5. Provision of allotments (Q3)
5.1 This chapter covers proposed guidance on the duty of local authorities to provide allotments in relation to their waiting lists as outlined in Section 112 of Part 9 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 (the Act). The legislation and proposed guidance statement aims to ensure that waiting lists do not exceed half the supply of allotments owned or leased by the local authority, and that those applying for an allotment do not have to wait more than five years; and that local authorities consider making allotments available 'reasonably close' to where people on the waiting list live. In particular, the proposed guidance statement included in the consultation suggested how 'reasonably close' might be defined.
5.2 The consultation document included the following question:
112. Duty to provide allotments.
This section places a duty on local authorities to take reasonable steps to ensure (1) that the number of people on their waiting list does not exceed half the total number of allotments owned and leased by the authority; and (2) that a person on the list does not wait more than five years for an allotment. In respect of (2), as agreed during the passage of the Bill, that part of the duty will take effect later than the rest of Part 9. For local authorities which do not, when section 112 comes into force, own or lease any allotments, this duty applies when there are 15 people on the waiting list maintained under section 111. For local authorities which already own or lease allotments when the section comes into force, the duty applies when only one person is on the waiting list.
Subsection (4) provides that local authorities must have regard to the desirability of making available allotments that are reasonably close to where people on the relevant authority's waiting list reside. There is no definition of "reasonably close" but as a guide, allotments within a 5 mile radius, or within a 30 minute journey on public transport from where people on the waiting list reside is considered reasonably close.
Question 3. To what extent do you agree with this statement? [strongly agree / agree / neither agree nor disagree / disagree / strongly disagree]
5.3 All but two respondents completed the tick-box part of Question 3. Table 5.1 shows that three-quarters of respondents (78%) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement in the consultation paper, 14% disagreed or disagreed strongly, and the remaining 8% neither agreed nor disagreed. Individuals were more likely than organisations to agree or strongly agree with the statement (81% and 60% respectively), while organisations were more likely than individuals to disagree or disagree strongly (24% compared with 13%).
Table 5.1: Question 3 – Section 112. Duty to provide allotments
|LAs / other public bodies||Third sector organisations||All organisations||Individuals||All respondents|
|Neither agree nor disagree||1||14%||3||17%||4||16%||13||7%||17||8%|
Note: Figures may not total 100% due to rounding.
5.4 A total of 114 respondents – 16 organisations and 98 individuals – provided comments at Question 3. Some of the comments were not directly relevant to guidance for local authorities per se and focused instead on features of the Act itself. As far as possible, this chapter summarises the comments as they apply to local authority guidance on the Act, with views presented under the following main headings: duty to provide allotments; number on waiting list and waiting time; proximity of allotments to where applicants live; and other comments on the guidance.
Duty to provide allotments
5.5 The guidance statement offered on the duty to provide allotments focuses on the management of waiting lists and provision of allotments close to where people live. However, respondents to Question 3 often discussed the current shortage of allotments and suggested that increasing the provision of allotments should be a priority for local authorities, and many felt this issue should have been directly addressed in the consultation. Respondents called for local authorities to take active steps to identify and secure more land for more allotments to meet current and potentially increased future demand. This issue is discussed further in the sections below, and also recurred across the consultation questions.
Number on waiting list and waiting time (subsections 1 to 3)
5.6 Respondents' comments in relation to the guidance on subsections 1 to 3 focused on defining 'reasonable steps'; time on the waiting list; increasing provision of allotments; managing waiting lists in high demand areas; alternative steps in meeting demand; and other concerns about the guidance on meeting waiting list demand.
Defining 'reasonable steps'
5.7 Many respondents, including organisations, sought further clarification on what was meant by 'reasonable steps' to ensure that the waiting list was no longer than half the number of local authority allotment plots, and that no one on the list waited longer than five years. Respondents frequently called for the guidance to outline what was meant by 'reasonable steps' and suggested the following examples:
- Identifying additional land suitable for growing
- Having good data on which to base analysis of long-term demand for efficient planning purposes
- Preserving good quality land to satisfy demand
- Incorporating growing spaces into regeneration planning briefs and new developments.
