The fourth in a series of monthly Ecologist columns
on the joys of allotmenteering
The Ecologist, May 2006
Looking back, I didn’t know how lucky I was.
Three years ago, having decided to take the plunge,
I simply wandered through the gates of the allotments
nearest to me and asked if there were any free plots.
There were, so I took one there and then. I hadn’t
thought it was going to be so easy.
It turns out it isn’t so easy for everyone.
In fact, one of the most common cries from readers of
this column is ‘how do I get an allotment?’
‘Lucky you’, writes Theresa Bristow from
Nottingham , with just a touch of bitterness. Her attempt
to get a local plot foundered when she was told ‘there
is a waiting list of 13 already and allotments only
become available when people die.’ The remarkably
patient Ken Finn from Brighton, meanwhile, was on a
waiting list for two years before he got his plot. Jodie
Pitt has the same problems in Weston-super-mare , where
she’s been on a waiting list for a year and is
still, well, waiting.
It seems this is just the tip of an iceberg. So what’s
going on? Why are so many people finding it so hard
to get an allotment? And what can they do about it?
I considered it my duty as a responsible columnist to
First, the bad news. It is, indeed, increasingly difficult
to find allotments. Demand for them is growing fast,
and outstripping supply. Added to this is the pressure
for development, spurred by government housebuilding
targets and escalating land and property prices, which
leads predatory developers to lick their lips over what
they see as ‘wasted’ urban land. Applications
to develop allotments are currently running at a rate
of about 50 a year. This has spurred ‘save our
allotment’ campaigns from Bicester to Eastleigh
, and Lewisham to Liverpool .
In short, there are not enough allotments to go round.
But this is where the good news starts. For it turns
out that you – yes you – have a legal right
to an allotment if you want one. And if there aren’t
enough about – well, you can do something about
To understand why, we need to travel back to 1908,
and plunge into the text of the Smallholdings and Allotments
Act. This legislation, which is still in force, obliges
local authorities to provide sufficient allotments to
meet local demand. This means, according to Geoff Stokes
of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners,
‘exactly what it says – councils have a
legal duty to provide a sufficient number of plots to
meet local demand, and you should not have to wait more
than a reasonable amount of time for one.’
If you are waiting, or if you simply can’t find
a plot, you can use the law to your advantage. All you
need is for six people who are registered on the electoral
roll to get together and put a well-argued case to the
council: explain that the demand for allotments is not
being met and that it’s their legal duty to meet
it. Legally, they will have to respond – preferably
by providing more allotments. If this fails, according
to Geoff Stokes, you would be within your rights to
take your council to a judicial review – though
you’d have to have a lot of time on your hands
and money in your pocket.
There are, of course, a few complications. Inner London
boroughs, for example, were exempted from the 1908 Act,
so if you live in one you may have a tougher time. Private
allotments – which might be owned by churches,
companies or landowners – are also exempt. In
general, though, the basic principle applies if you
live anywhere outside inner London – and judging
from my emails, very few people know about it. Hardly
surprising, since councils are reluctant to inform you
how lucky you are.
So take heart and take note: your local authority has
a legal obligation to provide you with an allotment.
If it doesn’t do so, you have a legal right to
take action to get one! Still on that long waiting list?
Find yourself five other people, and give your council
hell. The more of us that do so, the faster things will
Fighting back: useful links
National Society of Allotment and Leisure
Find out what you’re entitled to and
how to get it. www.nsalg.org.uk
The Allotment Handbook by Sophie
Published by Eco-Logic books. www.eco-logicbooks.com
How to save allotments from developers: a guide
to the law, with tips and contact
The Allotments UK website has a section dedicated
to ongoing campaigns, in which plotholders update each
other and appeal for help
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
Mr Prescott explains exactly what you are entitled
to. Well worth a browse. Know your rights! http://www.odpm.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1127689
Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society
Law and practice is slightly different in Scotland
. This excellent site will help you through the maze.