Outdoors: MSPs asked for allotment laws to be brought up to date

Congratulations to Jim Tolson MSP who led the first debate in the Scottish Parliament on allotments which took place on the last day before their Christmas recess. Congratulations as well to the 44 MSPs who indicated their support for the motion.

News of the impending debate spread like wildfire round gardening enthusiasts. People who had never been inside the parliament building decided they would get tickets to sit in the gallery.

The parliament cafe buzzed with allotment folk swapping stories from their own patches. Frank, who is trying to bring the Aberdeen allotments up to scratch, came to Edinburgh for the day. Kirsty, who is part of a group in Linlithgow which has been searching for land for more than three years, joined the crowd. Representatives from local authorities, community gardens and gardening societies together with plotholders came along.

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Recognition of the importance of space to grow your own fruit and vegetables has come a long way in the past ten years from an apparently niche activity of retired people to a pastime which can fight health inequalities, minimise wastage, enrich communities and counter climate change.

But with demand for allotments at an all-time high and provision just one-tenth of what it was after the Second World War, there are too many who wait for the opportunity.

With each of the speakers having a four-minute slot, we heard of an astonishing range of projects including therapeutic gardens, eco schools, and composting schemes.

MSP Christopher Harvie reminded us how Scots plant hunters had travelled the world. But MSPs also spoke of frustration when derelict pieces of land suitable for growing things got turned down. They asked for allotment laws which date back to the 19th century to be clarified and brought up to date. They called on health boards, Network Rail and the Forestry Commission to see if they could find pockets of land for growing places.

The Minister for the Environment, Roseanna Cunningham, summed up the debate and paid tribute to the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society. She has set up a working group to see what can be done to meet rising demand. Results are due at the end of this year.

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• This article was first published in The Scotsman on 23 January, 2010