Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report



     "Allotments are an important feature in the cultural landscape. They combine utility, meaning and beauty with local distinctiveness."[2]

1. Allotments enable people to grow their own produce regardless of whether they have access to a private garden or not. Although plots were initially provided solely with this aim in mind, the extent and use of allotments have since varied and allotment sites now fulfill a broader range of needs for both plot-holders and the community at large.

2. During 1997 we noted with concern an apparent decline in allotment provision, especially in connection with growing pressures on land-use for development purposes. Following on from the additional issues raised by the publication of the English Allotments Survey[3] in December, we resolved to inquire into the Future for Allotments, examining the following areas:

  • The value, quality and affordability of allotments;
  • the extent of interest in allotment cultivation;
    • the efficient use of allotment land;
    • the effectiveness of statutory protection for allotment sites;
    • the roles and responsibilities of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, local authorities and other bodies concerned with the promotion, allocation and maintenance of allotment land; and
    • other matters which might arise in the course of questioning.

3. In response, we received eighty-eight pieces of written evidence from a variety of individuals and organisations and heard oral evidence from Professor David Crouch, the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, the Leys Road Allotments Association, Mr Martin Stott, the South East Region Allotments Committee and the Allotments 2000 campaign group. We are grateful to all those who gave evidence and offer particular thanks to the Fulham Palace Meadow Allotments Association for welcoming us on to their site for a visit at the beginning of the Inquiry.[4] The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions have been very helpful throughout the course of the inquiry and we thank them for their assistance.

4. Many of the submissions were made by individual plot-holders and allotment associations, offering accounts of both the problems and the joys of allotment gardening. Indeed, from both the written and oral evidence, it is clear that the subject provokes a good deal of passion amongst those involved.

5. We present in this short Report our conclusions from the Inquiry. Under the terms of the Standing Order by which it is appointed, the Committee is obliged to consider matters primarily in so far as they relate to England. Although this Report focuses primarily upon allotment provision in England, we recommend that the relevant Departments with responsibility for allotments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should study the Report and consider acting upon our recommendations.




6. For many of the 250,000[5] allotment holders in England and Wales, their plot forms an important part of their life. The practical value which plot-holders place on an allotment stems from the direct benefits provided by access to affordable, fresh vegetables, physical exercise and social activity.[6]

7. When asked why they applied for an allotment, more than 75 per cent of plot-holders mentioned the desire for fresh food.[7] This aspect is particularly valued by people who wish to grow organic produce and those who are concerned about modern food production methods.[8] Although the potential to save money was noted by less than 20 per cent of plot-holders, allotments do provide an important and cheap source of fresh food for poorer people.[9]

8. Localised food production also brings environmental benefits by reducing the use of energy and materials for processing, packaging and distributing food: around 12 per cent of the nation's fuel consumption is spent on these activities.[10] Many allotment sites also provide good examples of the principles of sustainable waste management with extensive re-use, recycling and composting taking place.[11] Indeed, food growing in urban areas has been recognised as an important component of sustainable development by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the United Nations Development Programme.[12]

9. Beyond the produce itself, a plot provides other benefits. Many witnesses noted the social aspects of allotment gardening and commented on the harmonious mixing of people of different age, race, culture and sex:[13]

    "In a world where people often don't co-operate and are divisive or bigoted, it is truly inspiring to see the way that plot-holders co-exist. Every age and every culture is there and everyone helps each other - with advice and with gifts of seeds, offsets, divisions, spare produce etc."[14]

    "It is a place where people can indulge in two of life's passions - gardening and talking - and can do them in the peace and quiet of the allotment site."[15]

10. Although the practical benefits of allotments to plot-holders are many, a simple list cannot do justice to the value which is perceived by many of those who submitted evidence to the inquiry. In considering allotment issues, it is important to recognise the emotional significance of an allotment for many long-term plot-holders:

    "Allotment and Leisure Gardens are considered here to be an extremely valuable recreational and leisure asset enjoyed by people of all ages from all walks of life. As one might expect, however, a fairly high proportion of tenants are retired, and it is no exaggeration to say that for them such an activity is absolutely invaluable, and for many irreplaceable."[16]


11. The potential role for allotments within the promotion of public health is significant. Many of the submissions we received noted the contribution that allotment gardening can make to physical and mental good health.[17]

12. Gardening is identified as one of the Health Education Council's recommended forms of exercise for the over 50s age-group.[18] In the light of this, we were disappointed to hear of the experience of Mr Smyth of the South East Region Allotments Committee (SERAC):

    "As a region we took up the Health Education Council's campaign and we wrote to every health education officer in the South East area and said, 'We are an allotment movement. We would be happy to co-operate in any way that promoted gardening' ... We did not have a response from one health education officer."[19]

13. We were interested to note that the recent consultation paper on health designates one of the three 'settings for action' as 'Healthy neighbourhoods: focussing on older people'.[20] We believe that allotments will often form a component part of healthy neighbourhoods. Given the undisputed health benefits of allotments, we strongly recommend that allotment provision be explicitly noted in national public health strategy and be integrated into the local delivery of that strategy, particularly for the over 50s age-group which traditionally dominates the profile of allotment holders.[21] Simple measures such as advertising allotment availability in doctors' surgeries, and ensuring that General Practitioners are informed of the availability of plots on local sites could help stimulate allotment demand and deliver health benefits to a significant and growing section of the community.

