|Andrew RT Davies AC|
|Dai Lloyd AC|
|Jenny Rathbone AC|
|John Griffiths AC|
|Joyce Watson AC|
|Llyr Gruffydd AC|
|Mike Hedges AC||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Lee Davies||Rheolwr Amwynderau, Cyngor Tref y Drenewydd a Llanllwchaearn|
|Amenities Manager, Newtown and Llanllwchaiarn Town Council|
|Neville Rookes||Swyddog Polisi yr Amgylchedd, Cymdeithas Llywodraeth Leol Cymru|
|Policy Officer for Environment, Welsh Local Government Association|
|Paul Egan||Dirprwy Brif Weithredwr a Rheolwr Adnoddau, Un Llais Cymru|
|Deputy Chief Executive and Resources Manager, One Voice Wales|
|Peter Newton||Swyddog Polisi, Datblygu ac Arloesi, Cyngor Tref Penarth|
|Policy, Development and Innovation Officer, Penarth Town Council|
|Elizabeth Wilkinson||Ail Glerc|
|Marc Wyn Jones||Clerc|
|1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau||1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest|
|2. Rhandiroedd: sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda gweinyddwyr rhandiroedd||2. Allotments: evidence session with allotment administrators|
|4. Papur(au) i'w nodi||4. Paper(s) to note|
|5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o'r cyfarfod heddiw ar gyfer eitemau 6, 7 ac 8||5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) to resolve to exclude the public from items 6, 7 and 8 of today's meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:32.
The meeting began at 09:32.
Bore da. Good morning. First of all, we've had one apology, from Gareth Bennett. We've got no substitutions. No declarations of interest? No.
If we move straight on to the allotments evidence session. Can I welcome Paul Egan, deputy chief executive and resources manager at One Voice Wales; Peter Newton, policy, development and innovation officer at Penarth Town Council; Lee Davies, amenities manager at Newtown and Llanllwch—?
Llanllwchaiarn. Close enough.
I was doing well up until I got to the last bit. And Neville Rookes, policy officer for environment at the Welsh Local Government Association. Can I say I got that absolutely perfect when I practiced it upstairs? Can I welcome you all? Thank you for your papers. If you're happy, can we move straight to questions?
I'll do the first question. What are your views on the Welsh Government’s strategic approach to allotments and community growing? What more can be done? Is there a need for a change to a new strategy or a new action plan? Who wants to go first?
Well done, Paul.
Okay. Well, I represent community and town councils through One Voice Wales. I put in my evidence that a survey undertaken by the Welsh Government a few years ago showed that, out of those that responded, there were 35 community and town councils managing their own allotments. I've got some evidence locally, because I'm a clerk as well, that some of those councils run more than one allotment site. Some of them are very small, some of them are quite large. I don't recall, in my period with One Voice Wales—and I've been there since 2011—any guidance that, really, can be comprehensively followed by community and town councils, other than the very long document that was produced, which I think, probably, for a council that doesn't have allotments, would be rather off-putting. I think that, in terms of strategy, strategies should be simple, and actions that are needed to deliver that strategy should be concise, understandable and delivered in a way that people understand.
As part of our evidence, we think that we're well placed to try and increase the number of allotment sites that are managed locally, because I think there are benefits of management locally. Unitary authorities, I know from my discussion with colleagues before I came in, do have some difficulties, especially dealing with waiting lists, and about creating a focus in allotments on things other than food production. There are things in the evidence I've given about the benefits of allotments as a place where biodiversity can be encouraged and actioned. Allotments, from my experience—and I've been running a 67-plot allotment site for 30-odd years in my own community council role—are places where communities thrive and develop, and often, the management of allotments is not just about providing the land; it's about managing the personalities and the community that exists there.
I think there are other models, from what I've read from the Welsh Government strategy, that might be considered, such as partnerships between community and town councils and local allotment associations where they work in partnership—the council encourage support, maybe fund some things, and manage some of the community issues that sometimes an association itself finds it very difficult to do. So, I think it does need a refreshed strategy, and I think it needs fresh guidance that can come out, that's understandable, concise and, if you like, provides an encouragement for councils to consider how they can develop these spaces for local food production.
Just adding on to that, the current guidance that's already out—it seems like it's a mix of guidance for everybody, for local authorities and for community groups and individuals looking for allotment provision. We're quite a big town council, so having a look through that, there aren't many things that's new information for us. And I think if I was coming at that from the community side of things, it's a lot of information overload, so I think separate guidance for the authorities and for the community groups—and, within the community group part, having a breakdown of key things to consider and then who you need to talk to, not a list of names and phone numbers, because that goes out of date really quickly, but in terms of, 'You need to talk to your town council' and those types of people.
There is a statutory requirement for local authorities, obviously, to provide or to consider applications for allotments, and I think the strategy that is proposed needs to take into account the local authorities. Yes, they have to consider, but it doesn't place an obligation to actually deliver every single time, and I think there is that expectation at times that because you ask for something you should be given it. I think one of the issues—and I used the phrase 'getting all the ducks in a row' in the evidence that I provided—is it's fine putting a strategy together, but there also has to be, then, working with local authorities and other stakeholders to ensure that the infrastructure is behind that, and reference was made by Paul in terms of waiting lists. All those things need to come together and be put together strategically in order to make this effective. If you just have it as being, 'The guidance is there and the strategy's there,' without taking into consideration how it can be delivered, that causes a problem.
