a place togrow:a supplementary document toGrowing in the community
1. introductionThe preface to the second edition of the good practiceguide for the management of allotments, Growing inthe community (to be referred to hereafter as the guide),highlights the recent revival of interest in ‘growingyour own’. The consequent increase in the demandfor allotments is reflected in lower vacancy rates andlengthening waiting lists across the UK. Over the twoyears since the publication of the guide, this trend hasintensified. Estimates of waiting lists exceeding 100,000are widely reported 1 , and few areas have vacant plots.Local authorities have come under increasing pressure toprovide new sites, and to accommodate alternative foodgrowing projects where allotments are scarce.The guide pointed to current thinking on healthy eating,organic food and exercise as factors behind the growingdemand for allotments. Over the past two years thelinks to concern over climate change have strengthened,while recession has added to demand as people seek outcheaper ways of accessing food. Above all, the mediahave made allotments fashionable, while berating localauthorities for not doing more to meet the demands ofapplicants, who in some areas may have to wait decadesbefore they can gain access to a plot.This supplementary document seeks to address someof the problems that local authorities (and devolvedmanagement associations) are facing as a consequenceof the increased demand for allotments. It amplifies someof the messages already included in the guide, and addsnew ones for topics which the guide only touches uponlightly, but which have since emerged as key problems incontemporary allotment management.The management of waiting lists and cultivation standardsare obvious examples. In most areas, waiting lists havenot been a focus of concern since the oil crisis temporarilyboosted demand in the 1970s. Rigorous enforcement ofcultivation standards made little sense when tenanted plotswere surrounded by dereliction on all sides. Today, however,many aspiring gardeners face the frustration of waiting ina queue that never seems to move, and are angered by thesight of plots they are denied the opportunity to rent notbeing cultivated as fully as they might be.On the other hand, local authorities have good reasonto be cautious in the face of a fashion that couldpass, turning new investments in allotments into anembarrassing and expensive mistake, as over-reaction inthe 1970s would have done. The imperatives, therefore,are to make the best possible use of the existing estatebefore adding to it, and to ensure that the measurementof demand is robust, so that new investments can bejustified as an appropriate use of resources.The overarching aim of this supplementary documentis to identify good practice in minimising the time thatpeople who wish to rent an allotment have to wait beforethey can do so. We turn first to key issues in managingthe current portfolio of sites to reduce waiting times,including: gardeners; associations are supported in adopting the goodpractice that the public expects.The coverage of new sites in the guide is then extended toinclude: 2 and planningprocedures and strategies; might justify both public and private investment inallotments over other priorities; Finally, we look at the implications of providing newallotments on a temporary, non-statutory basis, and at‘meanwhile gardening’ alternatives in which people canengage while they wait for an allotment plot, building uptheir skills and enthusiasm.a place to grow:a supplementarydocument togrowing in thecommunity5
The guide suggests that standards should be set using‘plots per household’ rather than in ‘hectares perhousehold’. The pressure of waiting lists on plot sizesmakes this advice questionable, because smaller plotsfacilitate the realisation of demand that was previouslylatent, as well as demand recorded via waiting lists.As noted earlier, reductions in plot sizes should not,therefore, be seen as a justification for reducing theoverall area assigned to allotments. Where plot sizes areno longer fixed, a standard set in ‘hectares per household’is to be preferred as a more stable basis for planning.Later in this update we address the issue of ‘meanwhile’gardening projects as a temporary solution to waiting lists.Provision for these also needs to be taken into account inplanning strategies. These projects can cut across standardplanning thinking, in part because they imply sequentialrather than fixed use. They can also occupy spaces that arenot usually considered part of the green space portfolio,such as brownfield sites awaiting redevelopment. Provisionfor such projects will therefore have to be considered instrategies other than those for green space as well.prioritising new sitesThe provision of new sites to reduce waiting times requiresresources. In allocating resources of land and capital tothis end, local authorities need to be able to defend theirpriorities in the face of many competing claims.There are clearly great differences in the problem ofsecuring land for allotments between rural and urbanareas. In the former, conversion of farmland to allotmentsby parish councils holding the land under freehold orlease can be a realistic option. Farmers can also lease landdirect to individuals or groups as food growing spaces asa commercial diversification activity. In urban areas, theopportunities to convert land directly from agriculture useare limited or non-existent, so the most likely source