Betrayal of the gardeners: have councils lost the plot over plans to sell allotments?

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The Independent Online

Three quarters of Britain's 330,000 allotment holders fear their land may be sold off for development, according to a recent survey, despite demand for plots outstripping supply.

Demand for grow-your-own plots has increased dramatically since the onset of the recession, but over the part five years, nearly 1,000 allotments have been sold off for development by local authorities in the UK – and plot holders fear the trend may increase.

"With the current economic climate, land is at a premium and unfortunately the acts of safeguarding and creating allotments are not cost effective when seen through a balance sheet," says Donna McDaid, national secretary for the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG), which carried out the survey,

The society estimates that nearly 100,000 people are on waiting lists, with an expanding interest across age groups and classes.

In order to raise awareness of the increasing threat to Britain's grow-your-own culture, allotment owners have been holding "Parties on the Plot" over the past week to mark National Allotments Week.

Vincenzo Santarsiero, 76, a retired factory worker, has used his plot on the Farm Terrace Allotments site in Watford to feed his family since he moved from Italy in 1970, and still uses it to cultivate Italian vegetables.

He and his daughter Rosangela, together with the Farm Terrace Allotments Action Group, are fighting plans to bulldoze the site to make way for 600 houses.

"The allotments have been an especially important site for immigrant communities here since the 1960s," says Rosangela, 38. "My father has put so much hard work into it over the last 40 years."

Donna Baines, 46, is battling with Newark and Sherwood District Council in Nottinghamshire over plans to build 45 houses on her allotment site, where she has had a plot for eight years.

"The first we heard of it, a notice was posted on the allotment gate. We thought it was a joke," she said. Members of the local community regularly meet at the allotments for barbecues, tea parties and meetings. "It's a real mixture of ages and everybody works together and supports each other," she said.

One 83-year-old allotment holder has been growing vegetables there since it opened in 1942.

Councils are obliged to provide new land for the plot holders, but it is often poorer quality. "It doesn't grow anything as well as our existing allotments, and it's often further away from where people live," says Georgie Willock, a spokeswoman for NSALG. "Less than half of the new sites created will be statutory, meaning that even less allotment land is now protected by law."