    14. The mental health benefits for all plot-holders should not be underestimated:

    "I have lived in flats all my life and currently live on a busy council estate. I have no hope of ever being able to afford a garden, since my work is rather low status and underpaid ... My allotment has enabled me to find a side of myself I did not know existed and it also helps me cope with an extremely stressful job in a stressful city."[22]

Such comments are typical and demonstrate the positive role of allotments in promoting good mental health generally.

15. Allotments can offer a therapeutic role for people with physical and mental health problems. Mr Smyth gave evidence on plots designed for people with special needs which include a shelter, wheelchair access and growing beds which can be raised or lowered.[23] Such plots can be used not only by individuals with special needs but also by day care centres and disabled groups. Similarly, we heard evidence of the benefits of allotment gardening for people with mental health problems and learning difficulties,[24] along with young people with behavioural problems.[25] We recommend that health authorities recognise and exploit the therapeutic potential of allotments for people with mental or physical health problems.

General Public

16. Allotments also offer benefits to the community at large. In many urban areas, they make a welcome contribution to green space, acting as a 'lung' in a similar way to parkland. This aspect of allotments was recognised by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Angela Eagle:

17. Both cultivated and untended plots contribute to maintaining biodiversity.[27] Evidence from the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners shows that:

     "... allotment garden plots and allotment garden sites have on average an up to 30 per cent higher species diversity than urban parks, and hence are ecologically more valuable."[28]

The National Survey in 1993 found that weedkillers and fungicides were used by around half of all allotment holders, although they were employed sparingly.[29] Unused plots often offer a haven for wildlife[30] while some tended plots act as seed-banks for rare vegetable species.[31]

18. Allotment sites also offer the potential for a community composting site (with a ready-made market for the compost) and some allotment societies play an active part in Local Agenda 21 plans[32] (these initiatives involve the local implementation of plans for 'sustainable development', which formed the central objective of Agenda 21, endorsed at the Rio Summit of 1992). The best allotment societies often play a wider role in community schemes, becoming involved in initiatives with local schools,[33] as well as programmes for the mentally and physically ill or disabled.[34] This broader function of allotments was described with passion by Professor Crouch:

    "A lively allotment society can negotiate, liaise, work with, local councils, local firms, local sponsors of a variety of kinds and local voluntary groups, schools, social service departments, environmental food growing organisations, local civic trusts, as in the case of Durham, to develop events, to encourage people to visit the site for particular purposes, perhaps ecological work, and enabling youngsters to participate in repairing buildings, clearing areas and things like that, in ways that give people a responsibility, a responsiveness to the environment ... in a sense allotment holding has been sustainable for much longer than the word sustainability has existed and in a sense it offers a great example of good ways of using the environment."[35]

19. However, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State told us that although "the potential for community involvement in allotments is very great", it is "scarcely tapped."[36] The section below on Best Practice[37] details methods of making better community use of allotments.

20. Finally, allotments have a historical and cultural role,[38] noted by Professor Crouch who told us that:

"... there is an important part of allotment life which is about heritage and the values and identity which has developed in many people across the country."[39]

2   Ev p34 (HC560-II) Back

3   'English Allotments Survey: Report of the Joint Survey of Allotments in England', National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Limited and Anglia Polytechnic University, November 1997 Back

4   See Appendix I for details of the visit Back

5   'English Allotments Survey: Report of the Joint Survey of Allotments in England', National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Limited and Anglia Polytechnic University, November 1997, p8 Back

6   'National Survey of Allotment Gardeners Views in England and Wales', National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, October 1993, p16  Back

7   Op cit, p15 Back

8   See, for instance, Ev p7 (HC560-II) Back

9   Ev pp16 & 34 (HC560-II) Back

10   Ev p16 (HC560-II) Back

11   Ev p16 (HC560-II) Back

12   Ev p15 (HC560-II) Back

13   Ev p44, para 1.1.7 (HC560-ii), p12 (HC560-II) and Mrs Melanie Houlder [Ev not printed] Back

14   Ev p35 (HC560-II) Back

15   Fenham Nursery Model Allotment Association [Ev not printed] Back

16   Ev p44 (HC560-II) Back

17   See, in particular, Q169  Back

18   Ev p44, para 1.1.3 (HC560-ii) Back

19   Q166 Back

20   'Our Healthier Nation. A Contract for Health' A Consultation Paper, February 1998, Cm 3852. Back

21   'National Survey of Allotment Gardeners Views in England and Wales', National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, October 1993, pp1-3 Back

22   Ev p34 (HC560-II) Back

23   Q168 Back

24   Q169 and Ev p16 (HC560-II) Back

25   Q170 Back

26   Q211 Back

27   Ev p23-24 (HC560-II) Back

28   'The allotment and leisure gardens and the sustainable development' Office International du Coin de Terre et des Jardins Familiaux, p2 Back

29   'National Survey of Allotment Gardeners Views in England and Wales', National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, October 1993, p8 Back

30   Ev p31 (HC560-ii) Back

31   Ev p16 (HC560-II) Back

32   See, for instance, Ev p7 (HC560-II) Back

33   See, for instance, Ev p39 (HC560-II) Back

34   QQ168-169 Back

35   Q44 Back

36   Q257 Back

37   See page xxix Back

38   See, for instance, background papers from St. Stephen's Allotment Society [Ev not printed] and St Ann's Allotments [Ev not printed]  Back

39   Q3 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1998
Prepared 24 June 1998