Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


Designation of Sites

66. As noted above,[106] allotment sites owned by local authorities can be designated as 'statutory' or 'temporary' where 'statutory' sites are subject to some protection under the Allotments Act 1925.[107] 'Temporary' sites have no security beyond the usual planning system requirements. As a result of these differences, the designation of a site is important to local authorities and allotment holders alike.

67. However, from the evidence submitted, the designation of sites is frequently unclear. Often, allotment holders and local authorities[108] are unsure as to whether a site is 'statutory' or 'temporary'. This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

68. The problem can lie with misunderstandings about what constitutes a 'statutory' site. Allotments 2000 told us of a survey that they had conducted of allotment holders which found that two-thirds did not understand the terms 'temporary' and 'statutory'.[109] An example of this problem was provided by the Leys Road Allotments Association, Blackpool, who believed their site to be 'statutory' because it had been in use for more than forty years.[110] There is no automatic, time-based provision for a site to become 'statutory'.

69. We were made aware of a number of other sites which are designated as 'temporary' but

which have been in continuous use as allotments for many decades.[111] In such cases, the continued use of the term 'temporary' has resulted in reduced security for allotment holders and increased tension between them and the local authority in question. In a letter to Hull City Council about the designation of a particular site, Mr Smallwood of the New Marfleet Allotment and Gardens Association wrote that:

    "Your letter certainly gave an honest answer and underlines our worries for the future of the amenity. You describe your position very clearly that despite being in existence for over seventy years, if a large developer became interested in the site you would favour development to create jobs for the future."[112]

It does appear that some sites are being declared as 'temporary' without a planned future use aside from, perhaps, 'development' and this clearly leaves plot-holders in limbo, unable to make plans for the future with confidence.

70. To remedy this situation, many witnesses favoured the automatic replacement of the 'temporary' designation with 'statutory' after a set period.[113] However, the Local Government Association were rather more cautious, stressing that some local authorities are very far-sighted in their approach to securing land for future cemeteries and that an automatic time-based redesignation of 'temporary' sites as 'statutory' could deter the loan of such sites for temporary allotment use.[114] The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State echoed these comments.[115]

71. For local authorities, problems of designation often arise from a different source: records may have been mislaid or are inadequate to determine whether or not a particular site was 'statutory', that is, originally purchased for allotments or subsequently appropriated for allotment use. As Geoff Stokes of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners told us,

    "... far too many councils declare their sites as 'temporary' because they do not have the faintest idea of why they were purchased in the first place".[116]

The evidence from Stroud Town Council provided an example of this situation:

    "Because of the age of some of the sites, there was considerable doubt as to whether they may be 'statutory' or non-statutory - it was possible that some may have been originally acquired for Housing Revenue Account purposes."[117]

Similarly, Blackpool Borough Council seem unsure of the status of the Leys Road site, declaring that "The Council do not necessarily accept that the Leys Nursery Allotments are 'statutory'."[118]

72. There is widespread uncertainty about the status of many allotment sites. We strongly recommend that all local authorities make clear the designations of their sites. With the exception of those sites which are ultimately intended for use as cemeteries, we recommend that any 'temporary' site which has been in continuous use as allotments for thirty years or more be automatically redesignated as 'statutory', subject to an appeal by the local authority to the Secretary of State. For the remaining 'temporary' sites, the authority should provide details of the final use intended for the land along with some indication of the likely date for the change of use. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State indicated that the Government would be happy to issue guidance to local authorities on distinguishing between 'temporary' and 'statutory' sites[119] and we urge the Government to do this immediately.

Mechanisms of Protection


73. Only 'statutory' allotment sites have legal protection: the Allotments Act 1925 provides that the Secretary of State must be asked for consent before a 'statutory' allotment site can be disposed of by a local authority. For 'temporary' and private sites, only normal planning procedures apply if the owner wishes to change the use to which the land is put.