Coming back to the strategic approach, I would encourage fact finding. That seems to be some of the—. We're coming at it from a completely different angle to some of these guys. Newtown is just starting to look to take on the provision in Newtown, and just simply wanting to find the information: how many and what about waiting lists. I don't like the word 'waiting list' because there are an awful lot of people who just don't want to be on a waiting list when they're told, 'Oh, it's five years.' So, that doesn't give you a true reflection of how many people actually want an allotment, in my view. So, I think if Welsh Government has got a strategy, I would suggest that they certainly look to have the fact-finding part built into that, because that would be so useful, certainly for us who are starting off, and probably beneficial to everyone who's already got them.
I think you've answered it in the main, my question, because it was about whether you think that the guidance published in 2016 is still fit for purpose. Paul outlined quite a bit of that already. Moving on from having agreed that, how do you think—what are the specifics? Because we'll be making recommendations in terms of feeding that back to Government. What are the specifics you would like us to tell Government to improve?
Well, I'll give some suggestions. I think that, certainly, the guidance that was published previously is too much, really, for anyone to really take in. So I think it needs to be put in a different context and summarised so that people can understand the key elements—maybe appendices in relation to legislation, rather than built in to the text, so people can look at it and really understand what it means for them.
I think that case studies should be looked at. I'm sure there are different models in Wales of community and town councils, unitaries, other organisations, running very successful allotments. I think maybe they should be cited as good practice examples in any guidance that comes out, and maybe Welsh Government officials should go out and actually meet with some of these organisations that run the allotments, to get a first-hand experience of what makes a successful allotment site. Because I know from my own position as an adviser to councils in Wales—many of the bits of advice I'm asked for in relation to allotments are actually dealing with problems of a big nature, rather than people coming to me, saying, 'How can we enhance what we've got?' It's more about, 'How do we deal with the problems we're experiencing?'
So, I think that we need to understand—and councils and others need to understand—what is it that makes a successful allotment site, what are the problems that can occur, and what troubleshooting needs to be done to turn a site that's struggling into one that's very successful. I also think, from my own experience—and I'm sure you've looked around allotments in Wales—some of them fit into the environment very well, but some of them can be blots on the landscape. And I think there needs to be something in there about making these sites pretty aesthetically pleasing within the communities in which they are based as well. I think that's important.
You've generated a lot of nodding from your colleagues. I take it that people are in agreement with that.
Yes. And the other thing—excuse my naivety—is that I'm not sure if allotment law is a devolved thing, or are we all still trying to adhere to a law that was introduced in 1910, or whenever it was, and reviewed in 1956, I believe? Because the guidance—I think it was by somebody Thorpe; I don't know, excuse me—but it said, back in 1956, that there are so many permutations of the law that to get that into one single distinct set of rules would be useful.
As far as I'm aware, the law is exactly the same, but it is a devolved function. So we could actually bring in new laws, if that was the desire of the Assembly.
That's possibly why there's a 106-page document trying to explain how it works. So that might be a solution to asking.
I think, in terms of the actual guidance itself, having different step-by-steps for community groups that showcase the different models and how easy they are or difficult they are to set up would be helpful from a community point of view. From a town council or a management point of view, I think, again, as a large town council, we're quite lucky to have grounds staff who are able to go around and clear things up if they're overgrown—all those types of things. A lot of the smaller town councils won't have that capacity. So, I think guidance about working with volunteers, working with community groups, tapping into your local authority and encouraging those kinds of relationships, and how to work on that sort of level as well, might be helpful.
One of the examples that I would suggest: in Wrexham, firstly, they have an allotment strategy, and that is working very closely with the Wrexham Allotment and Leisure Gardeners' Association. It's a partnership arrangement, and I seem to recall there are 10 or 11 key aims and strategies that they are working towards, which includes the provision of allotments, and how they can be identified and delivered upon. But I think the key to it is the partnership—that it's not just a local authority responsibility, it's not just a town or community council's responsibility; in order to deliver against the Government's strategy, there needs to be all the stakeholders involved, around the table, delivering what is required. And if that requires the local authorities to be chairing the process, if that's the phrase, then so be it, but I don't think local authorities have—in times of austerity, they haven't got a wealth of capacity to be able to do all of these things all by themselves.
Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Gallaf eich llongyfarch chi yn y lle cyntaf am ddarparu tystiolaeth ysgrifenedig fendigedig ymlaen llaw? Yn rhannol, dŷch chi hefyd wedi ateb y cwestiynau rwy lawr i'w gofyn, ond fe gawn ni eich syniadau chi ta beth.
Yn y lle cyntaf, beth yw eich safbwynt chi ar yr angen am ddull gweithredu cyson o ran cael mynediad at dir ar gyfer tyfu ar draws Cymru? Dŷch chi'n rhannol wedi ateb hwnnw—am yr angen am strategaeth ac ati. Yn benodol, roeddwn i'n mynd i ofyn am reoli y rhestrau aros, fel maen nhw'n cael eu crybwyll—y rhestrau aros rhandiroedd. Roeddwn i'n licio'r darn yna yn nhystiolaeth, dwi'n credu taw tystiolaeth y Drenewydd a Llanllwchaearn oedd o, ein bod ni'n tueddu i ofyn y cwestiwn anghywir. Ac wedyn, allwch chi ymhelaethu ar y dystiolaeth dŷch chi wedi dwyn gerbron ynglŷn â'r cwestiwn dylem ni fod yn ei ofyn ynglŷn â sut i wella mynediad y cyhoedd i gael eu rhandiroedd eu hunain? Diolch yn fawr.
Thank you very much, Chair. May I congratulate you initially for providing excellent written evidence to us beforehand? In part, you too have answered the questions I am down to ask, but I will seek your ideas in any case.
So, to begin with: what is your view on the need for a consistent approach to accessing land for growing across Wales? You've partly answered that—about the need for a strategy and so forth. But specifically, if I could ask about managing waiting lists, as has been mentioned—the allotment waiting times that is. I liked that part in the evidence—I think it was the Llanllwchaiarn and Newtown evidence—that we tend to ask the wrong question. So, could you expand on the evidence that you've given us on the question that we should be asking about how to improve the public's access to getting their own allotments? Thank you.
Thank you. Being as you quoted my question, then I shall quote it back to you. When I was writing this on behalf of the Newtown and Llanllwchaiarn Town Council, it has to be said, and I suppose that now is the time to perhaps say it, that we came to the table on this consultation quite late in the day, so please don't forget about the town and community councils, which are so heavily involved in this. I think the consultation went out to local parties, way, way before us. So, I only had a week to pull this together.
But, yes, I just said, should we be asking the question that if an allotment were made available to you, would you want one? I think that's possibly a more pertinent question for people who get so despondent with the idea of being on a list for, I think you even quoted, probably in jest, somebody saying, 'Oh, you'll be on it for 300 years.'
Yes, that was quoted to me once, many years ago.
So, clearly, there's a lot of will and a lot of people out there who would like to have an allotment, should it be made available to them, and who are not wanting to be put on a list for however long.
I think that just adding names to an endless list isn't sorting things out. We've recently had new staff come in and the first thing they did was freeze the waiting list, contact everybody on that list and make it a regular thing, where there will be people who, as soon as they know there are allotments, will chuck their name on the list, and they don't really need one. So, we've seen names being culled off that list and have whittled it down that way.
I think that if the demand is so great that there's an excessive waiting list, then perhaps allotments, as a growing space, may be the wrong format. Perhaps you're looking at a community garden or those types of things. So, I think that having flexibility in changing how you approach community growing and widening it from the definition of just simply allotment space might help. That's easier said than done when you've got established allotment plots and things like that, but, as has been said, if there's a duty to consider growing space and things when there's a demand, then looking at other ways to do that—. We're just in the midst of setting up a community garden and we will start asking those questions about who's going to get involved in that and those types of things.
I think the communication is key to this. One is that people are asking to have allotments, but one of the questions that isn't usually asked is: does anybody out there have a piece of land that they wouldn't mind leasing out as allotments? And, just as another example, I think it's in Vancouver: when properties become disused within the city limits, if they are disused and falling into disrepair, they are knocked down and community gardens and community growing areas are actually established on those plots. So, half a block, and you've got a garden in the middle of a city, which is applicable and can be applicable in most urban areas.
The only thing I'd want to add is that, in many parts of Wales, there are charters between community and town councils and unitary authorities. Some work well, some work not as well, but many are in place. Many of those unitary authorities hold community liaison committees, and they probably meet about four times a year with community and town councils. In my own area, the Vale of Glamorgan, I can't remember on any occasion that allotments have been on the agenda. Now, I think that a unitary authority, especially one that covers a large geographical area, is going to have difficulty in managing waiting lists for the allotments that it runs. It's going to be really difficult. There is an opportunity, I think, of working in partnership with those who have more of a handle on what the need is locally. Maybe, on those agendas, allotments should feature more, and there should be a lot more engagement between both tiers of local government on the subject of local food production. I think that would be a good step forward.
Some local authorities in other parts of the world have area committees, or certainly have had, so that these sorts of very local issues can be handled by elected members but in those areas. So, are you aware of any local authorities and unitary authorities in Wales where that sort of thing is in place?
What do you mean by 'area committees'?
I think Powys did have shire committees up until very recently and then, unfortunately, due to financial cuts, I think they've now stopped them. But I think the point we are trying to make is that there's a place for everything there, really—in my opinion, anyway. Local authorities in close partnership with you guys could perhaps have the information held together, because they've got more manpower and more woman-power, but, from a community basis, you can't beat the town and community councils for knowing exactly what their communities need. Bear in mind that we are all from fairly sizeable towns to a certain degree, but if you look at some clerks, they're managing tiny little communities, who may still want allotments, with only six hours a week or something. So, to have a local authority that's got that information to hand and that then helps the community to develop and provide the service, I think, would be quite useful.
