October 18, 2022
Growing demand not met
As the final shape of the Community Empowerment Bill was debated, some items for inclusion in the Bill fell by the wayside (participatory budgeting) and some of the arguments became seriously heated and protracted. Top of the list in that respect was Part 9 of the Act – Allotments. A Scottish Parliament committee has recently reviewed whether the Act has delivered on its promise. Widening the scope of its enquiry to include community growing, the Committee convenor Ariane Burgess MSP, argues for much stronger leadership from the Scottish Government, pointing to worrying levels of unmet demand from communities across Scotland.
A Holyrood Committee has called for the Scottish Government to demonstrate increased leadership and oversight in the delivery of the Community Empowerment Act (“The Act”), as a new report exposes significant unmet demand for allotments and growing spaces across Scotland.
Seven years after its introduction, the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee has undertaken an inquiry into the Act, examining whether it has improved the availability of allotments and reduced the barriers to accessing them.
The report highlights the benefits that access to land for growing can have on people’s health, the environment, food security, and on communities.
Despite positive developments since the Act came into force, the Committee found that further action is now needed if the ambitions contained in it are to be met.
Evidence revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic had led to a further surge in demand and the emerging cost-of-living crisis is also expected to drive up the need for growing spaces even further.
The inquiry heard that demand for allotment space is even more acute in Scotland’s cities, with the number of people on waiting lists in Edinburgh almost doubling since 2019, rising from 3,000 to 5,600 and Aberdeen’s waiting list increasing over six-fold, from 150 to 1,000 people in 5 years.
With demand for allotments and growing space far outstripping supply, the Committee has warned that broader Scottish Government plans for developing community growing, food growth strategies and improving access to land are all being held back.
The Committee has made several recommendations in its report for the Scottish Government, as well as proposing actions for local government.
Recommendations to the Scottish Government include:
- Increasing the leadership and oversight provided by the Scottish Government to improve access to allotments and growing spaces.
- The creation of a national partnership forum which could foster cross-sectoral collaboration, mutual support and enable local authorities to share expertise and good practice.
- Reflecting the importance of allotments and food growing in wider strategies such as the National Planning Framework, the forthcoming Biodiversity Strategy, and the implementation of the new Good Food Nation Bill.
- Tackling the complexity of existing rights under the Act for ‘community asset transfers’ which were created to enable the transfer of property and land to community groups.
- The importance of land for growing food being incorporated into planning frameworks.
- Improved clarity about how the requirement for local authorities to publish Food Growing Strategies intersects with the new requirement to produce Good Food Nation strategies.
Commenting on the report, Committee Convener Ariane Burgess MSP said:
“The Community Empowerment Act recognised in 2015 how important allotments are to communities and individuals. Whilst there have been many positive developments since then, there is still a significant and increasing demand which is not being met, and access to land remains a challenge.
“Scotland’s appetite for improved access to allotments and growing space is flourishing, in part due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also due to the rising cost-of-living and levels of food insecurity facing people across the country.
“The benefits of allotments were made clear to the Committee by the many passionate individuals we met in our visits to sites and in the evidence we received.
“These benefits extend from improving health and well-being to tackling social isolation, intergenerational engagement, education opportunities, carbon reduction and improved biodiversity. Nurturing communities’ and individuals’ interests in getting involved should be a priority for the government.
“Our hope is that this report prepares the ground for real change and that the Scottish Government now demonstrate increased leadership and a renewed commitment to the Act to deliver on its own food growth and wellbeing ambitions.”