Having recently moved from a private (and far more expensive!) allotment site, to a council-owned one, a few things have struck me. On my previous site, out of 40+ plots, only 1 was what I would call ‘wasted’. Sure, not all were 100% cultivated. But those that weren’t were clearly being used to some degree (with the unused areas usually covered in weed membrane). At £35 per month, I guess you do need a certain level of commitment to justify that expense.
The new site, council owned but self-managed, costs £35 per year. At least half of the plots are unused, despite having tenants. I can tell this is to the annoyance of those responsible for managing the site. They explain that the tenants forever promise they will be back to get started, but seldom do. The plot I took on a few weeks ago was a similar story. Last year the tenants came on, put down a load of heavy-duty plastic, and were never seen again.
The most noticeable thing for me in the last week or two is just how quiet this new site is. There’s seldom more than 1 other person on site when I’m there. And I’ve been there a *lot*. When they are there, it’s the usual faces. It’s no coincidence that those same people are the tenants of the plots best tendered. I’ve made a deliberate attempt to visit the site daily and at different times, in an attempt to get to know people there. The unusually nice weather, I figured, was bound to bring people to site more often.
As someone that waited so long for a local plot, I find this exceptionally frustrating. Having visited other sites locally before I got this one, I believe it to be a widespread issue. Council waiting lists are forever growing. Yet people are holding on to plots but not actually using them.
Sadly, unused plots that are left to their own devices for so long not only affect neighbouring plots but also put off prospective tenants when the plot is eventually surrendered. I’m told that in the last week alone, four people rejected plots simply because the state of them meant it was simply too much work to get in order. Personally, that wouldn’t deter me, but I understand how it would deter many.
What is the solution though? Some (including myself) will argue that allotments should be more expensive, and thus taken on by only those most committed. But that would potentially exclude certain groups of people unfairly – such as the retired or unemployed. Both of which could, of course, commit the time needed to successfully turn around a plot. Another potential solution would be to bill monthly instead of annually. Yes, it would just be a few pounds per month (and likely far more admin than should be necessary). But it would keep things ‘in mind’ for people. You’re more likely to get people giving up unused plots sooner rather than later (thus avoiding the ‘well I’ve paid for it up to….’).
The last solution is simply to get tough. If you’ve not been on site for x length of time, it’s overgrown and there’s no valid reason for your absence – then please leave and give someone else a go. Understandably, some are reluctant to do this. Some tenants will plead their case, promise to do better next time etc. The whole process repeats itself.
Either way, Allotments should be deemed a privilege and used as such.