To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the Statement by Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth on 7 February on the Housing White Paper, what steps they are taking to ensure that councils continue to provide suitable plots for allotments.
My Lords, the Government recognise that allotments are valuable assets that play an important role in bringing communities together to live healthier lifestyles. Before disposing of allotments, councils must satisfy a range of statutory criteria set by the Government. Moreover, there is a range of measures through which communities can help to safeguard their allotments, including the National Planning Policy Framework, neighbourhood planning and the community right to bid, as well as always, it is hoped, keeping allotments free of Japanese knotweed.
My Lords, does not the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 still apply to councils? If more than six people ask for an allotment, are they not to be given one?
My Lords, my noble friend is right about the importance of the 1908 Act and subsequently the 1925 Act, and the Government subsequently tightened the statutory duties on local authorities in the 2014 guidance which ensures that existing plot holders are protected if a local authority wishes to dispose of the allotments. That protection is in place.
My Lords, while allotments make a valuable contribution, public parks play an even larger part in promoting health and well-being. Last October, the Heritage Lottery Fund warned that local council cuts were endangering the condition and health of public parks, and last month the CLG committee warned of cuts of up to 97%, with some parks facing a return to the neglect suffered in the 1980s and 1990s. What are the Government doing to mitigate this threat to amenity and public health?
My Lords, as always, the noble Lord is absolutely right about the importance of green spaces, which, as he will know, are well protected in the housing White Paper, which is open for consultation until 2 May. I have no doubt that the noble Lord will respond to it.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a plot holder in Saltaire. The noble Lord talked about the benefits to the community of communal space and communal gardens, but do the Government encourage developers developing new housing to move back from individual gardens and individual houses towards a greater density of houses with communal space and communal gardens—exactly what allotments are—given the current long waiting lists in so many parts of the country for allotments?
My Lords, as I indicated, green spaces in general are the subject of consultation in the housing White Paper. The noble Lord is right about the importance of appropriate density provision, with those green spaces. We give special protection to allotments and have done since 1908. If anything, that protection has been ramped up in the 2014 guidelines. Regarding waiting lists, I have spoken to the National Allotment Society. The pressure has eased on allotment waiting lists. There is still a waiting list, but it is not as long as it was, say, 10 years ago.
My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that private landowners are often very well placed to make land available for allotments? Given that, will he encourage Defra to promote discussions between councillors, the NFU and other representatives of landowners to see whether they can find ways to promote such private provision?
My noble friend makes a very important point. Having spoken with the National Allotment Society, I know that it is discussing and bringing to fruition a plan with British Telecom, making available a lot of land that is now I think 1,200 disused telephone exchanges, which will be used for allotments, and that is heartening. I certainly take on board what my noble friend said and echo it.
My Lords, 100 years ago last month, the Germans declared unrestricted U-boat warfare on this nation and almost starved us to death. Of course allotments became very important, as they were in the Second World War. While allotments are wonderful things, does the Minister not feel that protecting our merchant shipping with enough warships might be more important?
My Lords, it is like a round of Mornington Crescent with the noble Lord—he always succeeds in bringing that in. Of course I agree about the importance of allotments, not just for healthier lifestyles, but for ensuring that we have appropriate food supplies in the country.
My Lords, massive numbers of houses are now planned for the future. In the literature on them I have seen no reference to the provision of allotments for new housing. That will be appended to many small communities that have plenty of provision, but there is nothing on the map to show what will be added to that provision when the new houses are built.
My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will take comfort from the fact that thanks to neighbourhood planning, which owes its root to the Localism Act 2012, many areas are bringing forward plans for neighbourhood allotments—Thame, Exeter, Norwich and Haywards Heath, to give just some examples.
My Lords, further to the question from his noble friend, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, is the Minister aware that the National Trust provides some allotments? A number of charities have communal gardens to help people with mental health problems. Rooting around in the soil, seeing plants grow and then harvesting them is a wonderful rehabilitative practice.
My Lords, the noble Countess makes a valuable point about all the benefits of allotments. That is why we provide special protection for and give such importance to them in neighbourhood planning, community right to bid and the planning framework I spoke of.
My Lords, referring back to the supplementary question of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, does the Minister agree that one of the great benefits of allotments is the diversity of what is grown on them and the effect of that on the population of pollinators, which of course are extremely important to agriculture? Does he not think that that is a good reason to encourage farmers to make land available?
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point about pollinators and the great variety of plants and vegetables that grow on allotments. I have had the opportunity to see this with my own brother—and I hope that he is listening to this so that I can benefit again this year.
My Lords, in the London area in the past the obligations were fewer for local authorities. Is it still the position that London is treated differently?
My Lords, my noble friend, who understands London like few others, is absolutely right: that was the position in the 1908 Act. However, since the 1925 Act, London has been dealt with on exactly the same basis. If I am wrong on that, I will write to my noble friend and put a copy of the letter in the Library.
Does the Minister agree that, once we have left the European Union, we will probably have to grow a lot more of our own food, and therefore that we will need many more allotments—in which case we will certainly have to look at the law again? Does the Department for Exiting the European Union have this on its agenda?
My Lords, first, as I indicated in my earlier response to the noble Lord, Lord West, growing our own food is of importance anyway. I do not know whether we are looking at this in particular through the Department for Exiting the European Union, but it is of extreme importance—as are all the other benefits of allotments, which is why they are so important, as indicated in the exchanges today.
Is my noble friend aware that concern about public parks—to which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made reference—is widely shared across this House? Will he say what the Government are doing now to safeguard their future while the consultation exercise grinds along?
My Lords, I share the view that this is extremely important, as my noble friend indicated. As I said, this is acknowledged in the housing White Paper. We face many challenges, of which building more houses while protecting the green belt and public parks is one. As I said, the consultation will be open to take views until 2 May.