Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


Trends in Provision and Types of Allotment Site

41. The problems of defining national and local levels of demand have already been noted. In particular, the influence of local factors upon apparent demand for allotments is critical. The actual provision of allotments is rather easier to measure: the number of allotments has been in decline since the Second World War and Figure 2 charts the trend.[72] It is interesting to consider that the Report of the last major inquiry into allotments, the Thorpe Inquiry in 1969, noted with concern that a good deal of allotment land was being taken over for other purposes. Since 1969, provision has continued to decline with a further halving of the total number of allotments.

42. Figure 3 below shows the make-up of existing allotment sites in terms of their designation. A small number of sites are owned by private individuals or organisations. The majority of allotment sites are owned by local authorities and may be termed 'statutory' or 'temporary' where:

    "... 'statutory' allotment land is land of which the freehold or very long lease is vested in the allotments authority, and which was either originally purchased for allotments or subsequently appropriated for allotment use. 'Temporary' allotment land is rented by an allotments authority or owned by the authority but ultimately destined for some other use."[73]

43. The designation of a local authority site as 'temporary' or 'statutory' is particularly important since, under section 8 of the Allotments Act 1925, a local authority must seek permission from the Secretary of State before selling or changing the use of a 'statutory' site. The local authority must satisfy the Secretary of State that adequate provision has been made for allotment holders who are displaced by the sale of the site. Strictly, a 'temporary' site is one for which the planned permanent use is not allotments. The question of designation is explored further in the first part of the section 'Protection of Allotments'.[74] It is important to note that, for 'temporary' (and private) sites, the only protection against change of use is provided by the normal planning procedures.

44. As the overall provision of allotments has declined, the proportion of 'statutory' sites has progressively increased. Between 1970 and 1996, the proportion increased from 49 per cent to 74 per cent.[75] This would seem to indicate that 'temporary' and private sites have been more likely to be disposed of than 'statutory' sites. The question of effectiveness of statutory protection is returned to below.[76]

45. The Local Government Association wrote of one particular reason for the loss of temporary allotment sites in London:

    "In London, cemetery provision between 1850-1945 was made on the basis that burials would need to take place 100-150 years ahead ... In inner London there is less than 6 years supply and the situation in parts of outer London is similar. This means that land acquired for use as burial land as long as 100 years ago is now being used for burials and further land held in reserve is being brought into use. In the interim period, much of this reserve land, adjoining cemetery boundaries or in the corners of existing cemeteries, has been let by local authorities or other land owners for temporary uses."[77]

It is worth noting that this situation may apply to 'temporary' allotment sites which have been in continuous use as allotments for many decades.

Threats to Allotment Land


46. As is apparent from the declining provision detailed above, allotment land is increasingly under threat. The nub of the issue is an apparent conflict between increased future demand for allotments and the ever more critical problem of balancing the various demands for land.

47. Allotment land can be very appealing to developers:

48. The development appeal of allotments was also acknowledged by the Local Government Association,[79] who noted the problems of balancing development pressures with a desire to preserve allotment sites:

    "... one of the difficulties is that often the pressures that are put on allotment sites can be a conflict of interest among members. Planning pressures sometimes have their sway above other considerations in local authorities."[80]

Other witnesses noted that the financial constraints to which local authorities are currently subject make the sale of such high-value land very appealing.[81]

49. The decline in allotment provision is testament to the potential loss of allotment sites as a result of development pressures. The details of the 'statutory' sites sold off since May 1997[82] show that the sites are subsequently put to a variety of uses including housing, burial sites, car parking, supermarket developments and a range of leisure uses. However, it is important to note that, of the 51 sites for which details were provided by the Department, 30 have involved some form of building or loss of open space.


50. In considering the threat to allotment sites, it is worth noting that the actual loss of a site is only the final step in a complex and often lengthy process. Prior to the change of use, there will often have been many months or years of uncertainty about the future of the site, starting with rumours of plans for development.

51. We received much evidence as to the threat perceived by many allotment holders, whose sites are often blighted as a result of repeated planning applications for development:[83]

    "My site faces its third planning application lodged within 3 years. The applicants point to some vacant plots (not many) - they are the cause of them."[84]

The effects of such uncertainty over a site may mean that:

    "... it can be difficult to re-let vacant sites. Prospective holders are not keen to put a great deal of effort into an allotment which is likely to be bulldozed in the near future."[85]

52. It is clear that constant rumours and repeated planning applications for development of a site impact upon the morale of the allotment holders and, ultimately, increase the number of untended plots. As such, there is the potential for developers to inflict intentional blight upon a site with the hope of running it down and thereby making a planning application more likely to succeed:

"These processes of 'blighting' or 'constructive non-maintenance' have been refined into strategies ... the long-term effects of many developers' capacity to persevere with these tactics is to induce despondency and insecurity among actual or potential plot-holders."[86]


53. Theft and vandalism also pose a serious threat to many allotment sites. We saw problems of this nature on our visit to Fulham Palace Meadows allotments[87] and also received many pieces of evidence to this effect:[88]

    "A site that is not virtually vandal-proof will soon lose plot-holders and a cycle of decline, reduced investment and dereliction follows."[89]

    "I know of several people who have given up allotments because of theft and vandals."[90]

54. The 1993 National Survey of Allotment Holders[91] revealed that nearly two-thirds have had their plot vandalised and more than 40 per cent have had equipment stolen. Solutions to this problem involve very detailed aspects of site management such as fences, locks and routines and these are noted in the Best Practice section below.[92]


55. We were encouraged by the Local Government Association's perception of the role for leisure strategies:

56. We believe there to be a genuine threat to continuing allotment provision, particularly from increasing development pressure on urban land. We note that allotments form an important part of leisure provision and this should be reflected within a local authority's Leisure Strategy[94] and Local Agenda 21 initiatives.[95]

57. We also recommend that local authorities should publish annually the details of their existing allotments provision. Year-on-year publication of these statistics would enable closer monitoring of allotment provision and ensure that local authorities remain accountable for any change of policy. In line with the drive to maintain existing levels of allotment provision, any decline should be accompanied by a full explanation. We are encouraged that the Local Government Association welcomed such an approach.[96]

58. For local authorities wishing to offer further indicators on allotments, we endorse those suggested by the Local Government Management Board[97] in their Indicators Menu and reproduced below. Where the data on land-use is not complete, it may be prudent to adopt the first two of these only.