of newland is from within the existing public open space estate. Inboth town and country, however, the development of landfor allotments is likely to provoke opposition from otherparties whose enjoyment of the same land (as accessed orviewed space) may be compromised.The fencing off of allotments is usually justified as essentialto protect the allotment holders’ personal property, and toensure that cultivation can proceed without damage fromintruders. The granting of exclusive right of access to alimited number of gardeners, however, means that otherswho might be accustomed to using the same space, towalk the dog, picnic or play games, must find somewhereelse. Appeals to the benefits of allotments (as documentedin the guide) are unlikely to impress people who will notshare those benefits, but who may instead find theiropportunities to undertake preferred activities with equallyvalid benefits curtailed.Where possible, therefore, compensatory mechanismsshould be considered. These could include the upgradingof adjacent or nearby spaces to enhance their value tousers with other interests, along with careful design toensure that popular routeways are preserved. The guideadvocates co-location of new allotments with otherrecreational facilities, to enable informal public surveillanceand flexibility in case the demand for allotments shouldchange in the future.The concept of co-location might be expanded to includecomplementary activities within the boundaries of theallotment site, to increase the number and diversity ofdirect beneficiaries. These could include communallymanagedgardens and dedicated facilities for schoolsand people with disabilities. ‘Friends’ groups could beestablished for people who would like to be involved inhelping out on the site without the commitments thatplotholding entails. This builds on the idea of ‘lifetimemembership’ sometimes afforded to retiring gardenerswho wish to maintain social ties. Activities of this kindcan also go some way to addressing concerns aboutvisual intrusion, particularly when combined with formallandscaping and strict rules on construction standardsfor sheds and the management of wastes. They couldalso (as with many continental sites) produce amenitiesthat people choose to view for pleasure, with the addedbenefit of opportunities to exchange pleasantries andreceive surplus produce.a place to grow:a supplementarydocument togrowing in thecommunity11
a place to grow:a supplementarydocument togrowing in thecommunity12The capital cost of a new allotment site can be substantial,over and above any cost of acquiring the land. In additionto grading and sub-dividing the land there are fencing,haulageways, water supply, car parking, access waysand permissions to be taken into account. While costswill vary with local conditions and the facilities to beprovided, the capital cost of £2,000 per 250 square metreplot estimated by one local authority for developing itsnew site may be taken as indicative. For parish councilsin particular, this is an expensive proposition (bothfinancially and politically) given the small number ofdirect beneficiaries. Aggregate costs can be reducedby encouraging those who will benefit from the plotsto get involved in developing and running the site, andsharing costs with any co-located facilities. This may inturn enhance the case for grant funding. Costs per plot(and hence the implied subsidy per plotholder) can bereduced by limiting plot sizes. Authorities may also wish toinclude within the calculation of rent an allowance for thedepreciation of the capital invested.The rental income, of course, is only part of the benefitto the community that flows from allotments. Thecontributions to biodiversity, healthy eating, exercise,active ageing and many other public policy agendas arediscussed at length in the guide. Very little research hasbeen undertaken, however, to quantify these benefits andset them against other ways of investing public funds, beit in alternative forms of green space or in other ways. TheAllotments Regeneration Initiative maintains a library ofthe latest evidence in the resources section of its website(http://www.farmgarden.org.uk/ari).design of new sitesThe detailed design of new sites involves striking theright balance between the preferences of new allotmentholders and the interests of the broader public. It shouldalso incorporate sound environmental practices, drawingon sources such as the Big Wildlife Garden website (http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/advice/wildlifegardening).New plotholders are likely to prioritise access, goodinfrastructure and site security, while the general publicwill prefer a design that creates an asset for the wholecommunity (for which see the discussion of co-location inthe previous section), and that is sensitive to the quality ofthe local landscape.The perimeter of the site should incorporate plantingwherever possible. Well-laid hedges in native species canenhance the external view and add to the biodiversityvalue of a site. Where a combination of hedges andpassive security is unlikely to be sufficient to protect cropsand other property, however, good-quality fencing willalso be needed (palisade fencing is recommended), andgates with solid locks.While there are sound environmental reasons forencouraging access to the allotment on foot or bicycle,there will need to be vehicle access and parking for thebenefit of plotholders with restricted mobility, and toenable deliveries of manure and other essentials.
Whether plots should be laid out in the traditional gridpattern or in some other configuration is a matter of debate.Some have advocated that a softer, curved layout is more inkeeping with allotments as a form of gardening for leisure.Given the current emphasis on flexible plot sizes, however,the grid does have the advantage that the subdivision ofparcels within the basic 250 square metre frame is simple toaccomplish. The paths between plots should be of a widthadequate for access by wheelchair. The plots themselvesshould be clearly demarcated and numbered.A mains water supply is important, particularly wheresmall plots make the construction of large shedsundesirable and thus rainfall collection, which is otherwiseenvironmentally desirable, difficult in practice. Watertanks should be installed in compliance with the standardsspecified by the local water company, and in sufficientnumber to enable access by gardeners with physicalimpairments, and covered to prevent accidents. The needto provide toilets will depend on whether alternativefacilities are already accessible in the vicinity; wherethere are none, then the most environmentally friendlyalternative is the composting toilet.Where sheds, greenhouses and polytunnels are notsupplied but are permitted, there should be clear designand/or supplier guidelines to ensure the overall quality ofthe construction on site and to enhance the external view.There should also be a policy on composting and wastedisposal, though the details (and associated infrastructure)will depend in part on site conditions (eg is therean otherwise unusable space that could be used forcommunal composting?).Ways of cultivating the plots themselves that achievemaximum environmental gain alongside the productionof a rich crop of fruit and vegetables should be givenpositive support. For example, a section of the site may bereserved for use by organic growers. For other ways thatplotholders on new (and existing) sites can be encouragedto reduce their environmental impact by adopting greengardening practices, visit http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Environmentandgreenerliving/Greenerhomeandgarden/Greenergarden/index.htm.a place to grow:a supplementarydocument togrowing in thecommunity13
4. meanwhile gardeningtemporary allotment sitesMany local authorities have experience of ‘temporaryallotments’. These are located on land that was notacquired for the purpose of providing allotments (whichwould thereby acquire statutory protection), but which isdestined for an alternative use, such as a cemetery. Thereare no additional legal impediments to local authoritiessetting up temporary allotments on suitable sites undertheir control in order to help meet current levels ofdemand. Authorities will also be aware, however, thatattempts to close temporary allotments of long standingcan be contentious. There have been repeated calls forauthorities either to declare an end use for temporarysites or make them statutory, to end the uncertainty aboutthe future that tenants on these sites often complainof. The lesson for local authorities considering providingtemporary sites, be it on their own ground or on land onshort-term lease, is to make both the end use and thelikely life expectancy of the site clear from the outset.support for alternative gardeningprojectsIn areas where the demand for allotments far outstripssupply, and particularly in Inner London, where there is noduty placed upon local authorities to provide allotments,waiting lists are very long. Here the only realistic hope foraspiring growers in the short term lies with alternativegardening projects. These are currently attracting a greatdeal of popular attention. The Womens’ EnvironmentalNetwork (http://www.wen.org.uk) has for yearssupported food growing within areas of social housingin London’s East End. The Federation of City Farms andCommunity Gardens (http://www.farmgarden.org.uk)provides similar support to urban farms and gardensthroughout Great Britain. The Capital Growth project(http://www.capitalgrowth.org) aims to create 2012new growing spaces in time for the London Olympics,and the Landshare project (http://landshare.channel4.com/), a national initiative to match aspiring growers withlandowners, has already attracted many thousands ofinquiries. Similar local meanwhile gardening projects havesprung up in many cities (such as Bristol) and