Northern Ireland councils could soon be forced to provide allotments
Councils could have a duty to provide allotments where ratepayers can grow their own fruit and vegetables under plans being considered by Environment Minister Alex Attwood.
The minister revealed that he would consider introducing such a duty during a review of local government. He was responding to an Assembly question which was put by Green Party MLA Stephen Agnew.
In England, councils have a statutory duty to provide allotments in response to demand from ratepayers but there is no such requirement here. Many of Northern Ireland’s 26 councils provide no allotments at all.
“There is certainly plenty of demand for affordable council-run allotment space. In many areas there are long waiting lists for available allotment space and this proves that there is a public demand and keen interest in growing fruit and vegetables,” Mr Agnew said.
“Compared to England and many other countries, Northern Ireland does not have enough public space allocated to allow people to grow their own produce.
“The Green Party in Northern Ireland undertook research to find out just how much council-owned space is being provided for allotments and we discovered that the numbers are very low.
“Too much emphasis is being placed on turning green spaces into residential or commercial sites, and there are tracts of council-owned land which are currently lying unused.
“I, like many others, call for greater provision for people to be able to rent affordable allotment space from their local councils.”
Grow-your-own schemes can help improve physical and mental health, while cutting food air miles so that there is less reliance on imported supermarket produce, which in turn reduces pollution, Mr Agnew added.
“Allotments also provide a sense of community and bring people from all ages and social backgrounds together with a common purpose. They help link people back to the land and also provide spaces were indigenous biodiversity can flourish,” he said.
“The Green Party believes that local councils should be responding to the demands of their communities and should provide more managed space to allow people to grow their own produce.
“Legislation already exists in Northern Ireland under the 1932 Allotments Act which enables district councils to provide (at their discretion) allotments for use by residents in their areas.
“However, in England, legislation is more prescriptive and if there is sufficient demand for allotments, councils have a statutory duty to provide a sufficient number of plots.
“Local councils now need to develop strategies to make provision for sufficient allotment space to meet demand.”
‘I love it, it gets me out of the house’
Paddy McCambridge tends a plot at Eden Allotments in Carrickfergus. He said:
“Carrickfergus Council started letting out allotments and when the ad came out I went for it because I’ve always been interested in growing vegetables.
“I’m from a farming background and always wanted to work with the land. It was when I was made redundant that everything came together.
“I grow everything — potatoes, onions, cauliflower, cabbages, beetroot, broccoli, turnips, sprouts, leeks, carrots, parsnips, corn, a bit of rhubarb and strawberries. There is always a great crop of strawberries every year and I would grow other berries like gooseberries and blackcurrants.
“A lot of people grow a lot of stuff and then lose it, but if you have too much you can freeze it. I still have cauliflower from last year in the freezer. The atmosphere is very, very good in Eden allotments. Some days you come to get a bit of work done and you end up getting nothing done. You chat to your neighbour and vice versa.
“There are nearly 200 allotments there now. You get young women, young men, old women, old men — there’s a big mixture of people, old and young. Some try to complete with each other, some don’t. I love it, it gets me out of the house and keeps me from annoying the wife!”