Time on the waiting list
5.8 The five-year waiting time limit referred to in the guidance and set out in the underlying legislation attracted some comment, with respondents generally thinking that this was too long as (i) it could result in reduced motivation or interest as applicants lose hope of getting an offer of an allotment, and (ii) changes in applicants' circumstances over that period might mean that the original request was no longer suitable. Some suggested alternative waiting time limits of between one and three years.
5.9 Concern about the five-year waiting time included in the legislation and reflected in the guidance statement was frequently cited by those who indicated disagreement at the tick-box part of Question 3.
Increasing provision of allotments
5.10 It was common for respondents to discuss steps that local authorities might take to meet demand evidenced by waiting lists. Respondents generally agreed that local authorities would have to identify suitable land for new allotments and growing spaces in order to manage their waiting lists effectively. They suggested a number of ways in which this could be done, including by:
- Making agreements with developers via the planning system to include provision of land, facilities and support for allotments and other open areas as part of all new developments, including providing accessible plots for those who need them
- Ensuring high density housing developments incorporated plenty of space for allotments and parks
- Using gap sites for small allotments in built-up areas
- Using brown field inner city sites to provide alternative growing spaces or allotments, including raised beds or planters on tarmac surfaces with accessible and easily maintained paths
- Using compulsory purchase orders to buy back land bought for development but lying vacant for use as allotments
- Working in partnership with other publicly funded institutions to provide allotment land in, for example, hospital or school grounds.
Managing waiting lists in high demand areas
5.11 A number of respondents thought that the requirements set out in section 112 of the Act for a five-year limit on waiting time and the waiting list not exceeding half the number of local authority allotments were unrealistic. Respondents made the point that, in some areas, the demand for allotments already outstripped the supply of suitable land, and heavy demand for particular local sites inevitably increased waiting times beyond the limits set out in the statement. Respondents described how in many areas, waiting lists and times already far exceeded these limits and it was hard to see how local authorities could address the problem in view of the pressure on suitable land.
5.12 Respondents, including two local authorities, offered examples of problems in identifying land for allotments, particularly in urban areas:
- Sites with sufficient land to support several standard allotment plots would probably be earmarked for housing, retail or industrial development.
- Land had been identified for allotments but planning permission was not granted because of public objections.
- Local authorities required additional funding to enable them to provide new allotments to meet demand.
5.13 In a few cases respondents noted the competing demands on urban land, with two contrasting views offered: (i) growing spaces should not take precedence over social housing in view of homelessness; and (ii) as good quality land for cultivation suitable for allotments was difficult to find, it should not be used for housing or other developments.
Alternative steps in meeting demand
5.14 While it was common for respondents to emphasise the need for increased allotment provision, some also discussed other options for helping meet demand evidenced by long waiting lists. These largely related to three main issues as follows:
- Taking action on vacant, neglected or underused allotments: Several respondents highlighted the need to deal with vacant, neglected or badly maintained or under-cultivated plots efficiently and effectively so that they could be offered promptly to people on the waiting list. Respondents often focused on neglected or underused plots, noting that this situation could arise for a variety of reasons: for example, as a result of allotment holders no longer being able to look after their plots because of a change in circumstances, but nevertheless being unwilling to give up the plot because of the difficulty in securing another plot should their situation change again; or new allotment holders not appreciating what was involved in tending an allotment. A small number of respondents thought that a robust approach should be taken toward people who neglect their allotments to get them to address the problem or terminate their leases so their plots could be reallocated to those on the waiting list.
- Offering alternative Grow-Your-Own opportunities: Some respondents suggested that local authorities could provide information on alternative growing activities to those on the waiting list as a helpful introduction to gardening which might give applicants a more realistic sense of what managing an allotment entailed. They thought that other related activities could be useful in helping applicants to maintain motivation and enthusiasm for an allotment while on the waiting list. Other respondents, however, thought that signposting other activities in this way should not be regarded as a 'reasonable step' in managing the demand for allotments. They also thought it was important that applicants remained on the waiting list if they took up these other activities and retained their entitlement to a full standard allotment, unless they requested a smaller plot.
- Prioritisation within allocation systems: Respondents suggested that allotment allocation systems might be refined by, for example, giving priority to people with no access to a garden or growing space of their own, or by allocating a maximum of one allotment per household.
