Private allotment company gets mixed welcome

Private enterprise will increase the number of available allotment plots, but they will cost much more than their council subsidised cousins

A private company has started renting out its first allotment sites as it bids to make 10,000 plots of land available to the public by 2012.

The New Allotment Company Ltd opened its first site of 300 allotments on the outskirts of Tonbridge, Kent, this week. It expects to open more sites in the Midlands and South East by Summer 2010.

Individual plots of approximately 1000 square foot will cost £150 a year to rent. Tenants will be offered a 3-year contract with the option to leave after the first year.

Profit making

However, the company's arrival has been met with hostility by the UK's biggest allotment association.

'It goes against what we're all about,' said Donna McDaid, spokesperson for the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners.

'They are setting out to make a profit. They may be getting people off waiting lists but we want to encourage local authorities to promote their allotment facilities. This allows them to sit back and let companies like this one do their job for them, but at a cost,' she said.

Rudi Schogger, Managing Director of The New Allotment Company defended the commercialisation of allotments and said other organisations 'commend our work and acknowledge that the model of heavily subsidised allotments must change.'

He said those who opposed the move were part of an 'old world view of allotments'.

'If councils were already providing accessibility to land to the 24 million householders in the country then we wouldn't be here. We are already making an impact on the allotment movement and we think this is just the beginning of a huge wave of change,' added Mr Schogger.

Council role

In a report published last year, the think tank, The New Local Government Network (TLGN), called on councils to make use of brownfield sites and encourage landowners to donate unused holdings to their local community.

It said it welcomed the moves to make more land available for allotments but said there would be question marks about inclusivity if local councils used the private provision as an excuse to cut back on their own obligations to provide allotments.

Nick Hope, NLGN researcher and author of the report, 'Can you Dig it? Meeting Community Demand for Allotments', said if there was a demand then councils should step in and set up not-for-profit schemes using the same approach as private enterprise.

He also said future housing projects should include the provision of 'edible' land that could be used to grow food.

The Department for Local Government and Communities said Local authorities had a statutory duty to provide allotments where they perceive a demand for them, but it is up to each local authority to decide how much they spend on allotment provision in their area.

Useful links
Can you Dig it? Meeting Community Demand for Allotments

Land share
The New Allotment Company

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