I love allotments. I think they are great. They surely tick all the right boxes: they get people out, being physically active; they encourage people to eat more vegetables – and that veg is as local as it gets; and they also up the amount of green space in our towns and cities. All this, and in last financial year the net cost to Plymouth was less than £50,000, which for all the good they do and considering the multimillion-pound council budget is a real bargain.
Back in 2008, Conservative candidates in the Plymouth City Council elections stood on a manifesto commitment of creating more allotments. It was anelection they won, taking six seats off Labour, firming up their control of the council. They have run the council ever since, so we can expect them to have implemented this pledge by now.
Sadly, there has been no great movement in the number of allotments in recent years. There are 33, although the splitting of plots into half-plots has helped up the number of individual plots from 1,216 in May 2008 to 1,394 January 2011.
The council’s biggest failure, however, is in not keeping pace with demand. In May 2008, when the Conservatives made their promise, there were 652 people on the council’s waiting list for an allotment plot. By July the same year, this had topped 700, and by December stood at 865. By August 2009, the waiting list was up to 1,163 people, and at the last count – January 2011 – was only one person less, at 1,162.
With 1,162 people waiting for one of just 1,394 plots, those at the back of the queue might have to wait a wee while before they can grow their own onions.
I believe that the creation of new allotment sites should be considered routinely in plans for development. Think of the old Civil Service Sports Club site, on Recreation Road, for example. Sites need not be massive; the latest allotment site – on Knowle Avenue – is smaller than a football pitch, yet its creation meant 39 more city residents now enjoy an allotment.
More allotments would also help make Plymouth greener. I believe that must be a strategic aim for those who run the city. Not only, in my personal opinion, should we head off the toxic submarine work and the incinerator plan, we must take the city in completely the other direction – not one based on handling nuclear waste and burning rubbish.