Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


Origins of Allotments

21. Allotments derive from the enclosure legislation of the 18th and 19th centuries and the word 'allotment' originates from land being allotted to an individual under an enclosure award.[40] The most important of the Acts was the General Inclosure Act 1845 which required that provision should be made for the landless poor in the form of 'field gardens' limited to a quarter of an acre. At this time, allotments were largely confined to rural areas although during the latter half of the 19th century, parcels of land in urban areas began to be used as allotments and the value of such plots for the urban working class was starting to be recognised. The spread of urban allotments was intensified by the growth of high-density housing, often without gardens.

22. The First World War prompted a huge growth in the number of allotments from 600,000 to 1,500,000, although after the War, many of the temporary allotment sites were returned to their original use. The Second World War once again increased the role for allotments and the 'Dig for Victory' campaign saw annual food production from allotments rise to 1,300,000 tonnes per year from around 1,400,000 plots. Once more, the end of the War saw a diminished role for allotments and, as time passed, other pressures on the use of land have reduced total provision. Recent trends in allotment demand and provision are traced in later sections of this Report.

Relevant Legislation

23. The modern legislation covering allotment provision and protection has developed in a piecemeal fashion with various Allotment Acts being introduced between 1908 and 1950. New legislation was used during this period to reflect the changing role of allotments. The various Acts are still mostly in force and continue to define many aspects of allotment provision. Table 1 below details the most important features of each piece of legislation. Fuller details are provided in Appendix II.

24. The legislation places a duty upon local authorities to provide allotments where demand exists.[41] Beyond this requirement, the most important feature of the legislation is the protection it provides for 'statutory' sites owned by local authorities.[42] This issue is dealt with fully in later sections of the Report. Various aspects such as rents, periods of notice and compensation are also covered by the Acts.

25. Much of the original legislation was drafted with the aim of ensuring that the urban poor had continued access to cultivable land to grow their own fresh fruit and vegetables. Some memoranda suggested that this basis for the laws means that they are no longer appropriate, as allotments now primarily form part of the leisure provision for a local population.[43]

26. A large number of submissions commented on the confusing nature of allotment law[44] and it is clear that the implications of the legislation are poorly understood by allotmenteers and local authorities alike. The weaknesses of the legislation were well described by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State: "It is very old. It is over-prescriptive in some areas and under-prescriptive in others. It is spread across dozens of different statutes...".[45] The Local Government Association noted:

     "The myriad Acts that constitute the legislative context for local authority allotment provision lead to confusion about what roles and responsibilities local authorities have and about how they discharge their function, to the detriment of allotment provision and maintenance."[46]

Table 1: Principal Allotments Legislation

Act and Date


Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908

Consolidated all previous legislation and laid down basis for all subsequent legislation.

Placed duty on local authorities to provide sufficient allotments, according to demand. Also makes provision for local authorities to purchase compulsorily land to provide allotments.

Allotments Act 1922

Limited the size of an allotment to one-quarter of an acre and specified that it should be used mostly for growing fruit and vegetables.

Also protected tenants by laying down periods of notice, ensuring compensation for termination of tenancies and compelled most allotment authorities to set up allotment committees.

Allotments Act 1925

Required local authorities to recognise the need for allotments in any town planning development.

Established 'statutory' allotments which a local authority could not sell or convert to other purposes without Ministerial consent.

Allotments Act 1950

Followed on from the findings of the Allotments Advisory Committee Report of 1949. Made improved provisions for compensation and tenancy rights. Also confined local authorities' obligation to 'allotment gardens' only.

27. We received much evidence on the need for reform of allotments law.[47] In this regard, it is interesting to note that one of the principal findings of the Thorpe report,[48] published nearly 30 years ago, was that "All existing allotments legislation should be repealed and replaced by a single Act incorporating such of our recommendations as require legislative backing." This recommendation was not acted upon. Similarly, the 1984 Private Member's Bill "Recreational Gardening" introduced by Lord Wallace of Coslany sought to "clarify, simplify and update" the legislation[49] but was defeated.

28. We believe there is a need for urgent action to protect existing allotment sites. In the short term, specific modifications to advice and procedures relating to allotment provision are required and these are detailed throughout the Report. Many of these changes are comparatively simple but the sum total will ensure a fairer and clearer system for all concerned.

29. For the long term protection of allotments, we believe that allotments legislation must be overhauled. We conclude that the Government should issue a Green Paper as soon as is practicable and commission a research study to consult with the various interested parties and develop a consolidating piece of legislation which simplifies, updates and enhances existing allotments legislation. The Government should aim to introduce the resulting Bill within the lifetime of this Parliament.

Amendments to Legislation

30. Within the allotments legislation, there are various restrictions placed upon the use of allotment sites. In particular, the plot must be "mainly cultivated by the occupier for the production of vegetables and fruit crops for consumption by himself or his family."[50] The implication of this is that only a limited proportion of a plot may be used for growing flowers and no commercial use may be made of produce. Subsequent legislation has restricted livestock to certain types of animal such as hens and rabbits.[51]

31. Much of the evidence received on these issues argued that the restrictions were unnecessarily prescriptive and suggested that their relaxation would encourage greater demand for allotments.[52] Indeed, the Local Government Association noted that:

     "... the only problem is that some of the existing legislation for allotments does actually inhibit authorities and what they can do and obviously we need to consolidate some of the legislation and add bits to it so that people can sell crops to community cafés and co-operatives and grow other things as well as vegetables."[53]

It is likely that some local authorities and allotment societies are operating relaxed versions of these restrictions. However, this situation is unsatisfactory because it could lead to a site being judged to be outside the scope of the protective allotments legislation.[54]

32. Quite simply, most of the restrictions on use of allotment gardens are no longer appropriate matters for national legislation. We recommend that the main restrictions on the use of allotments contained in national legislation should be repealed. In particular, decisions over:

  • the uses to which plots may be put, particularly with regard to flower growing;
  • commercial use with regard to site shops and the sale of surplus produce; and
  • the keeping of livestock

should be made on a site-by-site basis by the local authority or allotment society. We urge that care should be taken when relaxing restrictions so that the essential character of a site is maintained.

40   This section draws upon the evidence of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners (Ev pp2-3 (HC560-i)) and 'The Law of Allotments' J.F.Garner, Shaw & Sons Ltd, 1984 Back

41   Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908 Back

42   Allotments Act 1925 Back

43   Ev p31, para 9 (HC560-ii) and Stroud Town Council [Ev not printed] Back

44   See, for example, Q91 Back

45   Q243 Back

46   Ev p31, para 9 (HC560-ii) Back

47   See, for example, 'Proposed Legislation' from National Society for Allotment and Leisure Gardeners [Ev not printed]  Back

48   Thorpe Committee of Inquiry into Allotments, 1969 (Cmnd 4166) Back

49   Ev p46, para 4.4 (HC560-ii) Back

50   Allotments Act 1922, section 22 Back

51   Allotments Act 1950, section 12 Back

52   Ev pp2, 14 and 18 (HC560-II); Angela Turner [Ev not printed] Back

53   Q128 Back

54   Ev p9 (HC560-II) and 'The Law of Allotments', JF Garner, Shaw & Sons Ltd, 1984, p59 Back

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