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Volume 709: debated on Monday 16 March 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are encouraging local councils to increase the number of allotments.

My Lords, yes, we are. I recently hosted a round-table meeting with allotment interests to consider current trends, issues and priorities for action. With their help we are drawing up options about how we can provide further support to local authorities to meet their duty under Section 23 of the 1908 Act to provide allotments where they perceive a demand for them in their area.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. John Prescott set up core strategies in relation to planning that have resulted in delays of maybe five years in setting up allotments. Is she aware that there is a great demand for allotments? In fact, it is increasing. Sheffield City Council has a waiting list of over 2,000.

My Lords, I am absolutely aware of the increasing demand for allotments. We are trying to do all that we can to help local authorities to satisfy that. The noble Baroness is right that local authorities are required to consider the allocation of protection of green space in their core strategies and local development plans, which is a good way to secure allotments for the future. It also involves the community, which is a good thing in itself. We are concerned that it has taken longer to provide the LDFs than we thought—they are complex documents—but we are putting in a lot of extra help, particularly through the Planning Inspectorate and Planning Advisory Service. I am pleased to say that we have over 100 finalised and found sound.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Pendle Borough Council, which, in the last few days, has agreed terms to purchase land to provide allotments in the ward that I represent on the council—so I do something useful occasionally. Are not statutory allotments the only service for which parish councils and town councils have a statutory duty? In many cases, they provide allotments that are non-statutory. One of the keys to providing more allotments is to provide capital finance to parish councils to be able to purchase land and set up allotments. They are good at running allotments and often do it economically, but finding the money to buy the land and set up the scheme is often difficult. There seem to be no schemes at the moment for that.

My Lords, everything that I hear about Pendle Borough Council—I hear a great deal in one way or another, actually—is admirable. I imagine that the noble Lord is an allotment holder.

I take it back, my Lords. What is wonderful about allotments is that they have special statutory protections, and therefore local authorities are required to meet demand. What the noble Lord says about parish councils is true; we would like parishes to use resources to expand allotments. The key to more allotments is not to change the law, which is robust, but to enable local authorities to understand and enforce the protections that exist. That is why we concentrate our efforts on promoting good practice and giving advice.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the city neighbouring where she lives—Brighton and Hove—has long waiting lists for allotments but has increased the number available substantially by splitting the existing number of allotments when they become available and on the market again? Will she ensure that that is looked at in her review?

My Lords, one of the recommendations from a report that we commissioned by Professor Wilshire, which we are looking at closely, was on splitting of plots. Plot size was fixed many years ago. I can see some advantages in plot splitting. I am not sure that it would command much support from the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, but we should look at it.

My Lords, given the widespread demand for allotments, will the Minister encourage local councils to work with Landshare, a new initiative set up to encourage landowners in both the private and the public sectors to release derelict land to the community for the use of allotments?

Yes, my Lords, I am pleased that the Landshare scheme has come along. We would certainly want to encourage that. The National Trust has made some of its estate available for allotments in recent weeks. That will mean possibly 1,000 places, and the Landshare scheme is going to manage that. It is a website that enables people who want to grow their own food to match up with landowners who have private land which they are prepared to give over. I would encourage any noble Lord with land that they would like to see used for that purpose to get in touch with Landshare and its website, which I can make available.

My Lords, many allotments are indeed on private land. I declare an interest as an allotment holder of the Saltaire Canalside Allotment Society, which pays rent to a private company. What incentives do the Government have to encourage the large number of companies that have parcels of land around the towns and villages to make them available for an extended period for the rapidly rising number of people who want to run allotments?

My Lords, the National Trust has set a good example of what other public authorities might do with some of the land at their disposal. We should consider that. We would have to address certain issues because they may not be statutory allotments and therefore they do not bring protections with them, but the matter is worth considering.

My Lords, will the Minister intercede to ensure that local councils carry the cost of removing toxic waste from land recycled for allotments after a significant period of misuse or disuse in which the councils used it for waste dumping? At times, it is costing a great deal of money and effort. The noble Baroness might wish to start with the allotments at the junction of the Hornet and Whyke Lane in Chichester.