I am one of the lucky ones, I have an allotment. Not only that it only costs me £10, I have a standpipe right next to my plot and no charge for the water. I know I’m lucky but I didn’t realise quite how so lucky until a read the recent data from the University of Leicester about allotments.
There are over 86,000 people across the country waiting for an allotment but this figure might not be a true reflection of the number of people who want a plot as several councils have now closed their lists and therefore do not record the numbers of people who do not even make it onto a waiting list.
Using the Freedom of Information Act the researchers discovered there is a massive variance in allotment charges. Runnymede Borough Council charges 55p per square metre, the most expensive in England, in contrast Bolsover District Council charges only 1p per square metre. My own plot is approximately 114 square metres and costs just over 11p per square metre. The average size plot apparently is 250 square metres and costs 15p per square metre.
I don’t yet know how much my rent for the allotment will be for next year but I’m hoping it doesn’t increase by 207%, the amount by which Cannock Chase District Council increased its allotment rent between 2008 and 2011, with rent going from £36.90 to £108.92!!!! Charges this high do seem excessive and against the spirit of allotments. I would imagine these sorts of prices would exclude some people, probably those who benefit the most.
One of the biggest problems seems to be that this research by the University of Leicester is the first real study into allotments and highlights the difficulty in accessing information about waiting lists, numbers, plot sizes etc. For example, Birmingham has 115 allotment sites but data is only available for 18. When waiting lists are quite long and it takes a long time for plots to be reallocated, many people on the waiting list may have moved or changed their minds and not contacted the relevant person to take their names off the list.
It also seems that plot sizes are getting smaller as councils are dividing up plots. Smaller plots might not be such a bad thing, if it makes them more manageable for people. However, with no data recording this change, councils could use division of plots as a substitute for providing new land for new allotments.
The right for people to have their own bit of land goes back as far as the Saxons when woodland would be cleared for common land. This land, gradually over the centuries, was enclosed by the ruling classes but to compensate tenants were given small plots of land attached to their cottages and this is the first recorded use of the term ‘allotment’. It was in the late 19th century that Government passed the first ‘Allotment Act’ to make it a statutory obligation for local councils to provide allotments where there was a need. Since then the popularity of allotments has waxed and wained but with ever increasing food prices, peak oil, GM food and food related health scares it might be that growing some of our own food becomes a necessity rather than a fashionable hobby.
The benefits of allotments are enormous. There is the physical exercise which also benefits the mind, the fresh air, fresh food with fewer or no chemicals, a great sense of satisfaction and the opportunity to meet people.
I am a happier person because I have my little plot that puts me back in touch with nature and the seasons. Will there be a day when politicians recognise the importance of these plots of land? Will allotments ever make it into a political manifesto? If politicians really believe in Gross National Happiness then maybe they could set up a taskforce to provide communities with the land they want. It might not make anyone any money but we might be fitter, healthier and happier.
For more information about the history of allotments and anything else allotment related allotment.org is a great website.
Data used is taken from the University of Leicester’s research. For more information about this research go to the University of Leicester’s website.