Thursday, June 25, 1998 Published at 22:33 GMT 23:33 UK
Allotments under threat say MPs
Allotments are the principal category of urban green space facing development
MPs are calling for urgent action to save the nation's disappearing allotments.
A new report by the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee has warned that allotment sites around the country are being swallowed up and used for development.
Ministers are called on by the report's authors to revise the law within the lifetime of this Parliament to stop the decline going any further.
The Labour MP, Andrew Bennett, chairman of the environment sub-committee, warned that the lack of credible checks on allotment sales meant they were being sold off "at an alarming rate".
He added: "We have a real opportunity now - if we can tap into the latent demand for allotments which exists then we can halt the ongoing decline of allotments."
Last year, Mr Bennett's committee noticed an apparent reduction in allotment provision and launched an inquiry into the issue.
Its report, The Future for Allotments, said there were 250,000 allotment holders in England and Wales, with many of them getting direct benefit from having affordable, fresh vegetables and physical activity.
The committee also quoted evidence that demand for allotments was set to increase and the traditional image of an allotment holder as an older, retired man was changing, with 35% of them under 50 years of age.
But the committee concluded that there was a need for urgent action to protect existing allotment sites.
The number of plots had been falling since the Second World War figure of 1.4 million and had halved in the last 30 years, it said.
A bit of the countryside in the city
The MPs said: "Allotment land is the principal category of urban green space which is being eroded."
There should be clear designation of statutory allotment sites in local development plans and uncertainty about the status of many allotment sites should be cleared up.
The procedures for selling off statutory allotment sites should be overhauled and should be "open and inclusive", the report stated.
The committee ticked off officials at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) for failing to refer requests for the sale of statutory allotment sites to the relevant minister.
MPs disagreed with DETR Minister Angela Eagle's claim that allotment provision was essentially a local matter. "We believe that the provision of allotments is a national issue," the committee concluded.
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