Okay. So, you could envisage a unitary authority setting the agenda, the rules and then localised bodies—
Yes, potentially, and holding that centralised—. That information is perhaps quite difficult to get in the first place with regard to how many you need, what you require, what the laws are and all the rest of it. However, it has to be transparent and with equal guidance.
Okay. Thank you for that. I just want to move on now to the resources that are needed to appropriately support allotments and community growing. Peter Newton, you mentioned that you've got grounds officers who can get stuck in when a plot becomes overgrown, for example. The basic question is: why has it been allowed to become overgrown? Because once it becomes overgrown, we heard from earlier evidence, it's very much more difficult to get it back to being suitable for growing.
I think that, from our personal perspective, there were some issues with tenants and things like that. I think, as a whole, you don't let it get to that stage or, rather, some of the things that our ground staff have recently gone into have been issues where a community cannot do it themselves—they don't have the necessary equipment and those types of things. So, there might be a tree that needs to be removed, so that kind of heavy plant equipment that we have access to or we've got the budget to access.
I think the key resource for town and community councils in particular, and in regard to growing spaces, is people. Our most successful—at least in my opinion, our most successful allotment site is one where we've got two or three mainstay gents who have taken the rest of the tenants under their wing. They arrange everything from welcoming people in after we've shown them around the various plots to the fact that one of them has used part of his allotment site to create a little community space, and things like that, so he's bringing together the community and he's there on a day-to-day basis to help support that. It's something that—we're a large town council, and we couldn't do that on anywhere near a regular basis. That's why I think working with those types of people, and working with the tenants and with volunteers, is probably a crucial resource, particularly, again, for community councils who don't have a large staff structure.
That is key, isn't it? Identifying the people who will make an allotment come alive. So, what do you need to do that? That's the $50 million question almost. It isn't just, 'Oh, well, austerity means we've got less budget.' This is much more complicated.
I think it's building into the allotment provision—and again this is where it can come from higher up—a strategy of building community. If you've got an idea of you're not just creating a community growing space, you're creating a community, then there will be strategies and ways that are described within the guidance for a town council to go, 'Okay, we want to have this type of community. We want to have these types of volunteers. How do we do that? Do we go into the library and have a pop-up stand? Do we talk to the local friends of groups? How do we get the enthusiastic people within the community and how do we get them on board with what we're trying to do?'
I'm selfishly promoting Newtown and Llanllwchaiarn here, but we did do exactly that. The resources we needed were just a hall, a bit of time, a bit of effort from the town councillors, but a lot of buy-in from the local people. We were very successful to get a group and pull them together. We got them constituted, they've gone off to the lottery, they've won £1.1 million and we've taken on 130 acres of land that the local authority were no longer going to manage. That's a success story, but that wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for the groups who wanted to pull themselves together. I'm a firm believer that if you give the third sector £10 it'll give you £30-worth of work back. But they still need that £10 sometimes, and the town council were the ones that helped them with that bit of money. Rather than just pay a man on a mower, we paid them some money to help develop that land, and they've come up with all sorts of wonderful ideas.
So, Mr Rookes, compelling evidence from Mr Davies and Mr Newton, how clearly do local authorities understand the need to engage in that partnership we talked about earlier?
I think there's a range. I mentioned Wrexham in particular that works well, and there are other local authorities that work well in partnership with the allotment associations in the area. I think Paul mentioned it earlier: it's a group of people that are meeting together in a community, and the rules and regulations—I'm not saying that they should be strict and tight, but there should be certain parameters that are acceptable, and once people understand how they work and how those parameters fit in, the communities evolve within those parameters.
I think with some of the waiting lists, some of the authorities have looked at it from the point of view of restricting it to your home has to be within three miles of the allotment, or it has to be the nearest one that you're on the waiting list for, and you are not on multiple waiting lists. I would challenge that unless they are monitored on a regular basis, once somebody's allocated an allotment at one site, I would hazard a guess that they don't remove themselves from the lists for the others. So, the waiting lists are kind of skewed.
Absolutely. My local authority revives its housing waiting list every year. If you don't reapply every year, then off you go. So, is this not something that should be done with allotments too?
Probably so, and maybe it is that need to integrate the waiting lists, because I think each association or each site has got its own waiting list, and in some instances never the twain shall meet, and that is where some of the issues and the problems do arise. Yes, I think that there needs to be perhaps the partnership co-ordinated by the local authority, looking at how we can make sure that those waiting lists are collated, that the right people—some people may have been on for quite some time, and may even have left the area, who knows.
Okay. So, you cite Wrexham as being a good local authority in this. Do they have criteria for being on the list, apart from the fact that you express an interest? For example, if you didn't have a garden at home.
I think there are four sites within Wrexham—four allotment sites.
But is there weighting to the waiting list, as there is with housing? Are you more likely to get a plot if you don't have a garden yourself?
I'm not clear as to what those criteria are.
Sorry, Jenny. We've used up half our time and we've got through four questions. We've just had 10 minutes of very interesting questions from you, but we're in serious danger of running out of time, so if we move on to Llyr.
Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Rŷn ni wedi derbyn tystiolaeth sy'n awgrymu y dylid llacio'r rheolau sy'n cyfyngu ar yr hawl i werthu cynnyrch dros ben o randiroedd. Byddai hynny, wrth gwrs, yn dod ag elfen o incwm i helpu gyda chostau cynnal a chadw. Byddai diddordeb gyda fi i glywed gennych chi i ba raddau rŷch chi'n credu y buasai hynny yn rhywbeth y byddai'n gam positif.
Thank you very much, Chair. We've received evidence suggesting that restrictions on allotments selling surplus produce should be relaxed, and that would generate income to help with maintenance costs. I'm just interested to know to what extent you think that would be a positive step.
I would have an issue with that, I think, in some respects, because I think what you wouldn't want is allotment sites to be taken on by people who are there to generate a surplus for the purpose of generating income for themselves. I understand that, when you are doing allotment gardening, if you're good at it, you probably are going to generate a surplus of crops. In my own council—Llandough, just outside Penarth, where we have this large allotment site—this issue has come up. They're aware that they can't go and sell it, so what they've decided to do instead is donate it to, I think, a local food bank. I think they also had a suggestion of donating it to another charity, so there was no suggestion of selling it. So, there is a surplus. We would not want to see—I don't think anyone wants to see—food wasted, but, on the other hand, I think that because allotments are as I've described them, as distinct communities, you can get some community people that would see it as an opportunity to make profit rather than to get involved in something good in their own lives and also in the community. That would be my reservation.
That's interesting, because that contradicts some of the evidence we've had in terms of people seeing it as a shame that they couldn't use it to generate a bit of money just to help with some of the overheads.
I would say I don't wholly agree with that, but what I would say is that there have got to be ways of allowing generation of income that can be invested back into—. That would be useful, because at the end of the day, sheds need replacing, tools need replacing, and water harvesting systems and things, which are coming more into it—. There are ways. With what we've set up in Newtown, with this group, they're going to set out and earn money on this 130 acres of land, but it's quite strict on the fact that any profit they make goes back into managing that land, because at the end of five years, when all the money dries up a little bit from the lottery and from us, they'd have to be self-sufficient. So, it would be remiss of us to say, 'That's it. You can't do anything', but I agree that we've got to tread on the side of caution with commercialism.
I wouldn't have any problem if it was reinvested in the allotment site.
It's just that I've been managing this allotment site for 36 years and I have, obviously, seen different involved there, so there are some risks with that, that's all.
Yes, that's quite an important change in principle, from the evidence we've heard before, about people being able to generate a small and modest form of income for their allotment sites. I suppose it does pose the question: define 'allotments'. To me, an allotment is where someone has a piece of ground where their passion, their interest in growing their own vegetables and food is carried out, as such. What would be your definition of what an allotment actually is? Because it can be many things. In the Vale of Glamorgan, for example, you've got people who are selling private land for allotments. Then you've also got the community allotment that many would understand. So, is there a clear definition of what an allotment is?
That's why there are 106 pages of guidance notes on this, I think. You could ask the same question about whether—
Doesn't that go to the core, then, of what we're inquiring about?
I would say 'yes', in my opinion. From our point of view, we're setting out on this road of taking on the allotment service in Newtown very early on. Part of this 130 acres is to be set aside for allotments, but you're quite right—there are also mini-allotments, for instance, and micro-allotments that are already being done privately in Newtown, where people have literally got a place no bigger than this table, and they love it, and there's a little bit of competition about how much food you can get out of one small space. So, yes, if you're going to go back to question No. 1, on strategic approach, give us guidance on what you define allotments to be.
I think the current legislation on allotments from 1926 gives a clear definition as to what an allotment is and what it can and cannot be used for.
Okay. We've also had evidence suggesting that there should be a statutory timescale for considering requests for allotment space. I think the current legislation only requires that requests are considered, and I'm just wondering whether you have a view as to whether more of a statutory time frame would be appropriate.
I'm aware of the current law. I think there's been some misinterpretations of that over the years. I know, when I first started as a community clerk in 1983, I was told that if so many people want an allotment, you've got to provide it, but then I learnt later it's a duty to consider. The problem, I think, is about the availability of land, so if a demand comes in and it's substantial, and you have a statutory timescale, which organisation is going to have to deliver on that? Would it be the unitary authority? Would it be a town and community council? Would it be another body? And what if the land is not available? And is it suitable land, because not all land is suitable for allotments unless there's a heavy investment put into it? So, I think it could be—. If you like, it might be a challenge too great, although maybe there needs to be a bit more strength.
And the other thing I'd want to add is that allotments are high in demand at the moment, and in my 30-odd years running this allotment site, if you looked at a chart it would be up and down, really. I've known times when most of the site has been covered in plastic covering to stop the weeds coming through, because demand dropped, and then suddenly it goes up. It's rocketed in recent years, I have to say, but I think there could be changes in the future. But I think there needs to be an active encouragement for allotments to be provided. I would agree with that. I think there needs to be something done about maybe the availability of land to be a little easier, to be identified, and more communication about its availability. But to have a statutory timescale might be setting up some bodies to fail, for sure, so I have some doubts about that.
