100,000 people are on a waiting list for allotments. In some London boroughs the wait is 40 years. Asked about increasing the number of garden allotments at a recent Question Time session the Mayor of London Boris Johnson has been clear in his support: "I am in favour of allotments," he says. "How many allotments do I want? I want a lot of allotments."
How is this to be achieved? A new report, Can you Dig It?, from the New Local Government Network written about in The Guardian suggests that Government owned land, including that on brownfield sites where developments plans have stalled could be made available for allotments. It points out that the state, particularly the Ministry of Defence, is a big landowner. British Waterways are doing this with some unused land around canals. Sounds a good idea.
Councils could do more to encourage community gardening. There is a reference to a scheme by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council where they gave £800 to a primary school, Broadwater Down, to help them set up allotments for children and their families. Any produce (including eggs) is turned into school lunches and any surplus sold to parents. The number of children having school lunches has quadrupled. Great.
The report also suggests tax incentives and encouragement to private landowners (the Royal Family, The Church Commissioners, the Dukes of Buccluech, Northumberland, Westminster, etc) to do the same. Also sounds fine.
But then NLGN then also proposes setting up a Quango to "enforce" conversion of land if the private owner doesn't agree. That sounds a very bad idea. It's also not a terribly new idea and generally known as Communism. The NLGN feels that such coercive land grabs would "give food production a boost." I hasn't worked out like that in Zimbabwe.
In proposing compulsion the otherwise sensible report takes a wrong turning. They have lost the plot.