In this blog we look at how the community rights can save community allotments – precious plots of produce.
Allotments have been the cornerstone of community life in England for hundred of years, and it represents far more than just ‘growing your own’. The benefits of owning an allotment are far reaching – healthy eating, exercise and new methods of horticulture are just some of them. Allotments are also a place where lifelong friendships and community thrive, where children are being taught how to grow and eat their own fresh produce, to ensure that future generations will continue to reap the benefits.
However, the humble allotment is under serious threat. While it’s estimated that 350,000 people in Britain have an allotment, over 800,000 remain on waiting lists for one. Despite its growing popularity, councils across the country are facing mounting pressure to release more land for housing – putting allotment plots at risk. Councils are required by law to find another site to replace the allotments (you can read more about the guidelines and safeguards put in place by DCLG here), but alternative sites mean that plot owners must start all over again with challenges such as poor soil quality, and the destruction of years’ worth of work and community spirit that has grown from these shared spaces. Private allotment landowners are only required to give a year’s notice before selling – which is a drastically worse situation for allotment owners.
But all is not lost for the allotment – despite the challenges facing these much loved spaces, there are ways of protecting them for future generations to enjoy by using the power of the community rights. We’ve briefly outlined how particular rights can brought into play to save allotment plots.
Community Asset Transfer
Community Asset Transfer looks at the transfer of buildings or land from a local authority to a community based organisation or group at less than market value for the benefit of the community. Communities that are interested in asset transfer contact their local authority to start the process and generally need to provide evidence that they can continue maintaining the land or building into the future.
Unused or under-utilised land can be reclaimed by the local community under the Community Right to Reclaim Land. Local councils have a duty to use land effectively as they hold it on behalf of the tax payers. If land is not be used and there are no plans to use it in the future, the Secretary of State for the Department for Community and Local Government can direct the council to dispose of this land, generally on the open market. Communities can submit a request for this to happen.
Assets of Community Value & Community Right to Bid
The community can apply to their local authority for the allotment land to be ‘listed’ as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). The local authority must deem the land to be of promoting community wellbeing now and in to the future. Once listed, it can remain on the list of assets for five years.
If the land ever then comes up for sale, the community can ‘pause’ the sale for up to six months to raise the funds to purchase the asset.
One method of raising funds to purchase a community asset is through community shares. Local people can purchase shares and become part owners in a community enterprise such as an allotment – and as part owners, they feel intrinsically a part of the enterprise and its continued success.
Neighbourhood Planning gives communities the power to protect green spaces, such as allotment plots, from demolishment. It allows local residents to determine their own planning policies for their local areas – it’s written by the community, for the community, rather than decisions being made by a local planning authority. Planning Aid England estimates that 20% of neighbourhood plans (as of January 2014) have either provisions to protect allotments or have allocated new land for allotments.
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