David Boyle - Why selling off allotments is not localism

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Tue May 10 00:09:52 BST 2011

economics: Ecuadorian style

9 May 2011

Why selling off allotments is not localism

Boyle - nef fellow

Eric Pickles wants to abandon the rules that 
force councils to provide allotments. Is this the 
end of the Good Life, or just the end of Pickles' career?

The proposal by Communities Secretary Eric 
Pickles to abolish the rules that force councils 
to provide allotments looks like one of those 
political misjudgments that could finish a promising political career.
He seems to have misjudged the role that 
allotments are suddenly coming to play in our 
national life.  They are already staggeringly 
over-subscribed, with waiting lists stretching for decades in the future.
Nor is this a short-term fad.  Seed companies 
report that, for the first time since the Second 
World War, vegetable seeds are now outselling 
flower seeds in the UK.  It is all part of the 
rising demand for real food, which – as we new 
economists know – is also the key to local economic revival.
So the food blogs are already 
has already launched a Dig for Victory campaign 
against the Pickles proposal that councils could 
sell off these vital resources.  Other campaigns seem to be developing too.
In practice it would mean repealing section 23 of 
the 1908 Smallholdings and Allotments Act, which 
forces councils to provide enough plots to local 
residents where there is demand.  The 1908 act is 
a piece of enlightened legislation from the 
reforming Liberal government of Asquith and Lloyd 
George – so Pickles’ coalition partners are 
likely to act to preserve their own heritage.
Of course the Act is rarely obeyed.  The demand 
hugely exceeds supply.  But it does at least 
provide some kind of protection of existing allotments.
Pickles will no doubt paint this impoverishing 
idea as localism.  But the truth is that 
front-loading the spending cuts onto local 
authorities so that they have to sell allotment 
land to developers is precisely the opposite of 
localism.  It is deeply disempowering: the kind 
of move that can gouge the soul out of the Big Society.
I live in the middle of one of the biggest 
allotments in South London.  It actually 
pre-dates the crucial 1908 legislation.
What I see across the 300 or so busy plots is an 
extraordinary and productive vision of the future 
of London, amazingly multi-racial, co-operative 
and health giving, and stretching out in its 
impact well into the local economy – providing 
not just fruit and vegetables in all kinds of 
exotic varieties, but chickens, eggs, honey and 
even electricity (the wind machine there also powers the local school).
Losing that extraordinary resources would be 
impoverishing in so many different ways.  It is 
extraordinary and depressing that a government 
minister could even consider a move that could 
lead to that, but I am far from sure that local people would allow it.
Nor am I the only one who thinks along these 
lines.  Guess who said this: “We have an example 
here of how utterly daft planning has become, 
that local estate allotments could be considered 
for housing at a time when everyone, from the 
Prime Minister down, is tasked to look for more sustainability.”
Yes, it was Pickles himself, during last year’s 
general election campaign, criticising 
Conservative controlled Test Valley council for 
proposing their own allotment sell-off.

the section of the localism bill which was 
drafted before the May 2010 election which gave 
local authorities the right to create their own 
banks appears to have been dropped now it is making its way through parliament.
The Conservative/Cameron Bullingdon Club plan 
appears to be to dissolve government ... allowing 
the rich and big business to take over and 
everybody else to either do what they say or starve. [ed.]
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poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung
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