I think about the wonderful phrase that you see so often in health and safety laws—'reasonable and practical'. At the moment, there seems to be this never-ending scale, which, to be fair to people who are actually asking for and wanting an allotment, it's bad enough being told you're on a five year waiting list, but if it's an indefinite time for when you can get an allotment, that's even worse. However, it can be difficult particularly for small communities to even find land and for local authorities in more urban areas to find land. So, it's going to be a fine balance, I think.
I think the other side is that there is already land that is allocated to be allotments. Whether the size of the allotments could be reduced in some way—
Half plots and quarter plots to give people the opportunity to access them, because many of those on the waiting list might think it's The Good Life and it's an ideal way of working.
But it's a lot of work, yes, and aching bones at the weekend may be, 'I don't want to do it anymore'. But I think that, if there's already provision there, you could perhaps consider looking at the size of the plots.
I wanted to ask about council-run allotment sites and charging for community-led growing projects, because we've received evidence that there's a lack of consistency in terms of the charges made, and that some vulnerable groups—for example, organisations working with vulnerable groups—might find the level of charges prohibitive and a barrier to taking forward those sorts of projects. I just wondered what your views are on those matters.
I'm aware that certain local authority-run allotments have actually allocated one or two plots for disabled and vulnerable people, et cetera, to actually have access to them. So, whether it's part of social prescribing, by allocating a particular plot or two plots, or several plots even, if that would be the case, that actually provides that provision. I can't remember whether there's a difference in charge for those types of plots or not, but it's another alternative.
I think we heard evidence that one project was being charged £700, I think it was, per annum. Do you have experience of that sort of arrangement?
I'm not aware of that magnitude of figure, no.
Guidance on consistency across Wales would be a good idea on that, because at least then, on those charitable groups—. The one in Newtown that was set up—in fact, you planted a tree in it, John, a few years ago—that was given by the college in Newtown, actually, and there's land there and a community group that help run that. But they talk about micro-allotments as well there. Yes, clearly, if you're going to set up a community allotment or community gardening group, it would be nice to know that there is some consistency across Wales and that you're not playing a postcode lottery on that, I would assume. That's certainly the feedback that I've been getting from people around Newtown. Ponthafren is a good example in Newtown, where they have their own land.
If you go on the local authority websites on allotments it will give you what the charges are for the allotments.
So, you would think that there would be a lack of consistency across local authorities.
Certainly, if you look at the leasing costs for an allotment, yes, there is a range of prices, yes.
In Llandough, we have allocated plots to the hospital, for two of the units there, and one to the local special school, and they get charged exactly the same rate as anybody else. Unfortunately, they haven't been able to maintain their enthusiasm for a long period, but they were there for a while, and the community council is always anxious to try and get community groups that would not normally have that opportunity to get involved. I know from my own search of allotment rents around south-east Wales, the rental levels for plots are not consistent. I think it very much depends on the facilities offered on the site, though. I know that, in Cardiff, they offer quite a number of facilities onsite, and I suspect that may be why they charge a bit more. I'd agree with Lee—I think that, if some evidence could be put together in guidance to providers of allotments as to what the range of allotment rentals is, I think that would be a good step forward.
Given the strategic importance of completely rethinking our relationship with food, and one of the easiest ways of doing that is encouraging people to grow their own and then eat it, what are your top three ideas for making more land available to local communities for growing?
I think putting more pressure on developers to provide land—not specifically allotments but, again, community growing space. I think it would be great if you've got—. Again, with housing demand still being there, if, once your houses are reserved and people have moved in, people are getting a pack that says, 'This is your community garden, this is how you get involved', again, you're building communities rather than simply growing space.
Developers would prefer to do that than provide play equipment et cetera, because it's cheaper for them. Right, back to you, Jenny.
But 106 agreements can be quite useful for play equipment as well, which cost more money to set up. But I agree with Peter completely. It's another question that you're going to potentially ask later on, but education as well—there's a lot of land through the education system as well. If we can start combining the outdoor education with allotments, or combine with them, I think that's a good way of drawing in some land that's sometimes not necessarily used for any other purpose.
So, are you talking community-focused schools, where the school is a community space, confined to children between 9 and 3.30 p.m., but available to the rest of the community?
Yes. If you look at the amount of land that's available in the evenings, weekends and all through school holidays. There's certainly mileage in combining the education of growing your own vegetables, I think, right through from primary to community groups, in my opinion.
Okay. But no school in Newtown is doing that, as far as you're aware.
There are a couple of schools in Newtown that have got their own little allotment sites, within themselves. Of course, you've got safeguarding issues, which is a sort of fundamental problem with that sort of melding of both things, which is quite good, and they've also got some legislative issues, where they did have chickens and now they're no longer allowed to have chickens for various reasons. So, there are barriers there to have those types of community-led groups, but I think, potentially, there are areas where you could have the allotment site set up as a community settlement in its own right that the schools could then use. Perhaps that would be a better way of looking at it.
I also think, again on the theme of education, educating community groups about the processes of obtaining land is not very clear in the current guidance. And it's combined with a bit of information overload. But I think when you've got a couple of enthusiastic members of the community and you sa 'Okay, step by step, this is how you get land', they will be able to go much further with it than other individuals. So, I think providing that—
And have any of you tried encouraging householders to lend their land for gardening, where either they're too elderly, too disabled, or simply not interested in using their garden in any way?
