Like all Acts of Parliament, the ‘devil is in the detail’. How can the waiting list be reduced? Where will the land for new plots come from? Can the management costs be met from an already-squeezed council budget?
For the detail (and perhaps the devils therein) we must look for the implementation plan. Edinburgh City Council has produced a cleverly titled document Cultivating Communities - a Growing Success, 2017-2027. This is its Third Allotment Strategy, well-written and packed with supporting data. It seeks members' approval for implementation.
One of the most hotly-debated aspects of the Strategy is what the Act calls the ‘Asset Transfer Request’ whereby the control (i.e. ownership or lease) of the allotment site is transferred to a ‘community transfer body’, typically a local allotment association or a prototype thereof. The body would then be responsibly for managing the site, taking over all the roles hitherto carried out by the Council. By simply overseeing Asset Transfers, the Council would save money whilst new allotments would spring up organically all over the City to satisfy demand. This scenario presupposes that enthusiastic and hardworking individuals at each new site would be prepared to take on management roles, carrying out all the tasks including enforcement of the regulations, setting and collecting the rents and engaging with contractors. Existing sites might also wish to take advantage of the opportunity to be self-managed.
Is there enough land for expansion of allotments? To accommodate 2500 would-be growers on the waiting list and to allow for Edinburgh’s population expansion (7.3 per cent more people are expected by 2025) we would need another 2,693 x 250 square metres of suitable land (that’s 67 hectares, assuming all plots to be 250 square metres). That’s three times the area of the Meadows (where, incidentally, 512 emergency allotments were created in the Second World War). This figure would be reduced pro-rata if people wanted smaller plots. Even so, it’s not a trivial amount of land. In the Council’s Allotment Strategy nine potential new sites are identified with a combined area of 220,000 square metres, enough for 880 standard plots or 1,760 half-sized plots.
Do the waiting people realise the magnitude of the task they hope to take on? Many would-be growers are complete novices and need training. The internet has much useful advice from authorities ranging from the Royal Horticultural Society to the Daily Telegraph. But hands-on, on-site mentoring is still necessary, and who better to give it than FEDAGA. It’s another task for FEDAGA’s volunteers.
What’s a ‘fair rental’ as defined in the Act ? No-one knows. Analysis of rental charges from other parts of the UK show that Edinburgh is the second most expensive in the entire UK at 42 pence per square metre. The most expensive is Runnymede near Windsor in Surrey (yes, ironically, it’s the home of the Magna Carta). Other places are much cheaper.
Allotments were at their peak following the 1917 campaign by the Government’s Food Production Department. Then, parkland and playing fields were dug up, the King directed people to grow potatoes and cabbages instead of geraniums; meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury sanctioned allotment working on Sundays. The result was one allotment plot for every five households. Here in Edinburgh we have around one allotment plot for every 168 households, and it isn’t good enough. We must do better.
John Grace (Midmar).