“We can’t allow Government to put new growing spaces at risk,” adds Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
An army of would-be grow-your-owners could see their hopes dashed as proposed planning changes threaten to squeeze out community-led initiatives in favour of a default ‘yes’ to building development proposals.
Earlier this year the government promised communities the chance to develop plans to say what they want in their local area, including allotments and other growing spaces.
However, auctions of local authority land and the default yes to development threaten to put an unbearable squeeze on suitable land in and around cities, towns and villages throughoutEngland.
While 70 per cent of people would say ‘yes please’ to community growing spaces in new housing developments according to YouGov research commissioned by the National Trust, the planning changes published by Ministers in July undermine local wishes with a presumption which favours business interests above all else.
These changes could undermine the ‘grow your own’ revolution that has been unfolding over the last few years, and could dash the hopes of many of the 87,000 people currently on allotment waiting lists throughout the country.
The warning comes as the National Trust celebrates the early completion of its challenge to create 1,000 new growing spaces on its land, with many of the plots now available on Landshare – the online community that matches growers with landowners.
Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust, said: “It is a bittersweet day. We’re delighted to complete our pledge to create 1,000 new allotment plots six months ahead of schedule, but we’re equally dismayed that the planning changes may undo a lot of this good work.
“We strongly welcome attempts to engage local communities in the planning process – but to undermine these efforts with a planning framework that favours development for short term financial profit is fundamentally misguided.
“The only voice that communities are being given is the voice to say yes to development. What communities really want may go out of the window in the face of a default yes.”
National Trust-commissioned research reveals that public awareness of Government proposals to reform planning is worryingly low, with almost three quarters, 73 per cent, of the population responding that they have heard not very much or nothing at all about the potential changes.
Almost the same proportion, 70 per cent, say they are unlikely to get involved with neighbourhood planning, the vehicle being relied on by Government to deliver community involvement in planning decisions. This leaves the door open to vested interests with a pro-development agenda.
Grow-your-own campaigner and Landshare  founder Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “We can’t allow Government to put new growing spaces at risk. They are desperately needed in our urban areas. There is still huge demand from communities with more and more people wishing to experience a taste of the good life. It’s essential that land is still allocated in cities, towns and villages for this purpose.
“I congratulate the National Trust, not only on creating these new sites, but also for taking a stand on the planning proposals which appear to make the creation of new allotments highly unlikely. We know people are desperate to grow their own food, so we must do everything we can to ensure they have the space to do so.”
Beccy Speight, regional director and local food champion at the National Trust, said: “People need housing but they also need places they want to live in. Creating the spaces that communities need to interact with each other is a vital part of that. The demand we have seen for our growing spaces underlines this, and we will continue to do everything we can to provide more, wherever possible.”
Donna McDaid, National Secretary of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG), said: “We are watching very closely how the Localism Bill pans out, as it could be a positive thing for allotments, if people really do get to have their say over the facilities they want to see in their neighbourhoods. My fear is that some local authorities see allotments as a burden rather than as an asset to the community, so creating new allotment sites could come fairly low on their list of priorities. It’s great that the National Trust is championing growing spaces in a really practical way, setting a great example with their can-do attitude.”
Ashley and Claire Brown, and their son William (7) have taken on the National Trust’s 1,000th new plot at West Horsley inSurrey. Claire Brown said: “After helping in the community garden for the last year, we’ve all realised how much we love growing vegetables together as a family, and are really enjoying eating fresh crops with the seasons, and doing our fruit and veg shopping from the garden and plot rather than the supermarket. We put our names down for an allotment as we realised that we wanted space to grow the big vegetables that we don’t have room for in our raised beds at home. We will now be able to have year round crops, with pumpkins, Brussels sprouts and broccoli at the top of our list.
“It’s great that the National trust has managed to create 1000 allotments, and I hope there’s plenty of opportunity for more people to get growing spaces, as there is such a fantastic friendly community environment and great opportunities to make new friends.”
The National Trust’s allotments are listed on the Landshare website, where hundreds of new allotments have been made newly available. To search for allotments go to www.landshare.net.
To date more than 12,000 people have signed the National Trust petition against the proposed changes to planning regulations. To add your voice, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/planning. For more information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/allotments