Other concerns about the guidance on responding to waiting list demand
5.15 Respondents noted some other concerns about how the legislation and accompanying guidance might be interpreted or altered in the future:
- Some respondents expressed concern that section 112 might lead to the possibility of a cap being applied to a waiting list if it exceeded half the number of local authority allotments. They wanted the guidance to make clear that subsection 1 was about prioritising land for allotments rather than closing waiting lists to new applicants if allotments were not available.
- A number of respondents also wanted the guidance to ensure that local authorities did not attempt to reduce waiting lists and times by subdividing existing allotments to create a greater number of smaller plots.
- One respondent was concerned that the legislation itself allowed Ministers to vary the number of people on waiting lists in respect of the provision of allotments which could reduce the effectiveness of the Act in promoting allotments.
Proximity of allotments (subsection 4)
5.16 Subsection 4 of section 112 of Part 9 of the Act indicates that local authorities should have regard to the desirability of making available allotments that are reasonably close to where people on local authority waiting lists live. The legislation does not define what is meant by 'reasonably close' but the proposed guidance statement included in the consultation paper suggests that allotments within a 5-mile radius or within a 30-minute journey on public transport from where people live could be considered reasonably close.
Definition of 'reasonably close'
5.17 Although most respondents indicated agreement with the statement presented in the consultation paper, a considerable proportion thought that a 5-mile radius or 30-minute journey by public transport was not reasonably close. They suggested that if allotment holders had to travel too far they would be unable to make effective use of or enjoy the benefits of their allotments, and that this could result in neglect or under-cultivation of the plot. Respondents suggested that a distance of between 1 and 3 miles and a travel time of no more than 20 minutes by public transport or walking was reasonable, and that allotments should be closer for elderly or less able people. Concerns about the definition of 'reasonably close' ( i.e. 5 miles or 30 minutes travel time) were common amongst those who disagreed with the guidance statement at the tick-box part of Question 3.
5.18 Some respondents indicated a preference for using travel time rather than distance in defining 'reasonably close'. Others pointed out that distance or time to an allotment have different implications in rural and urban areas and in dispersed as opposed to built-up areas. The availability of public transport was also an important consideration in defining proximity. It was also suggested by some that local authorities should define reasonably close in the context of local geography.
Providing allotments close to where people live
5.19 Respondents agreed that, ideally, applicants should be offered leases for allotments on the sites closest to their homes. They identified the following reasons why this was important:
- To ensure full and effective use of allotments
- To encourage allotment holders to travel by foot, bike or public transport for environmental and health reasons
- To promote the role of allotments in community regeneration and sustainable communities.
5.20 However, some also acknowledged that it was not always possible to provide allotments close to where people live and that this could lead to longer waiting times. Respondents pointed out that this resulted in difficulties in transporting equipment, materials and produce to and from an allotment site on foot, by bike or by public transport if the distance or time taken was too great. One local authority thought that the 5-mile definition was unhelpful if the aim was to provide allotments of a reasonable size at community level.
5.21 Some respondents offered suggestions that might improve the supply of allotments closer to where people lived and reduce waiting lists:
- Allowing allotment holders and people on the waiting list to exchange allotments so preferences were met
- Providing smaller allotment spaces on gap sites or a network of small sites no more the ten minutes apart to encourage effective use of allotments
- Offering people on the waiting list an option to accept an allotment close to their workplace or other place where they went regularly as an alternative to an allotment close to their home.
Other comments on the guidance
5.22 Other comments on the guidance statement included the following:
- One local authority sought guidance on whether allocation of allotments should be based on distance from home to the plot (the authority's current criterion for allocation) or on length of time on the waiting list.
- Some respondents thought the guidance on waiting lists in areas where there are currently no allotments should be clearer. Respondents queried (i) how local authorities without allotments should go about compiling and managing a list and preparing and managing a site, and (ii) who should meet the cost of providing infrastructure on new sites. It was suggested that local authorities might delegate their responsibilities in this area to allotment associations as they had the experience in undertaking such duties (see also Chapters 4 and 9). Another respondent thought the guidance should cover advertising the fact that applicants could request an allotment in an area where none currently exist.