Page last updated at 17:05 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

'Phenomenal' rise in demand for allotments

Councils are being urged to free up more land for produce growing

An inquiry is under way into the amount of land in Wales available to people who want to grow their own produce.

The Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens wants councils to free more plots after what it calls a "phenomenal" rise in demand.

It gave evidence to AMs that local councils are not making sufficient provision for the rising demand.

But the local councils say that managing land is not easy because of fluctuating demand.

A cross-party group of AMs heard communities are increasingly turning to farmers and organisations such as the National Trust for plots.

We are trying to make it easier for people to grow produce locally
Jeremy Iles, Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens

Federation chief executive Jeremy Iles said: "We have had an office in Cardiff for two years and during that time the upsurge in demand has been phenomenal.

"It has gone from eight groups in Wales to 66, in addition to our lateral contacts with other organisations.

"Are there enough sites? Predominantly no.

"We are trying to make it easier for people to grow produce locally without it seeming like something extraordinary. It is the obvious and sensible thing to do."

Adrian Wales, allotments secretary in Pontcanna, Cardiff, said: "I think there should be some directive from the assembly. Local governments need to be educated.

"I think they are a little afraid of leasing land out and not getting it back."

Demand will increase

The sustainability committee inquiry's aim is to explore ways the government can support and provide opportunities for allotment and community gardening, and to examine ways these activities can provide wider benefits.

Ben Raskin from the Soil Association told AMs evidence showed that as the prices of food rose, the demand for allotments also increased.

But the committee raised concerns that many private land owners were charging extremely high prices for the use of a small patch of land.

Dan Morris from the Federation of City Farmers and Community Gardens said the assembly needed to issue clearer guidelines with regards to the planning fees of allotments.

He said, despite the large demand, the availability of land for allotments varies extensively across the local authorities.

Conwy council report 300 people on their four-year waiting list. Newport has 192 on a four-year waiting list, and Wrexham has 166 on a two-year waiting list.

But Wrexham council's Martin Howarth said current demand was far greater than the size of the waiting lists.

Hard work

A spokesperson for the Welsh Local Government Association said it is committed to working with local authorities to promote best practice and ensure quality and appropriate availability of allotments now and for future generations.

She said: "It should also be recognised that running an allotment is not easy and not always a 'cheap' option.

"It involves hard work and time and often local authorities see drop out rates of up to 50% in the first couple of years after a tenancy begins; one allotment recently had six people on the waiting list; it now has a vacant plot.

"It is difficult to manage demand and meet expectations in that changing context."

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