Percentage of allotments in use

Waiting time for allotments

Area of semi-natural green space available for community use per 1000 population

Areas of semi-natural green space versus area devoted to cars


59. Turning to the decline of private sites, different issues arise. Unlike local authorities, private companies and individuals are not under any obligation to provide allotments. As such, it must be recognised that private sites are much more likely to be the subject of development plans. The Church Commissioners appear typical in declaring to us that:

60. Similarly, Railtrack wrote that:

    "Railtrack anticipates a gradual reduction in the number of allotment plots, as the land will increasingly be required for operational purposes, safety purposes, redevelopment or disposal to interested groups and the current tenants."[99]

It is also important to note that 'temporary' and private sites tend to be less well provided for in terms of facilities and maintenance.[100]

61. We welcome the contribution made by private sites to overall allotment provision and recognise that providing allotments is essentially a charitable activity for private firms. However, we urge owners of private sites to re-examine their policies towards allotment provision and, where appropriate, to adopt a long-term and positive approach.

Planning Issues and Guidance

62. The local nature of allotment provision means that issues of land-use, planning and planning guidance are critical.[101] Planning Policy Guidance Notes set out the Government's policies on different aspects of planning. They are taken into account by local authorities when preparing development plans and may also be used in making decisions on individual planning applications and appeals. There appears to be a consensus that the existing Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) Notes fail to offer adequate direction to local authorities attempting to reconcile the various demands for land.[102] The two PPGs of relevance are PPG3 (Housing) and PPG17 (Sport and Recreation). Of these, only PPG3 currently makes explicit reference to allotment provision, noting that:


    "Parks, playing fields, informal open spaces, allotments and private gardens can all be of great importance to the character of a neighbourhood ... Planning policies should, therefore, seek to achieve a reasonable balance between the need to make adequate provision for development, and the need to protect open land from development ...".[103]

63. Within Unitary Development Plans and Local Plans, allotments may currently be assigned to one of a number of different categories, for example, 'Land in Open Use'. We are concerned that such designations are failing to reflect the specific importance of allotment sites within a local community. Also, we note in the next section of this Report the concerns over 'temporary' allotment sites which have been used as allotments for many decades but which may be lost with very little notice.

64. We believe that the planning guidance with regard to allotments should be made much more explicit, particularly since allotment land is the principal category of urban green space which is being eroded. We urge that fuller and better guidance on the role of allotments be incorporated into the current revision of Planning Policy Guidance Note 3 (Housing). In particular, we recommend that PPG3 includes specific advice that 'statutory' allotment sites should be clearly designated within Unitary Development Plans and Local Plans. 'Temporary' sites should be marked with their final intended use along with an approximate date for the change of use.

65. Allotments form a significant component of most local authorities' recreational provision. As noted above,[104] they play an important role in providing fresh vegetables, physical exercise and social activity for plot-holders. We are encouraged by the Department's acknowledgement that PPG17 may require revision and that this could include improved guidance with regard to allotments: this possibility was welcomed by the Local Government Association.[105] We strongly recommend that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions press ahead with the revision of Planning Policy Guidance Note 17 (Sport and Recreation) and incorporate specific guidance on the role of allotments.

72   All graph data from Ev p66 (HC560-iii) Back

73   Ev p63 (HC560-iii) Back

74   See page xxiv Back

75   '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

76   See page xxvi Back

77   Ev p39 (HC560-ii) Back

78   Roger Hudson [Ev not printed] Back

79   Q18 Back

80   Q141 Back

81   See, for example, Ev pp30 and 38 (HC560-II) Back

82   Ev p76-78 (HC560-iii) Back

83   Ev p5 (HC560-i), p30-31 (HC560-II); background papers from St Stephen's Allotments Society; Geoffrey Sherlock and Caddington & Slip End Parish Council [Ev not printed] Back

84   Ev p31 (HC560-II) Back

85   Caddington & Slip End Parish Council [Ev not printed] Back

86   Ev p35-36 (HC560-II) Back

87   See Appendix I Back

88   Ev pp32, para10 and 47 (HC560-ii); p31 (HC560-II) and Q16 Back

89   Ev p40, issue (ii) (HC560-ii) Back

90   Ev p56 (HC560-ii) Back

91   'National Survey of Allotment Gardeners Views in England and Wales', National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, October 1993, pp26-27 Back

92   See page xxix Back

93   Ev p39 (HC560-ii) Back

94   Q185, Q151 Back

95   Q213, Q185 Back

96   Q142, Q151 Back

97   'The Sustainability Indicators Research Project: Indicators for Local Agenda 21 - A Summary', The Local Government Management Board, 1997. Back

98   Ev p44 (HC560-II) Back

99   Ev p45 (HC560-II) Back

100   '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, p11 Back

101   Some submissions focussed on the importance of the planning system: see, for instance, Ev p5 (HC560-II) Back

102   Q152, Q204, and Ev p44 (HC560-II) Back

103   Planning Policy Guidance Note17: Sport and Recreation Back

104   See para 6 Back

105   Q152 Back

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