Thursday, September 06, 2007

Dont flog allotments for housing - increase the number of sites and get people using them

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One of the greenest things you can do is grow some of your own food. I therefore strongly support Paul Wilkes campaign on saving allotments (‘They’re losing the plot’, Bristol Evening Post, 6 Sept). Allotments have great environmental, health and social benefits. Bristol should be doing more to encourage the popularity of allotment gardening. Instead of flogging off allotment sites the city council, which after all has ambitions to be the UKs ‘green capital’, should aim to increase the number of plots per thousand residents. Neil Dixon, of the National Allotment Gardens Trust, said, ‘The average across the country is about 15 allotments per 1,000 population and in some areas that rises to 38 per 1,000. Bristol has about seven per 1,000. Bristol has sold a fair amount of allotment land. Some of the money has been used to run its allotments stock and improve it, in other cases it has gone on other projects.’

Allotments benefit well-being - allotment gardeners enjoy affordable fresh produce, tend to eat more fruit and vegetables than average and get plenty of exercise growing it! Composting on allotments also cuts waste. Go to these sites for information on allotment growing:

At a Shirehampton site allotments are set to be redeveloped for 32 houses and flats ( Bristol City Council is set to flog Jubilee Allotments, in Myrtle Drive, to the Jephson Housing Association).

Paul Wilkes said "They are going to have to stop building on allotments. Where else are they going to find space for all the plots they will have to provide? They are closing allotments. Demand is increasing…more people appreciating the health benefits. The general population is increasing. So eventually you will need more allotments, not fewer."

He’s dead right. To flog off allotment sites now, when there is high potential to get more people, especially young women, growing their own, is very short sighted and not what you would expect of a city with ‘green capital’ ambitions. Thirty yrs ago only 2% of allotment holders were women. Now women account for at least 20% of allotment tenants. The rise is allotment popularity has been well reported .

What line do we get from the city? Council spokesman Simon Caplan said: "The Jubilee Allotments have been vacant and derelict for at least 10 years. The land has been earmarked in the local plan - the long-term blueprint for the city - for housing. As far as the law goes, we have to provide enough allotments across the city for people who want them. We do that. Demand has gone down and we have sold off land. We have 98 allotment sites currently, with the equivalent of 4,039 full plots, of which 2,942 are let (73 per cent). So there remains plenty of capacity across the city. Our target is to have 90 per cent let by 2012. The total we raised from these sales was £6.4 million - and £2.5m will go back into allotments to upgrade them."

Better quality allotment sites is good but it doesn’t sound like there is anything even remotely like a policy of getting more allotments plots per thousand to me. With this attitude we will never reach the national average number of plots in the city – so much for ‘green capital’ thinking!

Green Party policy on allotments, enacted in Bristol, would take us forward considerably:

· Local authorities to provide more proactive support for allotments and to work to cut waiting lists where demand for allotment plots is high.
· New allotment sites to be created on brownfield land and new housing estates.
· More public information on the availability of allotments and improved public education on the benefits of allotments.
· Allotments to be given much greater protection through the planning system.
· The removal of restrictions on the sellling and bartering of allotment produce, as long as it confirms to food safety standards.
· Improved access and better facilities for disabled people and raised beds.
· Allotment provision to be tailored to meet the needs of those who wish to take them up including different sized plots and ensuring provision is as close as practicable to all who would like them.

Involve people in plans right from the outset, as idea generators

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Its really important to fully involve everyone with a stake in new plans right from the outset so this one has not got off to the brightest start. Plans for the redesign of Broadwalk shopping centre in Knowle have been unveiled (80 new flats, extra office space, and a new fa├žade) by the owners Frogmore (‘Broadwalk’s revamp plans are unveiled’, Bristol Evening Post, 6 Sept) but locals are reacting to ideas presented rather than having been part of the idea generation process to now, it seems.

The Evening Post report, by Tom Hodson, on the plans quoted several local traders. Matt Savage from Knowle Traders' Association complained that local businesses had not been consulted prior to the unveiling, though the association will be meeting with owners Frogmore now.

Will Appleby of M &W Meats in Wells Road said: "It will bring more people to the area, but I still can't understand why they didn't tell us about it beforehand, so we could have helped push the scheme."

Pedro Nunez of The Barber Shop in Redcatch Road said: "It doesn't look as bad as I thought it would, but it would have been nice to have known more about it before they unveiled the plans."

Amir Amrabadi of Mr Crispins Fish and Chips in Wells Road said: "One of my worries is that the dentist inside the centre might go, which has thousands of patients and brings people into our shops."

Lets hope the process from now is a lot more participative – plans have been on show in the Broadwalk Shopping Centre.