The post below about the proposed Roots mega allotment site at Abbots Leigh to the south west of Bristol was first published on our sister blog, Grassroots Alternatives. We’re re-publishing it here because the issues raised in it need to be put in front of as many people as possible. One is the commercialisation and commodification of allotments which to our way of thinking, are vital community assets. Then there’s the threat of developers thinking that the rise of massive out of town allotment sites will enable them to grab existing sites within the city for development, using the excuse that there will be adequate replacement plots. Which brings us onto the point that people would have to travel to these out of town plots and that the Abbots Leigh site is going to be a traffic generator. Basically, what’s being proposed are allotments for hipsters with scant consideration for the needs and concerns of the local community, served up with a hefty dose of greenwash.
We’ve written a few posts about allotment provision, here are two of the most recent ones: What’s the best location for plots to grow food? 10.3.23 and: A few thoughts on allotment provision 11.11.22. We’re flagging these up because of the controversy over Roots, the commercial allotment operator, starting work on opening up a new site at Abbots Leigh, just over the border into North Somerset from Bristol: Allotment company defends decision to build on meadow despite objections – B24/7 | 19.4.23.
The new site Roots are opening up at Abbots Leigh will have just over 700 plots with parking capacity for 80 vehicles. This is likely to be the biggest commercial allotment site in the UK. Roots already have two other out of town sites near Bath, one at Tucker Meadows and the other at Avon Views.
At Abbots Leigh, there has been strong opposition from local residents to Roots opening up their latest site. The objections range from the ecological damage that would happen to the meadows being used for the new allotments through to concerns about an increase in vehicle movements in and around the village. Regarding the objections, it’s worth reading the comments posted by readers below the B24/7 article linked to above.
We’re very keen on local food growing. That ranges from guerilla gardening when there are no other options, community vegetable gardens, neighbourhood level allotment provision and small scale growers who care for the land they use and who sell locally. As community activists, our priority is supporting neighbourhood level food growing undertaken by residents. With the best will in the world, we don’t see the latest Roots site at Abbots Leigh ticking any of those boxes.
For us, whether it’s guerilla gardening, a community vegetable plot or a neighbourhood level allotment, it’s as much about bringing residents together as it is about growing food. It’s about sharing skills and knowledge. It’s about empowering people and building up their confidence to collectively take on a project of creating a community garden or helping to run an allotment. It’s about bringing a bit of control over food supply right down to the level of the neighbourhood. It’s about strengthening neighbourhood cohesion and solidarity. All of this is why we think allotments need to be in communities, not on sites beyond the edges of an urban area.
Roots have claimed that the Abbots Leigh site is served by a bus. Well, given the state of the bus services across the Avon region, how many of the future plot holders at Abbots Leigh are going to rely on the bus to get them to and from their plots? Not many. Also, when it comes to harvesting the crops, can you imagine a plot holder lugging a sack of freshly picked spuds onto and off a bus? We can’t. Being realistic, the vast majority of plot holders will be coming and going by car.
The Abbots Leigh site will have over 700 plots served by parking provision for 80 vehicles. So, what happens on the days when say, 120 people want to turn up on the same morning for a few hours work on their plots? That’s 40 vehicles whose owners have to find somewhere to park. It will be chaos. Bear in mind that with the vast majority of plot holders coming in from outside, the question has to be asked as to how much consideration they will show for the residents of Abbots Leigh when they’re desperately looking for somewhere to park. It’s a recipe for confrontation. That’s before we get on to the pollution and potential congestion arising from these extra vehicle movements.
The point has been raised that if this trend for large scale out of town allotments continues, developers will be casting their greedy eyes over urban allotment sites with a view to building on them. The justification the developers will use will be that allotment sites are being provided on the new edge of town sites so there will be no overall loss of provision. This completely disregards the fact that it’s neighbourhood plots that will be lost and that many of those losing them will not want to, or be unable to travel out to places like Abbots Leigh. Unintended consequences and all that.
Given our principles about supporting neighbourhood food growing and allotments, there’s no way we can support Roots in their bid to set up over 700 plots at Abbots Leigh. We have a fair degree of sympathy for the legitimate concerns of the local residents about the ecological damage to grazing meadows and the issues with extra vehicle movements. The more we look at the justifications Roots are using for the Abbots Leigh site, the more we feel that there’s little that’s genuinely green or sustainable about it.