74. With regard to Ministerial approval for the sale of 'statutory' sites, section 8 of the Allotments Act 1925 states that:

In assessing applications for the sale of 'statutory' sites, it is not clear what criteria are used. The process is carried out by the regional Government Offices and appears to involve checking upon vacancies, the existence and length of any waiting list[120] and considering any objections made.[121]

Effectiveness of Statutory Protection


75. As noted above, there is widespread concern about the sale of 'statutory' allotment sites. The sales of fifty-one such sites have been approved since 7 May 1997.[122] In only two of these instances were replacement sites provided. Although this may be reasonable on a case-by-case basis and it is clear that relatively few plot-holders have been displaced, we are alarmed that current trends are leading to a progressive loss of allotment land. We recommend that the Government look urgently at the continuing loss of allotment land, particularly in light of the anticipated future increase in demand for allotments.[123]

76. Despite the weaknesses of the protection provided by 'statutory' status, most witnesses still saw its existence as important.[124] The very designation of 'statutory' is sufficient to deter some local authorities from submitting applications to change the use or sell off an allotment site. Geoff Stokes of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners noted that:

     "... there have been a lot of reports in the newspaper on the number of section 8 applications that have been granted in the last 12 months, and that is only the thin end of the wedge. That is only the disposals that went before the Secretary of State ... The ones that are not seen are where we (the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners) actually get involved before it comes to that stage to point out to the council that they do have a statutory obligation to provide and to seek consent."[125]

This effect is also reflected in the much more rapid decline in numbers of 'temporary' and private allotment sites.[126]

77. Nevertheless, it must be concluded that the overall strength of the signal of protection has undoubtedly diminished over recent years. The Secretary of State has not refused an application for the sale of a 'statutory' site during the last three years.[127] We also received some evidence of manipulation by local authorities to categorise sites as derelict or surplus,[128] thereby ensuring

approval by the Secretary of State for sale of the land:

    "Deal, Kent: The District Council declared this fully occupied site as surplus to requirement and moved all tenants to other sites. Three years later, the Council applied for consent to dispose as the site was derelict.

    In looking into this further, it transpired that the Council was holding a two year waiting list of potential plot holders despite declaring the site surplus, and were refusing to advise those wanting allotments of the vacancies on this site."[129]

   78. The effectiveness of any system of protection depends upon the mechanisms and practice of its implementation. In this regard, we are not convinced that the limited checks made under the current system are actually offering a significant safeguard for 'statutory' allotment land. Once lost, allotment sites are almost impossible to reinstate.

79. A recent Court decision[130] has impacted upon the interpretation of provisions covering replacement sites. The Court interpreted the duty to make 'effective provision' as meaning that the replacement site must be 'adequate' for the purpose of growing fruit and vegetables but did not have to be of the same standard as the original site. Further, the Court ruled that a 'temporary' site could be used to replace a 'statutory' one. These rulings have, in effect, significantly weakened the provisions made by the Allotments Act 1925. Charlie Hopkins, a solicitor who worked on the case, concluded that:

     "... the interpretation placed on the relevant sections by the Court is likely to result in a significant deterioration in the quality of allotment stock in the country."[131]

Geoff Stokes of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners confirmed that:

    "... we actually have councils who are quoting that High Court case as a reason to say, well, we have got a piece of land here, that is good enough, it does not have to be anything else."[132]

Improving the Process


80. We heard from Professor Crouch that:

81. Many other witnesses noted the problems of information and the lack of consultation with regard to the proposed sale of a site.[134] These problems were most forcefully described by the Leys Road Allotments Association:

    "They did not want to discuss our views; they wanted to tell us what they were going to do and they actually brought the borough solicitor with them who said that if some arrangement could not be reached over these new alternative sites, then they could actually evict us within three months from our site ... It was most unpleasant and we were severely intimidated by this."[135]

82. Other witnesses commented on the difficulties for allotment holders wishing to challenge decisions about the future of a site.[136] Many submissions suggested greater rights of consultation for allotment holders and improved access to information at an earlier stage of the process:[137]

    "Local authorities must be made accountable to the public, hold proper consultation with the public, not merely bulldoze schemes through."[138]

83. The current process for the sale of a 'statutory' site is highly complicated and this works against the interests of allotment holders. We recommend that the procedures at local authority level with regard to the sale of allotment sites be overhauled. The process should be an open and inclusive one, particularly with regard to the information made available to allotment holders. Allotment authorities should consult with plot-holders before applying to the Secretary of State for permission to change the use of a site. This consultation should include discussions about providing an alternative site. To ensure that demand for allotments is being accurately represented, documents such as waiting lists and applications for allotments should be made publicly accessible.

84. Replacement sites have been provided in only two of the 51 'statutory' sites lost since 7 May 1997. Given the inevitable and progressive loss of private and 'temporary' allotment sites, such a low replacement rate is alarming and unacceptable. Within the context of other measures to encourage greater demand for allotments generally, we recommend that every endeavour should be made to provide a replacement site. The alternative site should be:

  • of similar size and quality;
  • within reasonable walking distance from existing plot-holders' houses; and
  • given 'statutory' protection.

