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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Shake-up for allotment laws
EastEnders' famous allotment-holder, Arthur Fowler
The profile of allotments rose on EastEnders
The government has ordered a national audit to monitor the use of allotments to prepare for a shake-up of laws governing their use.

For many people in Britain's towns and cities, allotments represent a haven amid the hustle and bustle of urban life.

If the rules are relaxed, they could be used as profit-making farms or handed over to community groups or schools.

The audit, ordered by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, was triggered by concerns too many are being sold off to developers.

Allotment industry
Bristol is one of the UK's top allotment cities with 5,000
Some waiting lists are up to six years
In World War II, there were nearly two million allotments nationwide
Today's figure is about 300,000
Average rent is 25 a year

The number of allotments is only a sixth of what it was 60 years ago.

The current laws date back to 1908 and they dictate that people who rent allotments from a local authority or a private landlord must use the land to grow fruit and vegetables for the family.

So tenants cannot grow food for commercial sale.

But as interest in locally-grown food has increased, campaigners have wanted the laws changed to allow allotment-holders to sell surplus food to markets.

Other legal reforms could allow the green spaces to be used for relaxation, so deckchairs and barbecues could replace the shovel as the allotment accessory.

'Laws need modernising'

And greater access may be encouraged for schoolchildren and community groups as a means to educate about wildlife and food.

There could also be moves to prevent their continuing decline in numbers.

The BBC series The Good Life
Many want to imitate The Good Life
Geoff Stokes, secretary of the National Society for Allotments and Leisure Gardeners, told BBC News Online: "We want to see a 21st century review of how allotments should operate, rather than looking at what happened 100 years ago.

"As time as moved on, what a lot of people are looking for now is a recreational open space.

"So they can sit there in summer or take their children there, rather than have regimental rows of vegetation."

Mr Stokes said he would like to see food sold to local markets, but not as part of a business.

The reforms are not likely to find favour among some allotment traditionalists.

TV influence

One man, who has owned an allotment in Bristol for 40 years, told BBC News: "If they do that, they're crackers.

"It's just for growing something and eat it - nice fresh vegetables."

The profile of allotment-holders - once traditionally a male preserve - has changed over the years.

It is estimated that women now make up about 20% of tenants, with some mothers keen to grow organic vegetables for their children.

Interest in allotments was increased by television shows such as The Good Life in the 1970s, then later EastEnders, plus the present popularity of gardening programmes.

Gardeners will lose allotments
17 Mar 03  |  England
Allotments shake-up planned
13 Mar 03  |  England
Gardeners could lose allotments
16 Jan 03  |  England
Allotments under threat say MPs
24 Jun 98  |  Politics
MPs dig into future of allotments
17 Feb 98  |  UK News


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