Posted by: Mike Grenville | 21 July 2009

Waiting For An Allotment

As interest in digging for resilience grows, waiting lists for an allotment has been increasing all over the country. A survey by Transition West Kirby has found that for every 100 council-managed allotment plots in England there are now 49 people on waiting lists.

Using the WhatDoTheyKnow.com website, Margaret Campbell and Ian Campbell from Transition West Kirby in conjunction with the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Ltd made Freedom of Information requests to every local authority in the UK about their allotment waiting lists, and then produced the first national report on the subject for 13 years.

They found that for every 100 council-managed plots in England there are now 49 people on waiting lists, representing a significant rise in waiting list numbers to the last major study, conducted in 1996, when there were only an average of four people waiting for every 100 plots.

Photo by Stephen Dodd / bigcheese

Photo by Stephen Dodd / bigcheese


Of the 351 authorities surveyed between December 2008 and March 2009, 346 (99%) responded, and 236 of these held waiting list data, for a total of 3,839 allotment sites. These allotment sites contained 156,490 plots and the waiting lists contained 76,330 people. The survey did not include county councils as they do not manage allotments, and it did not include allotment sites managed by the 8,700 parish and town councils, by other public bodies, or by private allotment associations.

Under the provisions of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908, local Authorities have a statutory duty to provide allotments. However UK allotments are provided in many different ways – through (a) the principal local authorities, (b) other tiers of authorities such as the 8,700 parish and town councils, (c) councils leasing land to independent allotment societies, (d) independent trusts, (e) public bodies other than councils, and (f) private landowners. This wide variation causes major difficulties for a survey of the total number of available allotments and the waiting lists for them.

Getting an accurate picture of the size of waiting lists is not easy as some of the councils indicated that people may add their names to more than one of their lists if there are a number of allotment sites that would be acceptable to them. In spite of that they seem to have no system in place to assess this duplication. In addition 33 councils that reported that one or more waiting lists were closed to further applicants.

The increase in demand for allotments reflects the rising interest in locally grown food, and healthy eating. Investment by Local Authorities and Central Government would support these aspirations and be consistent with supporting an economy in recession, offering productive physical activity, supporting community resilience and reducing carbon dioxide emissions through reduced food miles.

“In response to questions and debates in Parliament, Ministers repeat that councils have a duty to assess need in their area and provide sufficient allotments where neccessary” said Margaret Campbell. “They point out that the Government issues clear guidelines to this effect and that further Government input is therefore unnecessary. This study offers evidence to question the effectiveness of current guidelines and, we hope, an opportunity to put allotments back on the agenda in Parliament. I wonder if anyone would like to send a copy of the report to their own MP.”

A further survey is planned for December 2009/January 2010.

The report can be downloaded here: http://www.transitiontownwestkirby.org.uk/files/ttwk_nsalg_survey_09.pdf

A spreadsheet containing the responses is available here http://www.transitiontownwestkirby.org.uk/files/allotment_waiting_lists_09.xls

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Responses

  1. in Poole in Dorset the allotment waiting list is 10 years long!!!!!

  2. A detailed survey for Cambridge is at http://www.allotments.net. It includes data for all sites in the city, not only those managed by the council (which are only 10% of Cambridge’s allotment land). The data has the same problems that West Kirby’s report mentions, but repeated surveys using the same method demonstrate the trend (demand increasing, supply unchanged!)
    NB survey questions need to specify plot size and count tenants wanting larger plots in the waiting list. Suggest report in terms of 10-pole/250 sq. metre plots. Otherwise the trend towards smaller plots, especially Cambridge’s new policy of 1-pole and 2-pole “starter plots”, could distort data.


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