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Volume 740: debated on Wednesday 31 October 2012


Asked By

My Lords, local authorities have a duty to provide allotments. Nevertheless, the Government commend the work of those operating in the sector, such as the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, the Allotments Regeneration Initiative and the sterling work done by the National Allotment Society, in promoting the importance of allotments and the encouragement of local authorities to make more allotment land available to residents.

I thank my noble friend for that Answer but is he aware that Wokingham, for example, has 80 people waiting for allotments. How many years will they have to wait? Why can encouragement not be given to people with overlarge gardens to allow them to let off areas for those who wish to growth their own produce?

My noble friend makes a very valid point. The waiting time for allotments is of concern across the country. However, she pointed to the example of Wokingham and I am delighted to say that creative schemes are under way, such as Transition Wokingham Garden Share Scheme whereby residents use spare garden space. Anyone who is a bit green fingered is welcome to use that space to grow vegetables. This Government will encourage such schemes, and it is for local authorities to share good practice across the country.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that allotment owners cannot cultivate their gardens in the dark when the clocks have changed to winter time? Therefore, will he list the benefits to allotment owners from maintaining winter time and the dark winter evenings as opposed to summer time? By the same token, can he produce a single, recognised statistic to prove that winter time can reduce electricity consumption, carbon footprint, street crime or road deaths?

My noble friend makes an interesting point. I would add that gardening time is very much the same even with the change in hours. As I already mentioned, there are creative schemes. Sustainable Merton, in my local borough, encourages the people and communities to come together. Those who can provide expertise and assistance—perhaps in creative lighting and green lighting, which is another initiative being undertaken—should be encouraged in providing for allotments around the country.

A number of local councils, including Bristol and Brighton, have introduced food strategies to increase food resilience and get more people growing their own food. What plans do the Government have to encourage all councils to produce food plans?

My noble friend is correct. A number of councils, including Bristol, Brighton and Kent County Council, have developed some very innovative schemes. As I have already said in my previous answer, we are here to encourage local councils. After all, the Localism Act encourages local councils and communities to take action and take charge. I quote my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in the other place, who said that people should “spot a plot”, grab it and then go to their local authority and cultivate it.

That last reply leads on to my question. If you happen to have a few acres that you are doing nothing with, what permissions do you have to get to set up private enterprise allotments? Do you have to have planning permission? Do you have to be willing to supply water or electricity? We have just heard about the problems of light. What exactly would you have to do, or how would your land have to be zoned, to offer it as allotments?

I thank my noble friend for her question. I point your Lordships’ House to the Localism Act and the provisions provided within, such as the new neighbourhood planning provisions that provide communities with the powers not just to protect but to identify new plots for allotments. The Community Right to Challenge, which commenced earlier this year in June, meant that voluntary and community bodies which had good ideas and felt they could run the services or allotments better could get more involved. Finally, there are the community right-to-bid provisions in the Act, which commenced in England on 21 September and which allows community groups to get a fairer chance to buy up assets, and facilities are important to them. Allotments are an important element of the Government’s thinking within local government but, as I said, local authorities provide the provisions and this Government take their job very seriously. The Localism Act activates local councils, but most importantly—dare I say it?—it activates the big society to act locally.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of an innovative scheme run by the University of Bath and the city of Bath, whereby the gardens for student housing are used as allotments, allocated by the city?

Again, my noble friend points to an innovative scheme. There are similar schemes, with window boxes being used to grow vegetables. I came across a particular scheme in Bermondsey, where council estates are identifying land that is currently uncultivated and encouraging local residents to use that land for the benefit of the local community. The scheme that my noble friend has pointed to is a similar one.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that as a child my father’s allotment provided a plentiful supply of potatoes and other weaponry to use against my other older brothers? Will he rejoice with me in the fact that there are 330,000 allotments in this country, even though there is still a shortage of supply? One problem with increasing the supply is the inconsistency of local authorities in allowing the development of new allotments, particularly with the provisions not just of land but of sheds and things of that sort. Would he encourage local authorities, when in doubt, to dig and allow others to dig, and pray that a generation of young boys are out there who are rather better behaved than we were?

I thank my noble friend for his question, and for sharing with your Lordships’ House his recollections of childhood. I must admit that I did not get into any serious fights, with potatoes or otherwise, with my siblings. Nevertheless, on his central point, I refer to the Localism Act, which provides the community right to reclaim, whereby citizens can go online, identify plots in their local area and go and cultivate them. They should work with local authorities, which should not discard their overarching responsibility to facilitate and provide the infrastructure to support allotments. As I said, this Government are empowering through the Localism Act local communities to take charge of allotments.