No, but I have heard—Powys, let's face it, has got an abundance of land, really—that, certainly, on a long-lease scenario, it can prove fairly profitable for farmers and landowners to have plots of land that are not so intensively farmed handed over to a community group. If they've got that regular income coming in over a long period of time—I've heard that that's another way of securing land.
Yes. I visited Incredible Edible in Conwy a few weeks ago, and, of course, they're utilising grass verges and public spaces in the town itself. Is that quite a—? Clearly, there's more scope to do that kind of thing, I'd imagine. Are you quite proactive in that respect or not?
Yes, we've got edible trails throughout Newtown, which, again, is led by, not the town council per se, but we've allowed some of our flower beds and stuff to be handed over—trees, apple trees and things like that. So, yes. Again, you've got to deal with the local authorities and the highways as well, which can be quite prohibitive sometimes for genuine reasons. But, yes.
But there's a lot of land potentially available—that kind of land that could be put to use—really, isn't there?
I think when you think creatively, then, as you say, there's a lot of land, and it's encouraging people to go beyond their kind of, 'We need allotments' or 'We need this' and having those clear models of, 'You could do this, this and this', or even, on a small scale, as you said, 'You've got some grass verges; how can we turn that into a diverse area?'
Can I just add that I think there's probably quite a lot of land within the public sector, as in surrounding hospitals and the likes? In Llandough, on the hospital grounds there, they've got a community orchard that the Scouts have been involved in developing, and some of that produce is then used in the hospital. So, there's that benefit. But to look at the public sector and see what land is available, either for community growing or allotments. Maybe it doesn't lend itself necessarily to allotments, but on a community basis.
It also requires the local authority to take this partnership seriously and agreeing not to spray everywhere in order to eliminate weeds.
Because I'm afraid that still happens. I've had fruit trees eliminated in attempts to do Incredible Edible initiatives.
As I mentioned earlier, the communities need to be involved, with rules and regulations, and if one of the partners of that is looking at what can and cannot be done to that land, then so be it.
I think, in a unitary authority, if they look at their land register, they'll find they've got an awful lot of land that is serving no purpose, and I think that that should be looked at in relation to allotment growing space or community gardens. I was involved with the reshaping of services programme with one local authority—not one of the largest ones; probably middle sized—and when we were given a copy of the land register, we just couldn't believe it; it was just little odd plots behind a lane or something. And they were all probably quite suitable for doing alternative things, possibly by having a small community garden, or even a small allotment. So, I think that could be a good place to start looking at what's available. But that could be done in the context of this joint working between community and town councils and the local authority, and other bodies as well. So, I think that would be a good place to start as well, looking there.
We touched on it earlier—social prescribing. We've had evidence that it can be quite patchy from one general practitioner to another in terms of awareness of social prescribing and use of social prescribing. But we know that allotments and community growing can provide important physical and mental health benefits. So, I just wondered what your general views are on social prescribing. Are there ways in which it could be strengthened and promoted and developed further in terms of allotments and community growing?
I think the future generations commissioner is actually looking into—. That was one of the first things she started, and has been looking into—her officers are looking into the social prescribing, and how it can and cannot be used. I think that there have been benefits seen in community farms and community growing, where people with disabilities or mental health issues—actually, it gives some sort of structure to their days and their life. And if those are removed, or are not provided, it does present a problem. I think the GPs maybe are not, as you say, aware of what social prescribing is, and how beneficial it can be. But you also need the provision for, whether it be allotments—to just give somebody an allotment wouldn't necessarily be ideal; it would need to be structured and supported. And I think that's where the social prescribing—there needs to be a framework and an infrastructure that supports the delivery of social prescribing, so that the GPs then are able to refer people to that service or opportunity.
Well, Communities First used to do this sort of thing—exactly what you describe. It's to give people a framework, and also take them along on the first occasion, to induct them, if you like, into a new community. Local authorities absorbed Communities First into their organisations when Communities First ended. What, if any, enthusiasm was generated to continue that sort of work, or is it something that now needs revisiting in the context of social prescribing?
I think it needs to be revisited in the context, yes.
Local authorities would argue they have the responsibility but not the money. Andrew.
Thank you very much. And thank you for the evidence so far. One of the comments that Peter made about local authorities thinking creatively in the planning system—I've yet to find a planning authority that is creative, to be honest with you; they very much stick to the rules, for obvious reasons. And I think one thing, when we do set up new allotments—we do have to think about the infrastructure that goes with that. It's not just people working their plots, it's obviously the trips to the allotments, it's the parking up if they've come in a car, or the paraphernalia they might bring as well. I think that's a serious consideration that's got to be thought through very carefully. Because one person's gain in getting an allotment can be someone's anti-social behaviour, if you like, if they live next door, as such, then—it depends how you consider it.
Andrew, I assume you want to declare an interest as a councillor in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Well, I declare I'm a councillor in the Vale of Glamorgan, yes. I'm just making an observation, I am, on that. But the point I'd like to make is about the educational benefits of allotments, and in particular the point about, in primary schools in particular, that there's an uptake around allotments and garden growing, as such, then. When it moves into the secondary sector, it's not quite so strong. Do you subscribe to those educational benefits and the benefits that children can have about having access to allotments and the gardening experience? Any one of you.
