IoS exclusive:

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

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 yesterday.

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.

To join the campaign mail burdens@communities.gov.uk, contactus@communities.gov.uk or write to Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London, SW1E 5DU

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 campaigners.

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 Cymru)

"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 allotments.

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.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress and 100 others on 'master list' after massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PPC Co-Ordinator – Permanent - West Sussex – £24-£30k

£24000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Are you a Marketin...

Cover Supervisors - WE NEED YOU!

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education have cover supe...

Senior Asset Manager

£70000 - £75000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Katie Robinson +44 (...

SEN British Sign Language Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: BSL teachers required to teach in a...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor