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Volume 734: debated on Monday 16 January 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that the provision of allotments is sufficient to meet demand.

My Lords, it is local authorities that have a duty to provide allotments. Nevertheless, the Government are working with voluntary and community sector organisations, including the Federation of City Farms & Community Gardens, the Allotments Regeneration Initiative and the National Society of Allotment & Leisure Gardeners, to promote the importance of allotments and to encourage and support local authorities and other landowners to make more land available for food growing.

With a countrywide shortage of plots and a growing list of applicants, who in some cases have waited many years, does my noble friend know why councils do not follow the good example of Christchurch in Hampshire, which is developing an allotment strategy consultation to help everyone concerned?

My Lords, I am sure they can do that without any intervention from Parliament. As I said, local authorities are responsible for the provision of allotments and for encouraging their own communities to look at the sort of strategy that the noble Baroness has suggested.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the undertaking given by the previous Government when a similar Question was asked, to the effect that they would stop the practice of councils dumping contaminated soil on allotment land and then renting that land out to handicapped people who are not in a position to resist? Will the Minister move immediately to stop this outrage?

My Lords, the noble Lord has raised a point on which I am not briefed. I am bound to say that it goes a bit wider than I had expected. However, if that is happening and it is true that local authorities are dumping contaminated soil on allotments, that is an outrage because people are growing vegetables and produce for eating. I will make some inquiries and come back to my noble friend.

Given the huge benefits to individuals and communities of food growing and the welcome explosion in interest in doing so, does the Minister believe that the final form of the national planning policy framework, unlike the draft, should recognise the key role of local authorities in promoting food growing?

My Lords, the final form of the national planning policy framework is still being realised. Of course, the Localism Act contains a number of provisions that would help local communities to do precisely what the noble Baroness has suggested. There is a community right to challenge, so voluntary and community bodies can challenge on bits of land to suggest that they take them over. There are the neighbourhood planning provisions, where local neighbourhoods can come together and identify land for use that they think is sensible, and allotments might come under that. There is also the community right to buy, where again local communities can identify land that they consider to be an asset and if it comes up for sale they are in a position to make a bid for it.

Will the Minister tell me whether there are many problems such as the one in my village, where the allotment holders were encouraged to grow everything without any water supply? They did so successfully for many years. However, as we have had a few very dry years it has not been possible recently. Now they want to put in a water supply, and apparently, in order to make it practical for the allotment holders to fund the water supply, they need a long- term lease on the property, which I believe is owned partly by the local church. However, the lease is not the main issue, but rather a total disagreement about who should provide water to an allotment.

My Lords, again, the question put by the noble Baroness is quite localised, because I suspect that there are some allotments which are provided with water. That must be a matter for the local authority to which she refers, and I should think that the allotment holders would be in a very strong position to ensure that they received or found that water.

My Lords, given the importance we all clearly give to the growing of food and the knowledge of how food is grown, could the Minister give us any indication of how many schools have allotments, and whether there are many others that are preparing to follow their example?

My Lords, I cannot give an exact reply to the noble Baroness about numbers. There is, however, strong encouragement for schools not only to work allotments but to have their own facilities in their schools to encourage children to grow food, and many schools do that. Defra is already encouraging that. There is a strong element of enthusiasm and encouragement to make sure that schoolchildren understand where food comes from, and that it does not just come out of a plastic packet.

My Lords, clearly this is principally a matter for local authorities, but there is a great deal of best practice to be spread, and I am sure that both the Government, the Opposition and all members of this Chamber can assist in spreading best practice. I am very proud to be a patron of Thrive, a charity which works with disabled people and gardening, and encourages them to have healthy lifestyles and gardens. I would encourage not only the Minister but all Members of this House to get out and spread best practice, because in these straitened economic times, eating healthily and health and well-being are of the utmost importance.

My Lords, we can certainly agree with all that the noble Baroness has said, and I congratulate her on giving so much support to this particular aspect.

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister is aware of schemes such as Landshare, which, in places where allotments are scarce, are a tremendously useful resource. Those who have additional land that they can no longer manage themselves are encouraged to advertise it on a website, so that local people can come and dig it over and use it themselves, thereby expanding the use of land whose owners can no longer manage it.

My Lords, that is an extremely good scheme. Of course, one of the things that may affect that is the nature of the agreement with the local authority, if that is who owns the plots, as to how they can be used. There are already examples of land being subdivided, and plots being subdivided where people find them too large. That is excellent, because it means that more people can get involved.

My Lords, although of course I accept that this is largely a local authority matter, does the noble Baroness agree that allotments in cities are a very important part of the overall urban ecology, and that there are often small plots of derelict land which could be made available? Will she encourage local authorities in cities to view the possibility of small amounts of land being turned over to food production where there is a local community willing to set them up?

My Lords, that takes me back to an earlier reply. In future, under the Localism Bill, as regards plots of land such as the noble Baroness has described, if local communities think that that would be a good use for them, they can identify that and, under neighbourhood planning, make sure that that happens. I do not think that there is anything against what the noble Baroness has put forward. Indeed, there should be a lot of encouragement for it. However, land in London is very expensive.