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Call for big allotments expansion

PUBLISHED: 12:42 10 September 2009 | UPDATED: 08:32 28 March 2014

SEPTEMBER 10, 2009: The Government is being urged to dramatically expand the number of public allotments by building on brownfield sites and encouraging landowners to donate unused holdings to their local community.

With 100,000 people currently on a waiting list for an allotment, the New Local Government Network (NLGN) is calling for the Government and local councils to make better use of the estimated 3,500 hectares of unused brownfield land – the equivalent size of 25 Hyde Parks – to create new community allotments. With residents in some London Boroughs having to wait up to 40 years for a plot, NLGN argues that the need for additional land is clearly vital.

NLGN, an independent think tank seeking to transform public services, revitalise local political leadership and empower local communities, also calls upon the Government to offer tax incentives for landowners to allow allotments to be built on unused sections of their property. Currently the Royal Family owns 677,000 acres of land and although some of it is already used for farming, NLGN claims that more of its unused last could be turned into allotments for the benefit of local citizens.

The think tank also suggests that should a voluntary system not work, the Government should consider a Large Private Estates Commission which could have the power to temporarily transfer unused plots of private land to the local community for agricultural use.

The number of allotments in the UK has declined from 1.4 million in the 1940s to 200,000 in the present day. Recently however there has been an increase in their popularity as more people seek to grow their own produce, especially during the economic downturn.

The Queen recently dedicated some of the Buckingham Palace Garden into an allotment to grow produce for the palace kitchen and Sarah Brown has begun to grow vegetables in the Downing Street garden. In 2008 the influential DEFRA Select Committee called for more allotments to be built to help tackle global food shortages.

Research also suggests that just 30 minutes gardening can burn as many calories as aerobic exercise and that those who grow their own food are more likely to eat more fruit and vegetables.

The NLGN report also calls for local councils to encourage “edible landscaping”, including the creation of more roof gardens and allowing residents to sell their produce at local markets and cooperatives. The report also calls for the expansion of schemes such as the ‘Landshare’ website which allows landowners to offer land for people to grow their own food.

Director of the NLGN, Chris Leslie said: “It is well documented that allotments can help to keep people fit, encourage healthy eating, reduce carbon footprints and save money on food bills, so it’s a tragedy that over 100,000 people are waiting to be provided with a plot of land. Our reforms would see much more unused and unfunctional brownfield land developed into a much more picturesque landscape of working allotments.”

“Furthermore, with 1% of landowners owning 70% of land in the UK we would like to see the Government encourage them to share a small portion of it with people in their local communities, particularly those who do not have access to their own garden. The Royal Family should also be encouraged to share some of their vast 677,000 acres to allow more people to enjoy gardening and farming. 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”

“Allotments are an iconic part of the British psyche and conjure up images of ‘Dig for Victory’ signs during World War II. However they are still as relevant today as then and can be an excellent way of bringing together local communities and producing fantastic food. With everyone from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to Sarah Brown supporting home grown food, we urge the Government to make it easier for councils to give more people the opportunity to enjoy an allotment."

* Country Smallholding ran a Grow Our Allotments campaign in the magazine last year.

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