Labour has claimed that the Government has been attacking allotments by allowing councils to sell them off.

The attack is misguided for two reasons.

First of all, fewer sales are being approved by the Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles than under Labour. Mr Pickles approved 18 between May 2010 to March 2011, 17 in 2011/12, 15 in 2012/13, 17 in 2012/13 and one so far in the current financial year 2014/15. So that’s 68 consents in four years. Labour granted 34 allotment disposals in 2007/08, 22 in 2008/09 and and 18 in 2009/10.

The Shadow Communities Secretary Hilary Benn says “they need to be protected” but he sat around the cabinet table when they were being flogged off to property developers to a much greater extent.

Secondly, where disposals have been approved they routinely involved replacement plots being provided. Thus when Mr Benn asked about waiting times for allotments. This was the reply:

A survey of allotment waiting lists was carried out by the National Allotment Society and Transition Town West Kirby in July 2013. Whilst there is a degree of difficulty in creating precise estimates, their research indicated that there was an average of 52 people waiting for every 100 plots (as of January 2013). These waiting list figures were down on their previous surveys, which indicated an average of 57 people waiting in January 2011 and 59 people waiting in January 2010.

The 2013 survey also noted that that 65 new allotment sites had been created in the previous two years, across 51 councils, creating roughly 2,000 new allotment plots.

The coalition Government has introduced a range of measures to help communities who want land to grow fruit and vegetables. Through new community rights, local residents have increased opportunities to protect existing allotments from development and increase provision of green spaces. For example, in Thame, in Oxfordshire, their new neighbourhood plan will create an additional hectare of allotment land. Allotments have also been listed as assets of community value.

A hectare is nearly two and a half acres. The National Allotment Society survey reports:

New allotment sites were brought into use by 51 councils in the last two years. The total number of new sites was 65. For the 58 sites where information was supplied, the total area of the new sites was 30 hectares, and the total number of plots on these new sites was 1,950.

Let us contrast this with the message from the 2010 survey – which covered the last year of the Labour Government. The waiting list increased from 49 to 59 people per 100 plots. While there were only 483 new allotment plots brought into use.

Another issue for Mr Benn is that many of the applications to sell allotment sites come from Labour councils. Does he want a Conservative Secretary of State to veto the wishes of a Labour council leader?

Ealing is a borough Mr Benn is familiar with. There were a couple of consents given to the Labour-run council included in the 68 granted by Mr Pickles. In both cases the rationale was as follows:

Area not in use for allotments, but used by scouts; formalise use for scouting activities; replacement provision being provided.

Does Mr Benn feel that was a great scandal?

Or Labour-run Plymouth?

Site closed in 1998 due to heavy metal contamination and no water facilities. No current plot holders.

Or these two from Labour-run Durham?

Land provided to Durham Aged Miners Housing Association for social housing; new replacement allotments provided….

Unused since 1997; new use includes park landscape; granted on condition that land returned to allotment use if demand increases.

A couple more were from Labour-run Oxford?

 Land not used as allotments for last 30 years; no objection from National Allotment Society; site identified in Council’s adopted Core
Strategy as a site for residential development…

Derelict for 10 years, to be used for affordable housing; new replacement allotments provided.

Perhaps this one from Labour-run Southampton?

Site for expansion of Southampton University campus; new replacement allotments to be provided.

Here’s one from Labour-run Sandwell:

Site currently unused; Site to be transferred to a community agriculture site.

Or Labour-run Nottingham?

Site allocated in 2005 Local Plan for employment purposes; council considered surplus as 300 unused allotment spaces.

Or Labour-run Luton?

Land not used as allotments; no plot holders to be displaced; supported by National Allotment Society.

Then there’s Liverpool (“Land for special needs school; not in use as allotments since 1998; new replacement allotments provided.”). Bradford (“Partial disposal for use as woodland for benefit of residents, walkers and wildlife; new replacement allotments provided by expanding adjacent allotment.”). Birmingham (“Derelict allotment land; no plot holders affected; new replacement allotments provided.”) Haringey (“Easement granted to allow for maintenance of nearby pylons, but no actual loss of allotment land.”

All these Labour councils are evidently under attack from the Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary. The implication of Mr Benn is that localism should be abandoned and all their proposals should have been vetoed as a matter of principle – without any consideration given to the details.

Well if Mr Benn won’t defend them I will. They seem sensible decisions taking advantage of the guidance from Mr Pickles that allows some flexibility and incentives to ensure a net increase in allotments.

Much more is needed but after the neglect and encroachments of the Labour years allotments are seeing a revival. All part of the pursuit of the Big Society.