How to get an allotment

Digging2These are all troubling questions until you finally succeed… how do I get an allotment, how to choose an allotment plot and how do I get the council to provide more allotments?

With waiting lists longer than ever and budgets tight for town and parish councils it’s harder than ever to get your first allotment. So here are a few pointers on how to succeed.

The information below applies if you think you’ve identified your perfect allotment site. If there are no allotments in your area and you want your local council to provide some then jump to How to get your Council to provide allotments.

 

Getting that allotment

First thing to do is to apply for a plot, which generally means contacting your town or parish council. You may be fortunate and find they’ve got plots to spare… lucky you! If you’re given a choice of plots you might want to jump to How to choose the best allotment plot.

In most cases you’ll be added to a waiting list. Make sure you ask how many are on the list and how long it typically takes to get to the top… even though it’s likely to be quite dispiriting when you’re told you are number 110 and it’ll take 5 years before you get a plot, at least the clock’s started ticking! But don’t leave it at that. Here’s what else you can do to move things along more quickly.

Are there other allotment sites you can apply for? Don’t assume just because you’re on the list that makes you eligible for any site in the area. The council may keep separate lists for each site so get yourself on the lot! Yes, I know… your dream plot is on Leafy Meadows just down the road and that’s the one you want. But if you’re allocated a plot some distance away at least you’re off and running and you can still stay on the list for Leafy Meadows.

Some sites may not be owned or managed by the council. For example, a local farmer may diversify and allocate part of his land to allotments. The council should know about this so make sure you ask and find out where to apply.

Once you’re on the waiting list is there anything else you can do? Certainly is, but some involves pushing the council employees to take action. Make sure you don’t antagonise anyone otherwise your waiting time might mysteriously increase!

Shed If keen you’re probably already having an occasional wander around the allotment site to see who’s doing what, picking up ideas and enjoying the general ambiance. In the process you’ll get chatting with plot holders. Do they know of anyone who could do with some help? Often plots are held for many years and as the plot holder gets older they find it increasingly difficult to tend their plot… so they might welcome some help! And in return you can use part of the plot to grow your vegetables as well as benefit from someone close at hand with years of experience. Pretty obviously your ‘landlord’ needs to be someone you can get along with.

If the current tenant agrees, would you want to formally split the plot between the two of you? That’s possible and you could test the council out on this by asking them without giving any details… but you do run the risk of the plot being split and the spare portion going to the next person on the waiting list. After all, they have been waiting longer than you. So might be better to muddle along sharing until you come to the top of the list and can get your own plot.

On your perambulations you’ll probably notice some plots that don’t appear to be tended. Although the council should manage the site to minimise unused plots this Veg seedlingsometimes isn’t done very effectively. So take photos, note the plot numbers and ask the council why plots are unused. They should write to the plotholders giving them a deadline by when plots should be brought into use unless there’s a very good reason why not (such as illness). This probably isn’t going to immediately get you a plot since there’s a process to go through and the beneficiaries will be those at the top of the waiting list… but at least it gets you nearer the top.

Is there any unused land on the allotments? If there’s a big waiting list the council should have allocated all the land, but sometimes there’s an odd corner that’s been missed or doesn’t seem viable. Can you use that until you get a proper plot?

If there’s an allotment association get in touch with the chairman and ask for advice. He/she may be aware of developments that can help you… for example the association may already be pushing the council to make more land available for extra plots. Join the association so you can keep up to date with things. They may currently only accept those with allotments… if so, suggest allowing associate members.

If the waiting list is huge shouldn’t the council be looking for more land? Read the section How to get your Council to provide allotments.

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How to choose the best allotment plot

Before choosing the plot, have you made the right choice of allotment site? Yes, Leafy Meadows might be just down the road but if no water’s provided you’re going to have a tough time. Always have a chat with plot holders to get a feel for the good and not so good things about the site. Check on the following…

  • Is water provided and does it work (e.g. do the water tanks fill up quickly enough in summer when there’s heavy use, is there a part of the site at the end of the supply that runs out?)
  • What’s the ground like, is it heavy clay and therefore very hard work?
  • Is the site subject to flooding?
  • Are there restrictions such as no sheds or greenhouses?
  • Are there any problems with vandals?

Once you’ve come to the top of the waiting list and are offered a plot should you accept whatever you’re given? Best not to… the reason you’ve got an offer might be you’re being saddled with the plot everyone else has rejected. You shouldn’t have to accept the first offer, but make sure you don’t come across as too fussy and keep rejecting offers… they may dry up!

Always check things out with your potential neighbours to see if there are any problems. Assuming you’ve selected a good allotment site here’s a checklist of things to consider for your first plot…

  • How close is the water supply?
  • Where is the plot sited? Near a busy public access footpath will mean dogs relieving themselves nearby or on your plot…. nice! May be more chance of your best produce being stolen late at night, although a plot on the far side of the allotment site could give vandals plenty of undisturbed late night access.
  • Can you drive your car to the plot for delivery of heavy items?
  • Are there any drainage problems, does the plot get flooded?
  • Is there a problem with invasive weeds… don’t want to find after taking the plot that you’re battling against Japanese Knotweed.
  • Is the site too shady because of surrounding trees or buildings?
  • How about exposure to wind?
  • Any problems with pests such as rabbits, or disease such as clubroot?
  • Are the surrounding plots well developed? If not you’ll benefit from their weeds.
  • Is the plot size right for you? Although accepting a half sized plot may seem sufficient now if you’re really keen you’ll soon be wishing for more space. Equally is a full plot right for you? If it’s more work than you can handle you’ll spend a lot of time battling weeds and may not be flavour of the month with your neighbours.
  • Just how much work will be needed to get the plot under control, will the council help with this by rotavating for you?
  • How tidy was the previous occupant… particularly if children are going to visit the plot you’ll want to avoid finding shards of glass everywhere. A concrete pond hidden in the middle of the plot or miles of carpet buried under what appears to be grass can also be a bit of a problem.

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How to get your Council to provide allotments

This section applies equally if there are no allotments provided by the council, or if they don’t provide enough.

All councils in England & Wales (with the exception of inner London) by law have to provide allotments for residents. If there isn’t an allotment site in your area, or if there’s insufficient plots, any group of adults over the age of 18 and registered on the electoral roll can jointly request the council to make provision

The application needs to be from six or more local residents all of whom are council tax payers. Each of the six will need to write a formal letter to the council as follows:

To the clerk of ………………………………………… Parish/Town/District/Borough/County Council

I the undersigned hereby make application for an allotment. This application is made pursuant to the provisions of section 23 subsection (2) of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908.

Name:     ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Address: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Period of residence at above address: ………………………………………………………………………………..

Signed: ………………………………………………………………………………….   Dated: …………………………….

Send a batch of six or more by recorded delivery. Also hand deliver copies with two or more witnesses present.

You then need to keep pressure on the council to fulfil their responsibilities. If they have land available you may be lucky and find things move quite quickly. If not prepare yourself for a battle… there are Veg seedling2powers for them to compulsorily purchase land for allotments but that assumes there’s spare money in the budget. Attend meetings of the Amenities Committee or equivalent to keep the issue on the agenda. You should be allowed to address the committee in a public forum at the start of the meeting… if so do use this.

Councillors may dispute their degree of responsibility, for instance arguing that they are only obliged to consider providing allotments. In spite of wording in the 1908 Act such as ‘may take into consideration’ they do have an obligation. You can access the full wording of the act at Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908.

Another approach may be to use the planning laws if a building development is going through planning permission applications. The council can impose a section 106 condition on the developer that they must provide open spaces or allotments, so this may be worth exploring with the council.

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