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Tuesday, February 17, 1998 Published at 01:55 GMT


MPs dig into future of allotments
image: [ Allotments: 200,000 have been lost in 25 years ]
Allotments: 200,000 have been lost in 25 years

MPs are investigating the future of Britain's allotments after claims that they are under threat from property developers.

Around 200,000 allotments, most of them council owned, have disappeared from across the UK in the last 25 years.

There are currently an estimated 13,000 people on waiting lists to take up small-scale food growing on the remaining 300,000 holdings.

Allotments gardeners say their plots are a historic part of a community's ability to produce its own food.

The plots were crucial to the national war effort during the Second World War when the nation needed to grow more food to combat rationing.

But campaigners now say this part of Britain's urban landscape and heritage will be swallowed up by house building unless sites are protected.

Nationally, the UK needs to build around 4.5m homes in the next 15 years.

[ image: Geoff Stokes: allotments must be protected]
Geoff Stokes: allotments must be protected
Greenbelt land and school playing fields are just two of the areas which have been been targetted for new homes, although the Government has recently pledged to protect school playing fields.

Many allotments are on prime urban land in the heart of towns and cities which are already suffering development pressures.

The cast of 1970s BBC comedy The Good Life joke about allotments (0' 17")
Local authorities which have sold allotments to developers to provide space for new homes or supermarkets say they had to balance the needs of the community.

But they have also been accused of selling the valuable land to help balance the books.

Many sites have become battlegrounds as families who have worked the same patch of ground for decades have campaigned to hold on to their heritage.

In the North East, Newcastle United Football Club has fought a long battle against residents who have opposed moves to build a new stadium on allotment and park land, a battle still continuing.

On a smaller scale, Grimsby is the scene of a similar battle between allotment holders and a town hall backed developer who wants to turn land into new homes and a leisure complex.

Many other towns are witnessing battles between allotment holders, councils and developers, including supermarkets.

[ image: Sunset for allotment holding?]
Sunset for allotment holding?
The Government has approved the sale of 50 allotment sites since it came to power in 1997, leaving around 8,000 sites which still produce two million tonnes of food.

Geoff Stokes of the Society of Allotment Gardeners said: "Over the last 18 years we have lost about 10,000 plots per year.

"If allotments continue to be lost at that rate we will have nothing left at all.

"Allotments are popular and are still required. We just cannot afford to lose them at that sort of rate."

Part of the renewed interest in allotment gardening has come on the back of food health scares, including the dangers posed by pesticides and the benefits of organically grown food.

Allotments are considered a cheap and efficient way of producing organic food that is often far more expensive than ordinary food in supermarkets.

Members of the House of Commons' Environment sub-committee will hear evidence from allotment holders and local government representatives this week.

They will report to the House of Commons on how important allotments are in the UK and whether or not they should be protected by law.


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