Absolutely. I think I've already mentioned it beforehand. But I think it comes with some challenges. I think the rural parts of Wales, which is where we're from, can sometimes struggle to have the facilities close by, although they've got land, ironically. But there's talk of potentially trying to find ways of having roving trailers, for instance. So, you've got community allotment groups that will actually go around to the individual schools with equipment and how to plant pots, and things like that, even if they can't do it in their own schools. Some schools just don't have the facilities to do that. But, again, if you can help get these social communities to provide the infrastructure for them in the first place, that would be useful. But I think, education-wise, it's great. I look to Newtown as a central hub, and all the feeder schools that come into Newtown High School, which could all be part of one system of promoting growing from the get-go, really.
But it's very much at the primary level, rather than at the secondary level, isn't it?
It is. And having got one child who's just left secondary, and two who are still in there, their curriculum seems to be so, so tight that there doesn't seems to be any time to do anything other than the core subjects, unfortunately. But that's a whole other committee.
I think it depends on what you're pitching. I think, if you're just going, 'Here's a growing space, how about it?', then you're more likely—. With our community garden, we're working with the local primary school just down the road. They've got very little green space, and so their eco club and their gardening club have got their own veg bed in our community garden. I think if you are looking to develop in the long-term education about growing and all those types of things, you can put a slant on it for secondary education. Again, we've seen youth protests about climate change and things like that, so they aren't primary school children doing that—that's 16 and 17-year-olds interested in the environment. So, if you can put a slant on that and, again, I think we'll come on to that, but that biodiversity slant does involve, again, investment from the managing authority to put on a programme and to do that sort of thing. Because I think there's provision there, and it just needs to be well thought out and to make it robust.
I think if you define physical education—. For any of you that have dug a plot from one end to the other—that's pretty much half a game of rugby, isn't it, let's face it? But it's very much—you go in and you do sport in physical education in the secondary sector, but should it all be sport? Should there be other realms of physical education that could involve growing?
I think, just again on education, it's a chance for, particularly, town councils to build those relationships with schools. You're getting children involved with the political scene and understanding what a town council does. So, again, it shouldn't be the be-all and end-all of how town and community councils work with schools. It's that first chance to get in there, do something of that nature, and then you can branch off in whichever way you want to, then.
One Voice Wales, in your evidence, said that you'll be shortly issuing—or you might have issued already since the paper came to us—guidance to town and community councils around their responsibilities around the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. Can you give the committee a taste of what that advice might be looking like and how that might facilitate a road into allotments?
Well, we've agreed with Carmarthenshire County Council, who've produced this very good booklet on the duty under the Act—we've agreed with them that we can circulate that around Wales. We're also waiting on the relevant Welsh Government department to provide us with further guidance. So, we're planning to send that out to all councils. We've got a slot at our innovative practice conference in July, and we've secured the services of your Welsh Government official, who's a lead officer on this, to be a key speaker at that event. We also have a report of our conferences circulated to all our members as well.
What we would like to do, and I mentioned it in the evidence, is have a training module that we deliver throughout Wales. I've got 12 trainers throughout Wales, in all parts of Wales, and that programme could act as an encouragement and support for community growing spaces, allotments, biodiversity and so on. And we want to build this guidance into that training module. So, we want to deliver the awareness through training, through our conference, and also by circulation of materials. So, that's how we want to do it.
And, yes, I agree with my colleagues about involvement of the schools. I know many councils are trying to set up youth councils to involve children and the school itself. It generally tends to be primary schools rather than secondary, and I know many councils who have a councillor dedicated as the liaison person that works with the local headteachers to try and generate projects within the community that can help further things like community growing and biodiversity. So, that is happening. I wouldn't say it's happening throughout Wales, but I'm aware of some cases where that is happening. It's all good stuff, really.
We've reached the end of our time, and can I thank you all very much for coming along, being very informative and very helpful to our inquiry? So, thank you all very much for coming.
We can break now until 10.40 a.m.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:29 a 10:42.
The meeting adjourned between 10:29 and 10:42.
Can I welcome Members back this morning? We've got a number of papers to note: correspondence from Natural Resources Wales to the Chair following the annual scrutiny session; correspondence between the Chair and the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs in relation to the legislative consent motion—memorandum, sorry—on the Fisheries Bill; correspondence between the Chair and the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs in relation to the committee's follow-up inquiry on marine protected area management in Wales; correspondence from NFU Cymru, Hybu Cig Cymru and Dr Ludivine Petetin and Dr Mary Dobbs on the supplementary legislative consent memorandum for the Agriculture Bill; correspondence from the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to the Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee in relation to the legislative consent memorandum for the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill; and correspondence from the Chair of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee to the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales following the annual scrutiny session on 27 March. Are we prepared to note those? Does anybody wish to raise any matters on them? No? Okay.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
Can I move a motion under Standing Order 17.42(vi) to resolve to exclude the public from items 6, 7 and 8 of today's meeting? Thank you very much.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:43.
The public part of the meeting ended at 10:43.