Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


  90. During the course of this Inquiry, we were made aware of the great disparities with regard to allotment practices at local level. Individual local authorities and particular allotment societies provide very positive examples which can be used as models by others. In establishing a regime of Best Practice, there are significant responsibilities for allotment societies, local authorities and central Government. These are detailed below.

Local Authorities and Allotment Societies

91. Local authorities draw up and implement allotments policy. As such, their practices and procedures are critical in demonstrating a positive attitude and ensuring that an allotment community thrives. We received evidence from several authorities with successful allotment policies including Bromley, Bexley, Nottingham, Stroud, Handsworth, Birmingham, Bradford, Sutton and Chiltern District.[145]

92. Other memoranda showed local authorities in a less positive light. Many submissions from plot-holders complained of the poor quality and quantity of information.[146] Better communication must form the bedrock of a positive local policy and this goes beyond the specifics concerning the sale of 'statutory' sites and encompasses all aspects of allotments at all times.

93. We were surprised and disappointed to hear from Councillor Whitmore of the Local Government Association that "in my years in local government and in the Association of Metropolitan Authorities I do not remember us ever discussing at a national level the issue of allotments at all."[147] Many aspects of allotment provision are rightly the subject of local decisions and it is the role of the Local Government Association to assist individual local authorities with such matters. The patchy performance of local authorities with regard to allotment policy must be remedied.

94. We recommend that a Best Practice regime for allotments be drawn up and implemented by local authorities and their umbrella organisations, in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. This process should draw upon the expertise of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners and the evidence from the local authorities noted above. We were encouraged that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State recognised the central role of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions in drawing up and disseminating guidelines for Best Practice.[148]

95. Amongst the more important points to be addressed within a Best Practice scheme are the following:

Designation of Allotments Officers

96. An allotments officer should be designated to maintain an authority's active allotments policy.[149]

Providing Facilities

97. Water is still not provided on 25 per cent of 'statutory' sites and 45 per cent of 'temporary' sites. However, the availability of water on site is noted in a number of submissions as being critical in encouraging plot-holders.[150] Other evidence has noted that allotment sites are unique amongst leisure facilities in rarely having toilets available.[151]

Preventing Vandalism and Theft

98. As noted above,[152] theft and vandalism are serious problems on many allotment sites. Various possible solutions have been brought to our attention: improved security fencing[153] and locks, using hedges effectively,[154] setting up a 'Plot Watch' scheme[155] and ensuring that the site plays a role in the local community.[156]

Encouraging, Maintaining and Broadening Demand

99. Wherever plot vacancies exist, there is a need for greater promotion by the local authority. Best Practice here incorporates a range of simple measures which bring the availability of allotments to the attention of the general public. One of the most appealing ideas suggested to us was a simple notice on site, displaying the number of vacant plots and a telephone number to contact.[157] Other measures should include notices in libraries and other public places, newsletters,[158] advertisements in shops and the local press[159] and perhaps a freephone number for people who are interested in becoming plot-holders.[160] Local authorities should also give consideration as to how they might further broaden the appeal of allotments beyond the traditional groups to attract more women and young people with families. Wherever possible, a site should be made child-friendly: for instance, by converting the occasional vacant plot into a play area for the children of allotment holders.

100. Measures should also be taken to ensure that interest in allotments is translated into demand for plots. In particular, newly-let plots should be cleared and rotovated just prior to the plot-holder taking possession.[161]

101. Where the demand for allotments continues to fall short of the current provision, it may be appropriate to adopt a flexible approach to the use of allotment land.[162] Specifically, this might involve converting the site, or part of the site, to open space for use by the general public. These areas can be converted back to allotments as demand increases.

The Community Role

102. As noted above,[163] the best allotment societies often play an active role in the wider community. This may be through involvement in Local Agenda 21 initiatives,[164] community composting[165] or annual festivals.[166] Allotment gardening can be very educational for school children learning about growing vegetables and fruit.[167] The therapeutic role of allotments was noted earlier[168] and this can be exploited and put to the benefit of people with a variety of problems and needs.[169] The allotments officer should play an enabling role, linking allotment societies with the various organisations responsible for people who could benefit from the educational or therapeutic benefits of tending a plot.

