The end of the good life: Government paves way for sale of country's 300,000 allotments

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at
Sun May 1 07:26:29 BST 2011

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Exclusive: The end of the good life

Government paves way for sale of country's 300,000 allotments as plot-holders 
revolt over plan to scrap historic right to council land

Jane Merrick and Mark Jewsbury, Independent on Sunday, 1st May 2011

The century-old right of people to demand an allotment from their council may 
be abolished by the Government under plans to scale back red tape, it emerged 

Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, is examining plans to free local 
authorities from a 103-year-old obligation to provide plots of public land for 
cultivation by gardeners. The proposals could see local authorities, many of 
them strapped for cash under government-imposed cuts, selling off allotment 
land for social housing or even for profit to major companies.

The move has triggered a wave of protest from allotment society members and 
gardeners, who have lobbied Mr Pickles to rethink the plans. 

The Independent on Sunday, backed by the nation's leading gardeners and chefs, 
today launches a campaign, Dig for Victory, to force ministers to safeguard 
the public right to allotments. For more than a century, the allotment has 
been stitched into the fabric of British life, celebrated in the Second World 
War Dig for Victory campaign, the self-sufficiency movement represented by the 
1970s comedy The Good Life, and the current enthusiasm for growing your own.

Because of the zeal to cut local government bureaucracy, section 23 of the 
1908 Smallholdings and Allotments Act, which orders that councils must provide 
sufficient number of plots to local residents where there is demand, is on a 
target list of "burdensome" regulations. The move comes just weeks after 
Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, proposed a sell-off of the 
nation's forests, which led to a humiliating U-turn after an outcry from green 

Demand for allotments across the country is so huge since the grow-your-own 
movement mushroomed in the past decade that many councils have been forced to 
close waiting lists. Some gardeners are waiting up to 10 years for a plot – 
highlighting the national enthusiasm for growing fruit and vegetables.

The proposals are all the more surprising given claims by ministers that the 
Government is one of the greenest ever. David Cameron has spoken of his love 
of growing veg at his Oxfordshire home. He has also urged us to embrace his 
vision for the Big Society – a sense of community already familiar to 
allotment plot-holders.

The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners and the grow-your-own 
community organisation Landshare, set up by the River Cottage chef Hugh 
Fearnley-Whittingstall, are spearheading opposition to the plans. Fearnley-
Whittingstall said yesterday: "You can't overestimate the importance of 
allotments to urban communities. They're absolutely vital for social 
development, health and well-being. It's about more than just putting two veg 
on the family table; they're about community spirit. At a time when the 
country has plenty of other things to complain about, the Government goes 
after allotments at its peril."

Pippa Greenwood, a gardening expert and panellist on Radio 4's Gardeners' 
Question Time, said: "A climate of cutting back in the number of allotments 
doesn't bear thinking about. In many allotment sites there are people of all 
sizes and shapes, nationalities, ages, all in one area learning to get on 
together and enjoy one another's company. It is quite unbelievable that 
anybody can be so far removed from reality even to contemplate something that 
might reduce their number."

Ian White, 50, a computer programmer who has grown vegetables at One Tree Hill 
allotments in Honor Oak, south London for 12 years, said his plot was now part 
of everyday life for his family, including daughters Roberta, four, and Nico, 
two: "Just yesterday our family had a major seed planting day. It is very 
useful at other times of the year when there is not much outdoor activity, 
like on a winter's day, to get them to wrap up well and go to the allotment 
for half an hour. It gets them out in the fresh air."

The 1908 legislation applies to England and Wales. In Scotland there is no 
such obligation, although the demand for land is not as great. The law does 
not apply in London because competition for space is so high.

Inviting responses from the public, the Department for Communities and Local 
Government says: "To date we have identified 1,294 statutory duties that 
central government currently places on local authorities, the majority of 
which arise from primary legislation – and we are aware that at this stage it 
is not a complete list.

"We are inviting you to comment on the duties and to challenge government on 
those which you feel are burdensome or no longer needed."

The TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh said: "In an age of technology when more and 
more we're disconnected from the earth, it's so important to have a space to 
grow your own food, to know its history, know it's healthy; in that sense 
growing your own is the sharp end of environmentalism. It would be very sad if 
the Government did anything to take away people's ability to do that. I hope 
it doesn't happen."

Additional reporting by Charlie Cooper and Indigo Axford

Government response

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "The 
Government is reviewing old and unnecessary duties imposed on councils in 
order to free them up from Whitehall red tape and as part of this we have 
published the list of duties, including on allotments. However, we will not 
remove statutory protections for allotments or vital frontline services."

Growing backlash

"It is quiet unbelievable that anybody can be so far removed from reality to 
even contemplate something that might reduce their number."
Pippa Greenwood, Radio 4 gardening expert

"I've been on the allotment waiting list in Wandsworth for three or four 
years. So any legislation making it harder to find that space is definitely a 
bad idea."
Tom Aikens, Chef and restaurateur

"It would be very sad if the Government did anything to take away people's 
ability to grown your own food."
Alan Titchmarsh, Television gardener

"Getting rid of allotments makes no sense in this economic climate. It doesn't 
seem very well thought through. To me, it's as bad as losing a library."
Antony Worrall Thompson, Chef and restaurateur

"At a time when the country has other things to complain about, the Government 
goes after allotments at its peril."
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage chef

"They are not an expensive cost to councils, as all councils normally have to 
provide is the land. It is very cost effective for councils."
Dave Morris, National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners

"I'm hoping we can use our legislative process to counteract any possible 
changes. If I am re-elected on Thursday, I will be looking into putting 
something in place to protect allotment-holders in my area."
Leanne Wood, Member of the Welsh Assembly for South Wales Central (Plaid 

"They are the last common right to land we possess. For that to be snatched 
away would be the final rupturing of any sense of obligation to compensate 
those whose land has been removed."
George Monbiot, environmental campaigner

Case studies...

Derek Bolton, 68, retired environmentalist with a plot on Richmond Street 
Allotments, Stoke-on-Trent, for 25 years

My wife and I have three allotments between us. We have been doing it for 25 
years. Ten years ago, we couldn't give away the plots, but now most allotments 
have waiting lists, some up to 14 months. If we lost our plot we would be 
devastated. It's my and my wife's life. All the investment, not just the money 
but the time – that is important to us.

It is about the community around the allotment site. From families to retired 
people, we all work together. The average age of plot-holders as dropped more 
than 20 years and is now 45. Thirty-seven per cent of our plots are managed by 
females; that is the biggest change and it brings back life into the 

We are currently planning an open day on our site because we can trace the 
history of gardening on our site back 150 years. People can come and meet us. 
There are going to be some tasting sessions with jams and chutneys. We have 
also produced two allotment recipe books using produce from our site.

Tom Graves, 24, a student teacher with plot at Greenhouse Allotments in Leeds, 
an eco-village complex

I cannot see the sense in getting rid of allotments. On a local level it gives 
people an opportunity to meet and get to know one another. At the same time we 
are doing something that is good for the environment. People do not have to 
worry about going to the supermarket because they can grow their own food. 
Everyone who uses the allotments at Greenhouse Leeds is in their twenties. It 
isn't just a dying hobby; it is something that younger people will be 
interested in too. I can't think of any reason why their existence in this 
country should come under threat.

Alan Day, 68, retired accountant. Has worked a plot since 1974 with the 
Chesterton Allotment Society, Histon Road, Cambridge

When I first went to the allotments we had somewhere in the region of 40 acres, 
which was over 500 plots. But from the late 1970s there was a threat of 
housing being built in some of the allotments; many people just moved off the 
allotments. We had long negotiations with the council over usage of the land, 
and by the early 1990s we lost 23 acres. Now we are left with 14 acres, about 
200 plots. These plots are occupied and we now have a waiting list. If the 
council tried to take our land away again we would be horrified. We would not 
sit back and accept it. We would put up a fight. 

- -- 


"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 Burrough, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

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