Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Monday, 26 May 2008 15:49 UK

Law threat on allotment provision

Carrot and the stick - councils have a legal duty to provide allotments

A gardening body is warning it may have to take legal action if Wales' growing demand for allotments is not met.

Allan Rees, of the National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners, said members' patience was "wearing thin".

The BBC Wales programme Eye on Wales has found some local authorities have waiting lists of more than 1,000.

The Local Government Association said councils were wary of creating "an unnecessary drain" on resources should the fashion for allotments melt away.

The humble allotment, which helped the nation dig in for victory in the World War Two, is back in fashion after a prolonged decline.

Celebrity chefs, rising food prices and environmental concerns are all fuelling a renewed interest in renting a small plot of land for some home-grown produce.

You need to provide allotments - a thousand on a waiting list is no excuse
Allan Rees, chairman, National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners

Andrea Evans, secretary of the Wrexham Allotment Association, said: "About seven years ago you couldn't give allotments away. Now people want to know where their food is coming from and a lot of people garden organically.

"Also the price of food is going up daily. So to grow your potatoes, your carrots and so on, helps the family. We're now seeing much more families taking on allotments.

"Just before Christmas we cleared 70 off the waiting list. At the moment we've around 35 on the waiting list - which is fantastic."

Eye on Wales found Wrexham Council had cut its waiting lists by offering novice gardeners a quarter-size plot.

Runner beans
Demand for allotments is on the rise after decades of post-war decline

In other parts of the country waiting lists have lengthened dramatically. In some areas the numbers waiting for an allotment are over 1,000.

Despite that level of demand, however, councils seem reluctant to develop more allotments, even though they are duty bound to provide plots where there is a demand.

Allan Rees, from Bridgend, chairman of the National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners, told the programme that his members' patience was wearing thin.

He said "At some stage our members are going to want us to take on an authority for not carrying out their duties and responsibilities within the legislation.

"We don't want to do that, obviously. We have the finance to do it, but we don't want to do that. We believe in talking first and hopefully resolving any issues.

'Passing trend'

"But I remind local authorities of Section 23 of the 1908 Allotments Act. You need to provide allotments. A thousand on a waiting list is no excuse."

That threat of legal action against councils may have to be realised.

Paul Bettison chairs the environment board of the Local Government Association which has just revised its guide to councils on how to meet their legal responsibility to provide allotments.

He said council leaders were understandably cautious over rushing to provide new allotments in case the bubble bursts.

He said: "There are undoubtedly areas where if the council could find land and allocate it for allotments, that would be very popular.

"But most councils would refrain from taking land on that they might later find they were unable to move on as allotments because of a trend passing by and leaving people no longer queuing up to take allotments on.

"Many councils don't want to get caught out with stocking up now and then finding that perhaps in ten year's time, if they cease to be fashionable, they would have allotments that again would be causing an unnecessary drain on the public purse to maintain them and keep them safe."

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