Plot Size and Sharing

103. The traditional plot size of 10 rods (approximately 250 square metres) can be too large for many people both in terms of the time involved cultivating it and the amount of produce.[170] A survey by Allotments 2000 revealed that, of non-allotment holders, 40 per cent would be more likely to take one up if the plots were smaller.[171] Offering smaller plots, therefore, can be one way of stimulating and sustaining greater demand. Perhaps a more imaginative way round this problem is to encourage people to share plots, particularly where this involves a younger, novice gardener with a more experienced but less physically able gardener.[172]


104. Self-management of allotment sites involves local authorities devolving responsibilities for many of the day-to-day issues of site management to the allotment society or committee. The society is made responsible for collecting the rent and retains some or all of the money collected to fund basic maintenance, management of vacancies and waiting lists and cultivation control.

105. The vast majority of the evidence we received on self-management was positive: witnesses from Handsworth, Bromley and Stroud[173] all provided stories of reinvigorated allotment societies. Shepperton Allotment Association wrote that:

    "For a good many years, our site has been run by a committee of plot-holders, under licence from our council ... We consider that our site is the best site in our borough simply because it is self-run. We believe that most allotment sites would benefit from being self-run, where there are sufficient plot-holders willing to undertake it."[174]

106. There is little doubt that, when successfully implemented, self-management schemes ensure greater control of a site by allotment holders and tend to work to the benefit of the site. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State expressed support for the practice, noting that "self-management at that very local level is almost always a good idea."[175] We believe that self-management fulfills the twin aims of ensuring greater control of a site by allotment holders and also reducing a local authority's administrative responsibilities. We recommend that all local authorities examine the potential for self-management of their allotment sites.

107. Some witnesses,[176] including the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions,[177] expressed some reservations about the legal implications of passing control of a site to an allotment society. To overcome this, we recommend that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions should draw up an appropriate model agreement that can be used by local authorities formally to devolve responsibilities to allotment societies. In particular, this should make provision for a local authority to take back control of a site in exceptional circumstances.

Gardening Media

108. Allotments currently tend to be neglected by much of the gardening media. We were, however, encouraged by the enthusiasm shown by both Bazal, the producers of a number of gardening programmes, and Catalyst Television, the makers of Gardeners' World. Catalyst Television wrote that:

However, we were disappointed to hear from Bazal that:

     "... we have in the past offered broadcasters a series aimed at allotment holders, but it is generally felt to be too limited an audience."[179]

109. We believe that the gardening media could play an important role in promoting allotments, particularly ensuring the widespread adoption of Best Practice. We urge all media companies to explore the scope for integrating allotment issues into their magazines and programmes.

145   Ev p44-45 (HC560-II); Ev p47, para 5.2.2 (HC560-ii), Ev pp33 and 8-11 (HC560-II), Q45, Q45, Ev p44, para 1.1.6 (HC560-ii); Geoffrey Sherlock [Ev not printed] Back

146   QQ79-81 and Ev p1-3 (HC560-II)  Back

147   Q157 Back

148   Q246, Q255 and Q259 Back

149   See recommendation in Paragraph 87 Back

150   See, for example, Q134 and Ev p28 (HC560-II). See also recommendation in Paragraph 87 Back

151   Ev pp15 and 28 (HC560-II) Back

152   See para 53 Back

153   St Anns Allotment Campaign [Ev not printed] and 'National Survey of Allotment Gardeners Views in England and Wales', National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, October 1993, p30 Back

154   Q181 Back

155   Q177 Back

156   Q134 and Q16 Back

157   Q182 and Ev p57, case study of Reading (HC560-ii) Back

158   Q177 and background papers from the South East Region Allotments Committee and Dartford Road Allotments Association Back

159   Ev pp1 and 41(HC560-II) Back

160   Ev p57, case study of Reading (HC560-ii) Back

161   See Ev pp19-20 (HC560-i); Ev pp33 and 41 (HC560-II); St Anns Allotment Campaign [Ev not printed] Back

162   '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

163   See para 16 Back

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

165   Ev p24 (HC560-II) Back

166   See, for example, Q178 Back

167   Ev p42 (HC560-ii) Back

168   See para 11 Back

169   Ev p41 (HC560-ii); Ev p44, para 1.1.6 (HC560-ii), Background papers from The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Ltd, Region 5, West Midlands Back

170   Geoffrey Sherlock [Ev not printed] and Q173 Back

171   Q195 Back

172   Q174 Back

173   Ev pp36, 44-45 and 8-11 (HC560-II) Back

174   Ev p31 (HC560-II) Back

175   Q247 Back

176   Q185 Back

177   Ev p65 (HC560-iii) Back

178   Ev not printed Back

179   Ev p45 (HC560-II) Back

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