Allotments and politics are no strangers to one another. Taking a bit of time out from practical outdoor tasks on my plot, I’ve been mulling over the recently passed Community Empowerment Act (Scotland) 2015.
This includes milestone legislation about allotments in Scotland which stretches back to the late 19th century. I hope that aspiring groups of plot-holders will grasp the opportunities it offers.
It’s well-known that allotment waiting lists are soaring both in big cities and rural areas of Scotland. David Jamieson, Head of Parks and Greenspace at Edinburgh Council says his waiting list has reached nearly 3,000. Each new site opened increases local awareness of the joys of allotments and growing your own food, resulting in even more people adding their names to waiting lists.
Now there’s a glimmer of light. Part 9 of the Community Empowerment Act is all about allotments and how local authorities must take steps to increase provision to meet demand. But hope comes in another part of this Act too, which is all about giving power to communities to determine their priorities.
Part 5 of the Act is all about asset transfer. Many people will recall some high-profile community buy-outs involving Scottish islands and remote crofting areas over the years. But asset transfer does not just apply to large swathes of land in remote areas; it can also apply to those small parcels of underused and unloved ground that could be turned into allotments. The Act will enable organisations to lease, manage or use land belonging to local authorities and some other public bodies. For their part, local authorities are committed to listing what they own and drawing up asset transfer policies.
It’s a tall order for a group of people wanting to grow their own food on an allotment to embark on this. However, allotmenteers come from all walks of life and I’m confident that those on waiting lists will reflect a range of skills useful to taking this on.
Help is on hand from the new Community Ownership Support Service (www.dtascommunityownership.org.uk). Nicky Donald, one of their advisers, explained to me that they have been set up to support community based groups in Scotland take a stake in or ownership of previously publicly owned land or buildings, offering expert advice on all aspects of asset transfer as well as signposting the way to other support agencies.