more ruralareas (such as the Isle of Wight).This is a fast-evolving sector, and as yet there is only alimited evidence base from which to judge good practiceor to determine the proper role of local authorities ingeneral, and allotment officers in particular, in providingsupport and encouragement. Certainly the emergenceof these projects cannot be treated as a means to evadethe duty to provide allotments. But there are goodarguments for supporting these projects as a complementto allotment gardening, and particularly in respect ofthe effective management of waiting lists. For some, thepractical engagement with gardening offered by theseprojects will be sufficient to satisfy their needs. They mayeven prove more appealing than allotment gardening,particularly when the opportunity exists for group activityand in very close proximity to home. For others, practicalexposure to the time demands of gardening may lead to amore realistic appraisal of their own capacity to manage afull allotment plot, rendering waiting lists a more reliablemeasure of underlying demand.Their existence outside of statutory provision puts theseprojects in a much better position to raise grant funding.This increases the aggregate capital resources available tosupport community-based gardening activity well beyondwhat the authority itself can provide, without laying claimson the allotments budget.Local authorities can support alternative gardeningprojects by offering temporary access to local authorityowned land that is not suited for the creation ofallotments. This may be due to the restricted scale ofthe site, or difficulties that would arise from attempts toexclude broader public access. Authorities can encourageother statutory bodies to follow suit. Beyond the publicsector, the recession in the construction industry opensup the possibility of exploiting privately held stocks ofundeveloped land for temporary gardening use. This couldbe in bare earth where the land is uncontaminated or incontainers such as raised beds and builders bags when soilis inaccessible or suspect. Projects such as the Federationof City Farms and Community Gardens’ proposedCommunity Land Bank (http://www.farmgarden.org.uk/news/474-community-land-bank-solution ) are designedto facilitate the temporary release of land for communityfood growing purposes.a place to grow:a supplementarydocument togrowing in thecommunity14
footnotes1 The most accurate estimate available is that 76,300names were on waiting lists in England as of the firstquarter of 2009, but this estimate excludes waitinglists for sites run by town and parish councils or underdevolved management agreements (http://www.transitiontownwestkirby.org.uk/files/ttwk_nsalg_survey_09.pdf).2 The discussion of allotment law included in thisupdate pertains to England and Wales only: separatelegislation covers Scotland and Northern Ireland.3 There are issues relating to confidentiality, dataprotection and human rights legislation that wouldneed to be satisfied before the names of individualson the waiting list could be posted on line, andconsent would also have to be obtained from theindividuals concerned. An alternative would be to usea signifier (eg a waiting list number) known only tothe applicant and the authority instead.main guideGrowing in the community – the LGA’s good practiceguide to the management of allotments - providesinformation on the policy framework and legislation,together with a wealth of innovative and interestingpractice and useful tips for allotment officers andsocieties. The guide is available as a printed booklet(price £15 for local authorities, allotment associationsand holders and not-for-profit organisations, or £25 forothers) by contacting LGconnect: 020 7664 3131 firstname.lastname@example.orgThe guide is also available to order online as a PDF (£15)on: http://www.lga.gov.uk/lga/publications/publicationdisplay.do?id=5403533a place to grow:a supplementarydocument togrowing in thecommunity15
authorDr Richard WiltshireSchool of Social Science and Public PolicyKing’s College LondonFor further information please contactthe Local Government Association at:Local Government HouseSmith Square,London SW1P 3HZor telephone LGconnect, for all yourLGA queries on 020 7664 3131Fax: 020 7664 3030E:mail email@example.comCode L09-881ISBN 978-1-84049-718-2Produced by Liberata Design and Print Studio© LGA February 2010