Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

  

  • 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. (Paragraph 5)

THE VALUE OF ALLOTMENTS
  • 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. (Paragraph 13)

  • We recommend that health authorities recognise and exploit the therapeutic potential of allotments for people with mental or physical health problems. (Paragraph 15)

LEGISLATION
  • We believe there is a need for urgent action to protect existing allotment sites. In the short term, specific modifications to advice and procedures relating to allotment provision are required and these are detailed throughout the Report. Many of these changes are comparatively simple but the sum total will ensure a fairer and clearer system for all concerned. (Paragraph 28)

  • For the long term protection of allotments, we believe that allotments legislation must be overhauled. We conclude that the Government should issue a Green Paper as soon as is practicable and commission a research study to consult with the various interested parties and develop a consolidating piece of legislation which simplifies, updates and enhances existing allotments legislation. The Government should aim to introduce the resulting Bill within the lifetime of this Parliament. (Paragraph 29)

  • We recommend that the main restrictions on the use of allotments contained in national legislation should be repealed. In particular, decisions over:

    • the uses to which plots may be put, particularly with regard to flower growing;
    • commercial use with regard to site shops and the sale of surplus produce; and
    • the keeping of livestock

Local Issues

  • 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. Without a positive local approach, it seems likely that much of the demand for allotments will always remain latent. (Paragraph 40)

PROVISION OF ALLOTMENTS

Dealing with the Threat to Local Authority Sites

  • We note that allotments form an important part of leisure provision and this should be reflected within a local authority's Leisure Strategy and Local Agenda 21 initiatives. (Paragraph 56)

  • 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. (Paragraph 57)

Dealing with the Threat to Private Sites

  • 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. (Paragraph 61)

Planning Issues and Guidance

  • 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. (Paragraph 64)

  • 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. (Paragraph 65)

PROTECTION OF ALLOTMENTS

Designation of Sites

  • 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 and we urge the Government to do this immediately. (Paragraph 72)

Effectiveness of Statutory Protection

  • 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. (Paragraph 75)

Improving the Process: Local Procedures

  • 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. (Paragraph 83)

  • 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. (Paragraph 84)

    Improving the Process: Central Government Procedures

  • 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. (Paragraph 85)

  • 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. (Paragraph 87)

  • 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. (Paragraph 89)

BEST PRACTICE IN ALLOTMENT MANAGEMENT
  • 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." 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. (Paragraph 93)

  • 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. (Paragraph 94)

Self-Management

  • 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. (Paragraph 106)

  • 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. (Paragraph 107)

Gardening Media

  • 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. (Paragraph 109)

ROLE OF CENTRAL GOVERNMENT
  • We were disappointed to be told by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State that allotments are essentially a local issue. We believe that the provision of allotments is a national issue. While the particular rate of provision should be decided locally, it is important for Government to recognise its own role in promoting allotments. (Paragraph 110)

  • We recommend that the Government makes clear the role it sees for allotments in the future and sets about offering improved guidance and greater encouragement to local government. (Paragraph 112)

  • We recommend that the Government should collate the information on allotment provision held at local authority level and use this to develop and maintain a database on allotment provision. In this way, the overall national trend in provision can be determined and the effectiveness of measures to encourage continued allotment provision can be assessed. (Paragraph 113)

THE FUTURE FOR ALLOTMENTS
  • Our recommendations include changes in legislation, policy and practice. We consider that the force of these measures will be lost if a piecemeal approach is adopted to their implementation. Only if the recommendations are introduced as a package will the Future for Allotments be assured. (Paragraph 116)



 
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