Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


Trends in Demand for Allotments

33. Since the Second World War, demand for allotments has declined as a result of a variety of economic and social factors. Until recently, the bulk of new housing has included private gardens. As a result, some of the demand for vegetable gardening will have moved over time from allotment plots to private gardens. Also, the emergence of very different work and leisure patterns along with the expanding list of leisure pursuits[55] and increased prosperity have contributed to a shrinking of demand for allotments. The influence of these factors was noted by the Thorpe Inquiry into allotments in 1969.

34. At present, there are around 250,000 plot-holders in England.[56] Although the traditional image of an allotment holder is an older, retired man, the profile has started to broaden in recent years. Fewer than half of all plot-holders are retired. Figure 1 also demonstrates that 35 per cent of holders are less than 50 years of age. The proportion of women plot-holders has increased from 3 per cent to 16 per cent between 1969 and 1993.[57] It seems likely that this figure represents an underestimate of the number of women allotment gardeners, since many plots which are registered in the name of a man are actually being tended by both the man and his wife or partner.

35. Demand for allotments is not uniform across the country and the English Allotments Survey revealed the national profile of demand and provision: there are around 43,000 untended, vacant plots and around 13,000 people registered on waiting lists for allotments.[58] These figures would appear to indicate that there are regional mismatches of supply and demand for allotments. The impact of local factors is returned to below. We received much evidence of an emerging renaissance in allotment demand.[59] The Local Government Association were clear on this matter: "We feel that there is going to be an increased demand for allotment provision over a ten-year period."[60]

36. There are a number of contributory factors in this trend, not least of which are the continuing concerns over 'green' issues[61] and the developing agenda with regard to food and health concerns.[62] Further, it seems likely that modern housing developments will continue to cut back on private gardens, often providing only a communal garden area.[63] Demographic and employment trends may also contribute to increased demand: in particular, increasing numbers of older, but relatively healthy, individuals in the population, greater numbers of people taking early retirement and more flexible working practices.[64] Witnesses have told us that the demand for allotments is set to increase and this assumption underscores the recommendations made in this Report.

Local Issues

37. Allotment demand varies from one area of the country to another and this is reflected in figures for waiting lists and vacant, untended plots from the English Allotments Survey. For instance, in Essex, 28 per cent of plots are currently vacant whereas in Tyne and Wear, the equivalent figure is just 3 per cent and there are more than 1000 people on waiting lists.[65] We are persuaded that allotment demand is a function of many complex, inter-related factors which include the local authority's level of promotion of allotments along with the location, maintenance and quality of existing sites. We believe that simple measures such as vacancies and waiting lists often fail to represent these factors and do not provide an accurate gauge of allotment demand. Professor Crouch wrote of his worries of misinterpretation of these statistics, describing them as being open to "'instant reading'".[66]

38. Within most communities, we believe that there exists a latent demand for allotments. Some parts of the country (for example, North-eastern England) have a strong tradition of allotment cultivation and the overall demand in these areas is always likely to be higher than those areas without that tradition. However, in all areas, local factors tend to dictate whether this underlying desire is converted into a sustained demand for plots. In this regard, the policies and actions of the allotment providers are critical. We received a good deal of evidence on both good and bad practice in this regard. As one might expect, sites with a secure future which are well run, maintained to a high standard, free of vandalism, well publicised and with facilities such as toilets, water and seed shops tend to be fully occupied.[67] Similarly, poorly equipped, managed and maintained sites with an uncertain future and problems of vandalism tend to suffer from higher rates of vacancies[68] which ultimately result in an "abandonment and dereliction cycle".[69] In the box below, we reproduce evidence of some of the problems experienced by plot-holders.

39. We were encouraged to hear of some authorities which had adopted a positive approach to allotments provision. We were particularly heartened by the evidence from Stroud Town Council[70] which explicitly recognised the link between a positive allotments policy and the resulting time and effort which individual allotment holders will be willing to invest.

40. However many submissions showed a less positive side of local policy. From the evidence we received, it is apparent that the performance of local authorities with regard to allotment provision is best described as patchy. Some authorities pursue an active approach to maintaining vibrant and fully-occupied allotment sites whilst others appear at best lethargic and at worst to be instrumental in encouraging the decline of interest in allotments.[71] Without a positive local approach, it seems likely that much of the demand for allotments will always remain latent. Later in this Report, we draw upon the evidence we received to outline the need and potential for a Best Practice programme for allotments.

Allotment Holders' Experience of Local Issues
"From the allotment holders' point of view there seems to be a considerable number of obstacles in the way of people actually wanting to get hold of an allotment."
"From the plot-holders' point of view and trying to get information about what is going on, there are real problems. The access to information is very poor."
"They [the local authority] have closed one-third of their sites and have refused to lease plots or keep a record of demand or carry out maintenance on one site."
"There is an ineffective application process. No one knows who to approach. Local authorities do not advertise the process."
"In my area it is extremely difficult to find out about allotments. If they were advertised more widely there would be even more demand than there already is."
"We have heard tell of councils who deliberately run down sites by failing to re-let vacant plots, even though they have a waiting list, and by failing to keep sites vandal-proof ... A downward spiral can set in very rapidly."
"... 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 a gate to keep out vandals and thieves."
"... [the] Council have not attempted this last few years to maintain this allotment site, it seems like it has been their policy to run down this site over the last three years or so, they have not renewed tenancies etc., fences have been left down..."
"... according to the allotments officer ... almost all council sites have vacant plots and no waiting lists. I asked [him] 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 ..."
"I am concerned about proposals of the local authority to dispose of local allotment sites to provide land for building purposes. One site in particular is giving rise for concern because there has been no local consultation about the change."
"At no time has the local authority promoted the availability of allotments and advertised the fact in the local press ... This instance of a lack of will on the part of allotment holding is a cause for concern."
"So often we hear of a Borough Council reported in the press, proposing to close an allotment site, make a statement 'we cannot understand why they are complaining about the loss of their allotments, we have offered a new green field site to be made into allotments'. It is evident that the people making these decisions have no knowledge of allotment gardening."

Note: The evidence in the box is taken from Q14; Q182; Ev p2 (HC560-II); Ev p7 (HC560-II); Ev p14 (HC560-II); Ev p31 (HC560-II); Ev p56 (HC560-ii); Ev p24 (HC560-i); Ev p56 (HC560-ii); Ev p6 (HC560-II); Ev p30 (HC560-II) and Hawley & District Allotments & Gardeners Association [Ev not printed].

55   Q220 Back

56   '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, p5  Back

57   'National Survey of Allotment Gardeners Views in England and Wales', National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, October 1993, pp1-3 and Background Papers from South East Region Allotments Committee [Ev not printed]  Back

58   '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, p7 Back

59   See, for instance, Q171; Ev p29 (HC560-II) and Frank Hemming [Ev not printed] Back

60   Q120 Back

61   Ev p9-10 (HC560-II) Back

62   Frank Hemming [Ev not printed] and Ev p9-10 (HC560-II) Back

63   Q120, Ev pp42 (HC560-ii), 1 and 29 (HC560-II)  Back

64   Ev p43, para 1.1.2 (HC560-ii) Back

65   '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, Appendix 4 Back

66   Q7 Back

67   Ev pp56-57 (HC560-ii) and Hertfordshire Association of Local Councils [Ev not printed] Back

68   Ev pp1, 9-10 and 28 (HC560-II); and St Anns Allotment Campaign [Ev not printed] Back

69   Q129 Back

70   Ev p8-11 (HC560-II) Back

71   Ev p6 (HC560-i) 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