Should landowners be forced to give up space for allotments?

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at
Mon Sep 21 10:07:06 BST 2009

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The NLGN report on allotments can be downloaded from:


The Big Question: Should landowners be forced to give up space for allotments?

Jerome Taylor, The Independent, Tuesday 15th September 2009

Why are we asking this now?

Because that's one of the more controversial suggestions from a think tank 
which is looking into how Britain can alleviate its rather desperate allotment 
shortage. According to the New Local Government Network, persuading councils 
to turn over vacant brownfield sites – and landowners to give up under-used 
parts of their private estates – would quickly free up huge tracts of land 
that could easily be turned over to growing food.

The think tank's director, Chris Shipley, who is also a former MP, has even 
suggested that the Royal Family should hand over some of their land. "I am 
sure that as a vocal advocate for farming and the countryside, that Prince 
Charles and the Duchy of Cornwall will be supportive of the idea," he said.

How bad are the shortages?

[the graphic is at
for-allotments-1787352.html?action=Popup ]

Pretty bad. The number of allotments available to the public has remained 
relatively constant over the past decade but what seems to have taken everyone 
by surprise is the amazing demand for patches of land to grow your own.

Jeff Stokes, the national secretary of the National Association of Allotments 
and Leisure Gardens, says: "Demand for allotments has mushroomed in the past 
five years. People are now so much more concerned about how much food is 
imported vast distances to our supermarkets when they could be grown at home. 
But the supply hasn't increased with the demand."

How many people are waiting for an allotment?

About 86,000 people are confirmed as being on a waiting list but not all local 
authorities have provided full details of their shortages. Campaigners believe 
the nationwide shortage is anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 individual 
allotments. In some areas where demand is particularly high – primarily inner-
city London and the North-east – it can be decades before an allotment becomes 
available to someone on a waiting list. To give you an indication of how much 
more back in vogue allotments now are, in 1996 the waiting list was just 

Why are there so few allotments available?

Because on our crowded little island, land has become an increasingly finite 
resource. In the 1940s, when millions of Britons were encouraged to "Dig for 
Victory" during the Second World War, there were an estimated 1.4 million 
individual allotments across the nation. But as supermarkets began taking over 
our high streets throughout the 1980s and 1990s (flying in a scintillating 
array of vegetables and fruit from around the world, whatever the season) the 
demand to grow your own food locally quickly plummeted. Keen to free up land 
to alleviate housing shortages or generate spare income, local councils began 
selling off their disused allotments. Now there are just 200,000 plots 
available, well below the overall demand.

How can we create new allotments in cities?

By being a little innovative. While Britain may be a heavily populated island 
with a growing population, allotment campaigners say even in heavily-built 
areas space can still be found. London, for instance, has initiated a new 
campaign to create 2,012 new growing spaces for the 2012 Olympics by 
converting roof space, disused waterways and railway yards. Local borough 
councils have also been asked to persuade hospitals and schools to turn their 
bits of unused land over to gardening.

What else does the report suggest?

The New Local Government Network believes the easiest and quickest way to 
create new allotments would be to target brownfield sites and wasted private 
land. Britain has an estimated 12,710 hectares of vacant brownfield land, at 
least 85 per cent of which is located within 500 metres of an urban area. Even 
turning some of these sites into temporary allotments could help alleviate 
demand very quickly.

Private land could also be used to create a more sustainable food economy. 
Currently 70 per cent of land in Britain is still owned by 1 per cent of the 
population. Other than the Royal Family, which owns 677,000 acres, Britain's 
largest landowners include the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury (207,000 
acres), the Duke of Northumberland (130,200 acres) and the Duke of Westminster 
(129,300 acres).

How can we persuade landowners to lend their land for allotments?

Firstly by appealing to their altruistic side or by offering tax incentives. 
The Landshare website, where people with spare plots of land can advertise to 
others looking to grow their own vegetables, has already shown how many people 
are more than willing to let others borrow their property in order to grow 
food. The website was only launched in the spring and already more than 1,000 
people have offered land for free.

But in areas where demand for allotments is acute, the report's authors 
believe the Government should create a Large Private Estate Commission which 
would "be empowered through statutory legislation to temporarily transfer" 
land to the people if a landowner refuses to countenance the redevelopment of 
vacant land.

Isn't that quite controversial?

Oh yes. Confiscating land, even if it is unused and will only be leant to 
someone temporarily, is a hugely controversial issue. For many it would 
represent an unacceptable level of interference by the state – akin to the 
kind of mass land-redistribution schemes favoured by numerous communist 
governments in the last century. But others believe borrowing land that would 
otherwise be left vacant is morally acceptable.

In the past year Britain's squatting movement has increasingly begun to argue 
that in these difficult economic times where many are priced out of the property 
market, an occupied home is still better than an empty one. Gardeners are also 
getting in on the act. Inspired by a similar movement in America, so-called 
"guerrilla gardeners" have begun growing produce on various bit of land, both 
private and public, regardless of whether they have permission or not.

Do we really need allotments?

Some might argue that an allotment is a luxury acquisition. But for those who 
are concerned about our future food sources, allotments make both economic and 
environmental sense. Last year the UN announced that food production would 
have to increase by 50 per cent by 2030 in order to cope with rising demand, 
and it cannot all be air-freighted into the country.

Whatever happens to the global food supply, it is clear that we will have to 
start growing more food at home, and it makes economic sense. According to 
Terry Walton, who runs Radio 2's "house allotment" in the Rhondda Valley, 
growing a kilogram of carrots on an allotment costs just 4p compared to 78p in 
a supermarket. Potatoes, meanwhile, cost just 40p/kg from an allotment and 
£1.08 on the high street.

You also save a huge amount of money in plastic packaging. Each year an 
estimated 6.3 million tonnes of packaging comes into British homes, at a cost 
of £450 to the average family – the equivalent of a sixth of the average 
family's annual food budget.

Is it time unused land was seized in order for us to be more self-sufficient?


*There's an enormous shortage of allotments and lots of under-used land held 

*The land could be used temporarily and returned to the landowner if they want 
to develop it

*No one is saying landowners should be forced to hand over property, just a 
little more altruistic


*Seizing land, even temporarily, from landowners can never be acceptable in a 
free-market economy

*It should be the Government's responsibility to find land for allotments

*Demand for allotments comes and goes. Growing your own may go out of fashion 
once more 

- -- 

"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burroughs, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

Paul's book, "Energy Beyond Oil", is out now!
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Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations
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email - mobbsey at
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