Country Gardener

Widely regarded as the authority on gardening in the south west

Allotments are open for business

Things are looking up locally when it comes to getting your hands on an allotment. Waiting lists are falling and there’s a promise of more plots to be available.

If you are on the lookout for a local allotment all is not gloomy.

Those seeking to work on their first allotment in the next twelve months are being given fresh hope. Waiting lists are falling and in the last month a survey of local authorities showed a significant increase in the provision of plots available for first time use.

The National Allotment Society is using allotment waiting list study results to argue for a significant increase in provision of plots by local authorities.

Allotment waiting lists are now 78,827 long, with 52 people waiting per 100 plots, according to the National Allotment Society, who surveyed 152,432 plots at all 323 English principal authorities.

In 2009, there were 49 people waiting per 100 plots. In 2011, there were 57.

The main findings were that for many people living in larger towns, allotments have become a frustrating mirage: great in theory, impossible to get hold of in practice. The past few years have seen plenty of stories about long waiting lists, council closures and plots sold off for development, and rather fewer causes for optimism.

Yet as National Allotments Week took place last month with events around the country, the good news started to filter through. According to a new study by the National Allotment Society, waiting list figures have fallen 15 per cent in the past two years.

So why have numbers fallen?

There are certainly some myths knocking around the grow-your-own "community". One fantasy is that councils are selling off loads of plots to make ends meet. Allotment groups are reporting that this has more-or-less stopped, because there is so much pressure on councils to keep plots as growing spaces. What's more, their allotments are now productive and not the neglected spaces they were a decade ago. In fact, many local authorities are expanding their holding of allotments: over the past two years, 51 councils have created a total of 2,000 new plots, or 30 hectares of growing space across 65 new sites.

In reality, two seasons of bad weather may have put off some newcomers. And for others, the recovering economy is making growing their own food less imperative.

More surprisingly, perhaps, councils have become more efficient. Budget cuts have meant that more sites are now under self-management. Zealous committee members are quicker to evict allotment-holders who aren't pulling their weight, meaning much faster turnover of plots. This local approach means that some areas have shorter waiting lists than others.

Either way, National Allotments Week could be the kick-start many need to realise that dream of your own plot.

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And if you didn’t know already here’s why gardeners want their own allotment

The freshest produce: the flavour and freshness of allotment food is streets ahead of most supermarket produce.

Save money: A bag of salad costs as much as a packet of rocket seed, and sometimes more! One packet of seed will give you dozens of bags-worth of tasty salads.

Avoid additives: If you care about what goes into and onto your food growing your own organically is the best way of taking control.
Get to know neighbours: Having an allotment is one of the best ways of getting to know people in your local area.

Save food miles: Think of the carbon saved by growing your own; a smaller distance from ‘plot to plate’ also means tastier, fresher food.

Grow the food you enjoy: The number of varieties of fruit and vegetables available to home gardeners is huge compared to the number available in shops.

A great escape: Sometimes it’s just great to get away from the house, and normal day-to-day chores! For many, allotments are a perfect stress-buster!

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