Councils are being given advice on developing existing allotment plots in a scheme that could take the pressure off waiting lists, which have topped 100,000.
Skips, wasteland, hospital carparks and British Waterways land are all earmarked for new plots. The Government is setting up a national land bank to link growers with public or private land available - a bit like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Landshare scheme. Putting a postcode in the DirectGov website will reveal your local available plot.
Councils will get new guidance from the Local Government Association on making plots smaller and freeing up disused land. But the main move is for "meanwhile leases" to let communities take control of land that is to be developed, in the same way disused shops have been opened up to cultural projects in the past year. However, fears remain that the grow-your-own boom will be over by the time the waiting list situation is seriously addressed.
The National Society of Allotment & Leisure Gardeners (NSALG) acting secretary Donna McDaid says the Government should force councils to use existing legislation to build new conventional allotments.
Communities secretary John Denham recognised that the 100,000 waiting list for allotments may have plateaued as the UK recession ends: "Last year's growth in interest in grow-your-own was partly because people were worried about the cost of food. Long allotment waiting lists become self regulating."
He said the recession and price of food had driven the grow-your-own phenomenon and that was why the Government was acting now (see both boxes). Environment secretary Hilary Benn said the idea that by the time sites come into use demand would be on the wane was "pessimistic".
And Transition Towns' West Kirby representative Margaret Campbell says a freedom of information request to England's 323 councils shows a waiting list increase of more than 10 per cent on 2009. Waiting lists grew from four per 100 plots in 1995 to 49 per 100 when Campbell surveyed councils in 2008. Updated figures will show at least 55 waiting per 100 plots. She says: "Councils need to be thinking about sustainable futures for their allotments."
Campbell added that councils could give waste land to allotment societies to look after, which would not cost the council anything. Campbell believes that with fossil fuel supplies peaking, the need for sustainable solutions is more pressing than when allotments had their "Good Life" boom in the 1970s.
McDaid says: "The Government, rather than using new tools to build growing sites on wasteland, should be using existing 1908 legislation to use temporary sites but if this scheme takes off allotment legislation could be lost. The focus is on community gardens and not allotments. Allotment holders want their own plot to pass on when they die.
"We don't have any objection to this but sections 22, 25 and 29 of the 1908 allow for measures such as councils to take over new land for allotments."
The danger is that the grow-your-own boom will not be exploited because of the lack of land. And by the time the land is free, grow-your-own will be a long-gone fad.
Sustainable change is needed say the ministers - but they could be former ministers after the general election.
SCHEMES IN ACTION
The landbanking scheme is from the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens. "Meanwhile leases" are being set up by the Development Trusts Association - see A Place To Grow at www.lga.gov.uk/lga/publications/publication-home.do.
The Sustainable Communities Act 2007 gives local authorities the opportunity to submit proposals to Government to improve their local communities. Around 300 proposals were submitted to the Local Government Association. The LGA produced a shortlist of nearly 200 proposals, which the Government is considering.
- More information on the food strategy can be found at www.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/food/strategy/index.htm
The Government is supporting proposals put forward by Brighton and Hove, Waltham Forest, Birmingham and Sheffield councils under the Sustainable Communities Act allowing gardeners to sell surplus produce to shops.
They will also make it easier for councils to allow people to grow on abandoned land.
The Government has commissioned the Development Trusts Association to prepare "leases" so that organisations can access land while it is waiting to be used, legally guaranteeing to hand it back when required.
The Local Government Association has published guidance - A Place To Grow - giving councils advice on reducing allotment plot sizes and managing waiting lists (see box above). The Government has given the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens £30,000 to set up a new national community land bank which will act as a broker between land-holders and community groups that want somewhere to grow food.
Councils piloting the scheme include Brighton and Bristol. The NHS, British Waterways and private developers will work with the Federation to identify possible sites and link them up with community groups looking for land.
The announcement, part of the Government's Food 2030 strategy, supports:
- The DirectGov Grow Your Own Revolution website.
- The Growing schools campaign that helps school children learn about the food chain and develop the skills needed to grow their own food.
- The Eat Seasonably campaign, supported by the Government.