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Allotments

Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 8 June 2011

Question

Asked By

My Lord, it is local authorities that have a duty to provide statutory allotments. The Government are keen to support local communities that want to use local spaces for community food growing, and to protect existing land for this purpose. New neighbourhood planning provisions in the Localism Bill will provide a new right for communities to shape their local areas, including the means to boost allotment provision.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. I realise that the Localism Bill will help, but are local councils playing by the rules in providing alternative sites when those present sites are needed for development or whatever? An enormous number of people who write to one now are looking for allotments and cannot get them. They have to wait years.

My Lords, we already know that there is a 50 per cent extra requirement for allotments. Local authorities can, of course, make land available if they have it for allotments. The neighbourhood planning provisions in the Localism Bill, to which my noble friend refers, will enable neighbourhoods to identify land where they think allotments could be provided within their neighbourhood plan and have that agreed by the local authority. There are, therefore, methods by which new allotments can be provided, but I recognise immediately that there are far too few for those who want them.

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister is aware that, in the 19th century, the Bishop of Bath and Wells was one of the founders of the allotment movement. I have to say that there are questions about why he founded the allotment movement, but he did. The Minister may also be aware that under the present development of the Bishop’s Palace in Wells—in opening it more effectively to the public—the palace hosts not only the city allotments but a new community garden. I note that the National Trust has pledged some 1,000 allotments on its premises by 2012, and ask the Minister to encourage the development of land on all suitable estates open to the public as allotments or community gardens.

My Lords, that is a fascinating bit of history from the right reverend Prelate, which I did not know but I enjoyed hearing about. Of course, he is right that the National Trust has already started developing allotments and, yes, wherever allotments can be provided and wherever authorities or bodies are able to provide them, we could encourage that, because too many people who would like to grow their own food are waiting for allotments. The more provision, the better.

Does the noble Baroness agree with me that allotments have many virtues, among them the fact that they provide an important habitat for honey-bees and other kinds of bees? Indeed, some allotment users keep bees on their allotments. Are the Government ensuring that research funding is being sustained in order to monitor and, if possible, to reverse the decline in the honey-bee population in this country? If she cannot tell the House now perhaps she would be kind enough to write to me.

My Lords, bees are a little beyond my brief and a little beyond my department’s brief. I am extremely happy to refer the question, probably to Defra, and to ensure the noble Baroness has a reply.

My Lords, I remind the House that I am a local councillor; I am pleased to say that we have just provided some new allotments in my ward. In areas with town and parish councils, the town and parish councils are the statutory allotment authorities and very often run all the local allotments. They are often very good at managing the allotments and running them in an economic and financially viable way. The problem of producing new allotments is providing the capital funding in the beginning to set up the allotments before they can be managed. That is a real problem for town and parish councils. Will the Government look again at it?

My Lords, it is right that local authorities have the statutory responsibility for allotments, and it would be up to them if they wished to put aside a capital sum to provide more in their area. I do not think that the Government can direct them to do that, although we recognise that many people want allotments. I certainly do not think that my department would tell local authorities that they had to provide them.

Does the noble Baroness think that we would have such erudite questions about allotments and bees if we had an elected second Chamber?

My Lords, I admire the noble Lord’s ingenuity in getting such a question into Question Time. I shall not spend any more time trying to answer it.

As with the regional growth fund and inflation, on allotments have the Government lost the plot?

My Lords, I am not sure who has lost the plot and it is not an issue I want to address this afternoon.

My Lords, my family have some allotments in Surrey—I live in Devon. They are run by the allotment holders, who provide everything that is needed to keep them running; they do not need the local authority. Is this not an example of the big society?

My Lords, self-help and people working for themselves, producing their own answers and working without government intervention of course is the big society at its best. After all, the big society is just about that; it is about local people working for themselves and for others and looking after their neighbours. In that regard, what could be better than working on an allotment?

My Lords, the noble Baroness has referred to the neighbourhood planning regimes of the Localism Bill and how they may be beneficial to allotment development. What protections are in the system to prevent aggressive development of allotments by narrowly focused neighbourhood forums?

My Lords, allotments are protected: one cannot just come in and take them over. Land is made available for allotments and it is a statutory right for them to be there. It would only be if allotment owners did not want those allotments that they could be addressed within a neighbourhood plan and with the wish of the neighbourhood that they should change hands. I do not believe that anybody can aggressively take over allotments.