Allotments — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 3rd December 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Sharples Baroness Sharples Conservative 3:06 pm, 3rd December 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage local authorities to provide more allotments.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her enthusiasm and persistence in this area. It is for local authorities to provide allotments. Through the community rights, government has helped communities to protect allotments; for example, more than 20% of the first 50 neighbourhood plans promote allotments. I commend the work of organisations such as the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens and the National Allotment Society, which promote allotments.

Photo of Baroness Sharples Baroness Sharples Conservative

Is my noble friend aware that a lot of young people with families are looking for allotments, which are not available to them? Is she further aware that one local planning authority has prevaricated for more than 19 years about providing a suitable area for potential allotment holders?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, it may help my noble friend to know that waiting lists have come down, from 57 people waiting for every 100 plots two years ago to 52 people waiting for every 100 plots—

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

That is progress, certainly.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

It is progress. It may also help my noble friend to know that neighbourhood plans, which require local communities to work with local councils, will now inform planning committees when they make decisions, particularly with regard to allotments.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

Is my noble friend aware that surely there is an opportunity to communicate what is happening on allotments through the council tax notice that goes out each year? Will she look into the possibility of asking local authorities to highlight exactly what they are doing on allotments and where young people in particular can find out more information about them?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, there is indeed an opportunity for local authorities to promote what they do, but that is a matter for those local authorities. Certainly, I know that my local authority promotes things like that, because they are so good for the health and well-being of communities.

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, is there a reason why private landholders or even charitable landholders such as the National Trust should not let out parts of their land to people who want allotments?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

There is no reason why they should not, my Lords. In fact, the National Trust has supported Defra’s recent pollination strategy, which is so important in protecting insects such as bees, which have been short in number in recent years.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I understand that land purchased or appropriated by local authorities to use as allotments must not be sold without ministerial consent? Have any ministerial consents been granted during this Government?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right, and I understand that consents have been granted. I will provide him with the exact figure, however.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat

My Lords, given the rise in obesity and the need to encourage people to take more exercise and eat a healthy diet, does my noble friend agree that encouraging local planning authorities to allow fewer houses per hectare with proper gardens might reduce the need for allotments?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Going back to the second question that I answered about neighbourhood plans, the way that local communities work with local authorities will be crucial in moving this forward.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

In the light of what she has just said, does the noble Baroness agree that neighbourhood plans for local authorities are difficult to establish, particularly where there is activity from extremely aggressive developers who are very keen on acquiring greenfield sites and are prepared to spend a lot of money—money that local authorities cannot match—on overturning decisions and going to appeal? Is that helping with the development of greenfield sites for more congenial purposes, such as allotments?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that the process needs to be speeded up. We have done well in local authorities producing neighbourhood plans, but speeding them up will be considered by CLG, because the noble Baroness is right: such blockages need to be addressed.

Photo of Lord Flight Lord Flight Conservative

Do the Government know how many thousands of people have their names down for allotment plots when they come up, as a measure of the unsatisfied demand?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I am sure that the Government know, and I will provide my noble friend with those figures in due course.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Liberal Democrat

Will my noble friend commend the University of Bath and the borough of Bath, where a deal has been done whereby, with university housing with gardens attached, the gardens are passed over to the borough to allocate as allotments?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I did not know that, but it is excellent news, and I thank my noble friend for drawing the House’s attention to it.

Photo of Baroness Donaghy Baroness Donaghy Chair, Information Committee (Lords), Chair, Information Committee (Lords)

Is the Minister aware that this is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities? How are the Government supporting Thrive and other gardening-related charities to help people with disabilities to have their own allotments?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

As the noble Baroness will know, local authorities have obligations in the area of disability, such as compliance with the DDA. Any council land should, as far as possible, be DDA compliant. Gardening is an excellent activity for local disabled people to get involved in.

Photo of Baroness Eaton Baroness Eaton Conservative

Are Her Majesty’s Government using allotments as a way to promote community well-being?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford Lords Spokesperson (Department of Business, Innovation and Skills), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I draw my noble friend’s attention to the Near Neighbours project. There are three very good examples in Luton, Dewsbury and Hackney, where local faith groups come together not just to grow things together but to enjoy time together. It stands to reason that being out and about with members of your local community is very good for promoting general well-being.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, returning to the noble Baroness’s original Answer, in view of the fantastic good news about the reduction in waiting lists for allotments, was it not a major error not to have included that as at least one piece of good news in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement?