Writing in HW this week, garden writer Peter Seabrook said: "Some councils are leaving large areas on sites overgrown and then sell them off for building, using the excuse that they are unwanted."
National Allotment Gardens Trust coordinator Neil Dixon agreed: "City councils nationwide have areas of land set aside for building that used to be allotments. And there are more and more allot-ments neglected because of poor management.
"Councils need to do something about them at an early stage because once sites get overgrown they can never be leased out again. Council park departments don't have the money or manpower anymore to do this."
Allotment campaigner Catherine Campbell said: "If councils have dirty plots it will be very difficult to collect data on it because why would they tell you?"
The Transition Group Kirby food group coordinator, whose research has found that waiting lists have grown tenfold in a decade, said "strapped-for-cash councils" could not afford to bring neglected allotments back into use.
Last week's National Allotment Week brought the issue into sharp focus. Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council is among hundreds of councils nationwide that have "thousands of overgrown, untended plots" with "vacant land waist-high in weeds and brambles", said Seabrook, who called on councils to pay contractors to clear plots: "Most councils are doing nothing and, in many cases, standing in the way of allotment gardening."
However, Bolton head of green spaces Malcolm Russell said Bolton has systems to restore neglected plots: "This is an issue up and down the country. We're looking at measures such as half plots and community plots so new [gardeners] can learn about allotments."
National Society of Allotment & Leisure Gardeners (NSALG) assistant to the national secretary Donna McDaid said: "Councils should provide enough funding to clear sites. Some councils are exceptional and will clear neglected plots, while others are less forthcoming. It is an increasing problem and it all boils down to funding."
NSALG estimates waiting lists for plots to be as high as 200,000. Campbell's research this year found 75,000 on waiting lists, 12 times more than in 1996.
To tackle allotment management by councils, the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens has asked its Allotments Regeneration Initiative arm to set up regional council allotment officers' forums. It is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Communities & Local Government and the Fund for the Environment & Urban Life.
ALLOTMENTS IN PRACTICE
The London Borough of Merton has more than 1,000 people on allotment waiting lists. Merton council allotment officer Emma Mitchell said: "If we can't help to clear plots because of funding or staffing manpower issues we offer plots rent-free for a period."
She added that at the council's Martin Way allotments, where there is a waiting list of 100, 10 neglected plots may be brought back into use, although some people on the site want them to stay as "wildlife areas".
Last month's House of Commons Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee report, Securing food supplies up to 2050: the challenges faced by the UK, concluded: "When it has been established that there is unmet demand for allotments in a local authority area, the Government should require the local authority to publish, within three years, a plan on how it proposes to meet the demand."
Allotments Regeneration Intiative allotments officers' forums this
London - 14 October
North East - 25 November
North West - 11 November
East Midlands - 18 November
South West - 24 November
South East - autumn - date tbc
Register at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0117 963 1551
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