Where no suitable replacement site can be offered, we recommend that a significant proportion of the proceeds from the sale of the original site be used to provide improvements to other allotment sites within the authority's area.


Review Process

85. At present, the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners is informally made aware of applications to sell 'statutory' sites received by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.[139] In line with ensuring better information about the proposed sale of sites, we recommend that it be made a formal obligation upon the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to inform the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners of all applications to sell 'statutory' sites.

86. With regard to the review process, we are concerned that plot vacancy rates and waiting lists cannot be relied upon to reflect the local demand for allotments. These statistics more often reflect the level of local promotion of allotments and the overall attractiveness of an individual site in terms of management, maintenance, facilities and overall atmosphere.[140] Also, once speculation has begun about the future of a site, it may start to experience blight in the form of reduced demand for vacant plots and some existing plot-holders leaving. In such cases, plot vacancies offer a still less valid measure of demand for allotments.

87. There is concern that the analysis currently carried out by the Government before sanctioning the sale of a 'statutory' site may be cursory and does not adequately guard against abuse by local authorities who wish to sell an allotment site. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State acknowledged these problems[141] before offering us an encouraging commitment:

"We are going to ensure in future, as part of the section 8 procedures, that local authorities have actually actively promoted their allotments; so that we can get round the idea that local authorities may deliberately be allowing land to get derelict so they can dispose of it."[142]

This change is welcome although the nature of its implementation will be critical. We recommend that the Secretary of State should ensure that a local authority has met certain basic requirements of an active allotments policy before approving the sale of a 'statutory' site. Specifically, a local authority should have in place a designated allotments officer; should seek to provide water and appropriate fencing at all allotment sites; and should have a basic programme for encouraging demand for allotments including simple advertising of vacant plots in the local media and an information board at each site, displaying whether plots are available along with details of whom to contact.

Role of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State

88. Although there is a need for efficiency in dealing with applications for the sale of sites, we were alarmed that the process has been entirely confined to the regional Government Offices and no cases have been called in for examination by the Minister since the new Government took office. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Angela Eagle, told us that:

"The potential is if there is a big row and there are lots of objections, that it could be called in and brought to a Minister's attention. But in the 47 cases that we have had since May, there have been no objections."[143]

89. However, Angela Eagle subsequently wrote to us, acknowledging that there had been objections to some of the applications.[144] Section 8 of the Allotments Act 1925 specifically places responsibility for consent to the sale of 'statutory' sites at Ministerial level. In the light of this, we consider it unacceptable that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has not referred matters of such importance to the Minister. We recommend that all applications which attract objections should be called in for examination by the Minister responsible.

106   See para 42 Back

107   See para 43 Back

108   Q46 Back

109   Q196 Back

110   Q82 Back

111   See Ev p24 (40 years) (HC560-i); Ev p6 (HC560-II) (92 years) and The New Marfleet Allotment and Garden Association (70 years) [Ev not printed] Back

112  The New Marfleet Allotment and Garden Association [Ev not printed] Back

113   Ev p2 (HC560-II) Back

114   Q146 Back

115   QQ233-234 Back

116   Q46 Back

117   Ev p8 (HC560-II) Back

118   Blackpool Borough Council [Ev not printed] Back

119   Q235 Back

120   Q226 Back

121   Q228 Back

122   Details in Ev pp76-78 (HC560-iii) Back

123   See para 36 Back

124   Ev p41, section 4 (HC560-ii), Q141 and Q42 Back

125   Q18 Back

126   See para 44 Back

127   Records held by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions cover the period from 1995 until the present day. None of the applications made during this period were refused.  Back

128   Ev p6-8 (HC560-i); Ev pp1, 7, 31 and 35-36 (HC560-II)  Back

129   Ev p7 (HC560-i) Back

130   R v Secretary of State for the Environment, ex parte Gosforth Allotment and Gardens Association Ltd [1997] 74 P & CR 93 Back

131   Ev p38 (HC560-II) Back

132   Q31 Back

133   Q39 Back

134   See, for example, Q203 and Q184 Back

135   Q80 Back

136   See, for example, Ev pp13 and 38 (HC560-II); Q182 and Q184 Back

137   Ev pp8 and 23 (HC560-II); Q182  Back

138   Ev p3 (HC560-II)  Back

139   Ev p66 (HC560-iii) Back

140   Q7 Back

141   Q240 Back

142   Q226 Back

143   Q239 Back

144   Ev p76 (HC560-iii) and subsequent letters [Ev not published] Back

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