Update : 20th July 2023
Brighton and Hove City Council have rejected the Roots Allotments proposal.
Privatisation of public services continues…
Now its Allotments under threat.
A Council owned field in North Portslade is being considered as a site for 700-1200 private allotments run by venture capital backed ‘Roots Allotments’. The plots will cost between 16 and 20 times the price of Council Allotments.
BHAF has given the Council a summary of our concerns which you can download here
Feel free to comment on our Facebook Page here
Allotment legislation is probably one of the best examples of altruistic legislation aimed primarily at the less well off in society enabling them to have access to land to grow cheap food and commune with nature. For over a hundred years Councils have been under obligation to provide ‘sufficient’ numbers of allotments to their residents at a reasonable rent. To make growing your own food financially viable it is imperative that the cost of an allotment is as cheap as possible. We understand that many new plot holders are more well off and want to grow as a hobby rather than a need but we shouldn’t lose sight of who allotments were originally intended for and who they benefit the most.
Over the last 20 years the demand for allotments has grown massively. People have wanted to become more self-sufficient in their own organically grown vegetables and more recently with the cost of food crisis they have again started to become a necessity for some as they have been in the past. The waiting list for an allotment in Brighton and Hove is now over 3000 people!
There is also growing demand for community spaces on allotment sites to give access to socially and economically disadvantaged groups and individuals. We focussed on the great work done by some of these groups at this years AGM.
However, at the same time as the demand for allotments has grown, central government cuts have meant that local allotment services have been run down. Maintenance and staffing levels have suffered and services have struggled to manage the workload. Many plots stand unused much to the frustration of those on the waiting list and the infrastructure like gates and fencing and access ways is often in a poor state. When public services are run down and waiting times increase, the private sector steps in, it’s the same old story and now it is happening to allotments.
Venture Capital backed ‘Alotta Futurelands Limited’ (Trading as Roots Allotments) have already caused upset and been met with protests from residents in Bristol due to their roughshod implementation of private allotments there. North Somerset County Council have concerns with issues regarding planning. But in Bristol, Roots Allotments are using private land.
However, they are now trying to come to Brighton and Hove and here they are planning on using public land, Council land… our land! And worryingly, the Council is considering the proposal.
Roots Allotments presented their proposal for between 700 and 1200 allotments to BHCC officials and The Brighton and Hove Food Partnership in February and seem to have met with a positive response. The land is currently being rented by a tenant farmer. Talks have continued and Roots allotments have been telling people they will be letting plots in Brighton and Hove by the end of the year.
The 1908 Smallholdings and Allotments Act requires councils to provide a sufficient number of allotments. It’s clear that a waiting list of 3000 people indicates that there are insufficient numbers of allotments in the city. However there has been no attempt to open any new council allotments. But it seems that all the time there was actually land that the Council could have turned to allotments but didn’t… until now.
Roots allotments are a venture capital backed company who need to make a profit for their shareholders. The prices they are charging are staggering.
Roots micro plot 12sqm £9.99 a month = £120 a year.
Cost of same size on Council Allotment = £4.20 a year
Nearly 20 times the price
Roots Couples Plot 72sqm £34.99 a month = £420 a year
Cost of same size on Council Allotment = £25.20 a year
Over 16 times the price.
It seems that our Council is considering renting our land to Roots Allotments for them to rent it back to us again for up to 20 times the price. The prices they are charging will effectively price out a large section of less well-off people. Sadly, it is these people that allotments were originally intended for and who would benefit the most. They would be effectively excluded from this use of publicly owned land.
The question on every allotmenteers lips is ‘Is this the start of privatisation of allotments?’
If the proposal goes through and makes money for the Council, will it stop there? Or is this the thin end of a wedge. Could we see the Council deciding to let private companies run other allotment sites? I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this proposal could represent an existential threat to allotments as we know them. If Brighton and Hove Council can implement private allotments on Council land then other Councils will surely take note and follow suit. Private companies are free to operate their private allotments on private land, but allowing them to run them on public land feels like a line we should not cross.
We are calling on the Council to open more allotments themselves for the benefit of all the community and not to allow a private company to operate allotments where the only beneficiaries will be those able to afford the rents and the shareholders of Roots Allotments.
BHAF produced a report last year looking at the business case for allotments. It costed out the health, social and environmental benefits they bring to the City. Overall, the council’s existing allotment provision benefits the city – including wider council departments – by a minimum of £385,000 each year on top of what they bring in from the rent. Increasing Council allotment provision would both increase these benefits and bring in more money in rents helping to improve the service.
It is not even clear if it is possible to grow enough vegetables on a Roots Allotment plot to actually break even financially. Is it possible to grow £120 worth of vegetables a year on a plot half the size of the average living room? In reality it appears to be more like an ‘Allotment Theme Park’ than a real attempt at producing local food in an economically sustainable way. It certainly isn’t equitable nor is it tackling food poverty. The thing which will be really growing on a Roots Allotment is the bank accounts of the shareholders.
Brighton and Hove City Councils current Labour administration (elected in May 2023) inherited the proposal from the previous Green administration. The Labour group has not rejected the proposal and it is currently still ‘under consideration’. If you have concerns about the precedent this private scheme will set and think that the Council should open more Council allotments instead then please either email one of the councillors on the Environment Committee or your local councillor.
Mark Carroll Chairman BHAF