacant plots and no waiting lists. I asked Mr Slade if the Council had considered a small ad in the press to attract new tenants: the answer came back that an advertisement would not be the sort of thing the council would do . . . " (2 December 1997) John Dean, West Yorkshire.

Miscellaneous concerns

Camberley, Surrey

  Camberley and District Horticultural Society have had repeated acts of vandalism at their Barossa Road site.

One policeman commented that "theft from an allotment is not a crime!" In the meantime, several allotment holders have decided not to carry on with their plots.

Liverpool

  Without any warning, a bulldozer arrived and smashed down sheds and greenhouses on the Broadway Allotments Development Association site in Morningside Road, Norris Green. Plot holders had been asked to leave the site by developers who want to bury it under a multi-million pound complex of shops, restaurants and a bingo hall. The association does not own the land, but having occupied and cultivated it for many years, is now claiming adverse possession or "squatter's rights". Liverpool City Council doesn't either own the land and claims it was not responsible, whilst police say they are powerless as it is a matter for the civil courts!

Alvaston, Derbyshire

  Declining membership and vandalism has caused the 75-year-old Alvaston Allotment Association to fold. Its 300 shareholders have sold off the plots to a land management company. Secretary Tom Mellor told us that around 20 sheds had been burned down by vandals and members had become disheartened.

Preston, Lancashire

  Plot holders at the Penwortham Holme West Allotment group are fighting to stop a planned park-and-ride scheme taking away at least half of their 123 plots. A three-day public enquiry was held earlier this year, and the results will be made available any time now.

Thurrock, Essex

  Allotment holders in Thurrock fear that revised tenancy agreements issued by the council could mean the closure of the site. The council is legally entitled to make other use of the land as less than 40 per cent of the 100 plots are being cultivated. The council has been blamed in part for this: no security at site resulting in theft, fly tipping and vandalism. The council has denied that there is a hidden agenda to close the site.

Reading

  Reading Borough Council issued a freephone helpline on 0800 626540 for anyone interested in allotments.

More than 80 per cent of the town's plots are currently used, but council officers want the others filled.

Stockport, Cheshire

  Supermarket giant Tesco offered allotment holders at Hazel Grove incredible deals worth thousands of pounds each, to move off the site so that it could build a big new store. The allotmenteers refused to budge, and Tesco withdrew the offer. Gardening writer and broadcaster Nigel Colborn joined the fray, and advocated that the gardeners should accept the Tesco offer.

Preston, Lancashire

  Over 50 new allotment club members were recruited after Preston and District Allotment Association and the council organised a Fun Day to display their produce. The town has almost 600 plots—the largest amount for any town in the country.

Newcastle

  Notice to quit was served on over 100 allotment holders whose plots border the site for Newcastle United's planned £90 million, 55,000-seat stadium at Castle Leazes. The gardeners must leave by September, and the fight still goes on.

Isle of Dogs, South London

  Mudchute Allotment Society raised £46,000 to replace dilapidated premises with a new portable building, which includes a meeting room for up to 30 people, a kitchen, office and toilets. The biggest single contributor was the London Docklands Development Corporation, which provided £30,000 for the scheme.

Nationwide

  Around 1,200 gardeners across Britain with allotments beside railway lines were delighted after plans by Railtrack to throw them off their plots were derailed. The move came after discussions between Railtrack and the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners. AG played its part in the debate, when Chris Day spoke out on national breakfast TV against the Railtrack plans.

CONCLUSION

  A main aim of the Allotments 2000 campaign, is to raise the profile of the allotment movement generally, and specifically to encourage the perception of tending an allotment as being sociable, fun, economically sensible and above all, healthy.

  In many areas of the country the number of vacant plots outweighs the number of people on waiting lists, but sadly in some areas where there are no plots available the opposite is true, with many hundreds on waiting lists.

  This variance must be addressed. Land must be made available where it is needed, and all vacant plots must be rented.

  The Allotments 2000 campaign is dedicated to making this happen, and has pledged to be instrumental in reducing the waiting list significantly over the next three years.

  The Inquiry is the first stage in the fight to raise the profile of allotments, and the organisers of the campaign are anxious to do whatever they can to help.

How we can help the Inquiry

  —   Amateur Gardening editor Graham Clarke has a unique overview of the views and comments from ordinary allotment holders, councils and developers gleaned over the campaign, and through his 20 years on the magazine. Before editing Amateur Gardening, Graham was a student at the Royal Horticultural Society, later joining the Royal Parks team (tending the gardens at Buckingham Palace, among others).

  —   Meanwhile, Deputy Editor Adrian Bishop, an experienced news journalist, is one of the few people over the past year who have been keeping their "fingers on the pulse", following the disputes and developments of many of the country's allotment debacles. Having spoken to individuals on all sides, he is uniquely placed to offer a contribution. January 1998


6   Key letters have already been copied to the Select Committee. Back

7   Copies of these articles are available on request. Back


 
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