Judy Wilkinson: We now have the framework in place to pursue a community-led approach to allotments

Allotments campaigner Judy Wilkinson says the long-awaited guidance for local authorities on the allotments section of the Community Empowerment Act offers a positive way forward for partnerships, co-creation and engagement in growing opportunities for individuals and communities across Scotland

THE Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act (CEA) was signed in 2015, Part 9 (allotments) was enacted in April 2018 and the Guidance for Local Authorities on section 119 ‘Duty to Prepare a Food Growing Strategy’ was published in November 2018. However the Guidance for the rest of Part 9 was only published on 25 June.

The production of this Guidance has taken so long, in part because the Scottish Government carried out a full and positive engagement with stakeholders. In 2015, prior to the passage of the CEA it established a tripartite group consisting of representatives from Scottish Government, local authorities and the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society  to “develop constructive dialogue around Part 9 of the Bill and monitor the early stages of Part 9 implementation”.  This  group was joined by Greenspace Scotland, local authority colleagues and others to help shape the guidance document.

Such engagement takes time, balancing the the needs and positions of the different groups. Local authorities who own land, were concerned about conflicting demands on resources whereas the grow-your-own contingent wanted firm commitments to ensure the benefits of allotments and community growing are fully recognised and supported. That the Guidance has been produced and accepted by all parties is a tribute to the skills and commitment of the Scottish Government officers. Over the last four years, many meetings and discussions have taken place, many minutes and drafts written. 

READ MORE: Judy Wilkinson: Councils are failing to give Grow Your Own allotment groups the support they need to thrive

Much discussion centered round the reasonable steps local authorities should take to identify and satisfy demand for growing spaces. 3.7 reads: ‘Officers responsible for allotments should consult with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders when carrying out their analysis of demand for the local authority area. Such stakeholders should include, as appropriate, the following: planners, community development and health improvers, senior elected members, senior managers from relevant public services, members of the business community and the third sector, allotment associations, local grow-your-own groups and community gardens. Local authorities should also consider using on-line consultation and other methods to obtain the views of local residents.” This consultation should mean that a wide group of decision-makers and community activists are aware of how community growing may contribute to the success of their projects and the quality of their place. 

Following this, 3.15 recommends that local authorities should work “in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders, including independent allotment associations, those on the waiting lists, community participation bodies such as community councils, housing associations, and community growers. These stakeholders should be engaged in the decision-making process around allotments policy and in the design and delivery of new allotment sites. The local authority may, if it is considered to be beneficial, work with the allotment associations to facilitate independent groups wishing to develop self- funded allotment sites.” Such engagement is not easy and will take time and commitment but as the plethora of really good and exciting initiatives that already exist in our communities across Scotland show, once they are engaged, people and groups involved in grow your own nursery from schools to care homes, from housing associations to veterans associations, from small neighbourhood groups to national organisations become engaged with creating new allotments and growing spaces. 

READ MORE: Judy Wilkinson: Can allotments be a disruptive force for change in Scotland?

The input of everyone who benefits from allotments and grow-your-own  is needed. Co-operation  with the local authorities will enable the actions and changes required to address climate change, health and wellbeing, and Scotland becoming a Good Food Nation to be realised in spite of dwindling resources and capacity.  

Much of the detail in the Guidance reflects the discussions and experience of those involved in the constructive dialogue. It covers issues that will affect many and those that affect only a few. For example it includes suggestions on how the local authority enables applicants to understand the work involved and find the size of plot they need whether 250 sq m or 100 sq m; people may want to move from smaller to larger plots or downsize; who stays on the waiting list if a couple applying for a plot become estranged or community plots change lead people; the reasonable steps to enable full access to plots; the powers that the local authority can delegate to allotment associations and how these groups are supported.  

The Guidance is written in a positive manner, the aim is clearly to make the legislation work. It covers many issues but these show the diversity of existing practice and future needs. Partnerships, co-creation and engagement among all the different people whether professionals in the government, community groups or individuals is at the heart of this document, illuminating growing opportunities and how they can be realised.

Picture courtesy of St Peter’s Community News

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