Roots, a commercial allotment provider, are embroiled in controversy over plans to establish a new site in Abbots Leigh in North Somerset, just over the border from Bristol. The site would have 700 plots with parking provision for 80 vehicles. Preliminary work on the site was underway and was met with protests from local residents: Police called over allotments row as angry villagers block lorry 20.4.23. At the time of writing, North Somerset Council have ordered Roots to cease work on the site until all the planning issues involved had been clarified: Council tells allotment company Roots to stop work after residents’ revolt 21.4.23.
The residents of Abbots Leigh are opposed to the development on a number of grounds ranging from the traffic that would be generated by the site through to the loss of meadow habitat. A few days ago, we published this post on our sister blog, Grassroots Alternatives, in response to the controversy over the Abbots Leigh site: Keep allotments local! 20.4.23. That was the third post we had published about the situation, here are the other two: What’s the best location for plots to grow food? 10.3.23 and: A few thoughts on allotment provision 11.11.22.
After we published Keep allotments local! I put a up a link to it on a thread on the Roots Facebook page and then went out for the day, thinking no more of it. It was only when I got home and looked at the statistics for Grassroots Alternatives that I saw that this post had gone viral! That hardly ever happens with a post on our sister blog. That’s when it dawned on me that their proposed site at Abbots Leigh is causing a stir that’s going way beyond the concerns of the residents in the village.
Given the controversy surrounding this issue, I feel obliged to return to it. However, I’m pursuing here on The Stirrer rather than over on Grassroots Alternatives. The reason being is that Grassroots Alternatives is about promoting and supporting local, grassroots projects. Given what needs to be said about Roots, it’s not appropriate to post it up on Grassroots Alternatives. Whatever Roots are, in my opinion and that of many other people, they’re most definitely not a grassroots project in any way shape or form.
It has been pointed out by a fair few people that what Roots are doing is treating land as a commodity, something that we’re absolutely opposed to. They make their money by renting out plots and if you pay a more expensive fee, they offer a number of maintenance services. At the end of the day, Roots is a business and as such, is obliged to turn a profit.
For a variety of reasons, I’ve become attuned to detecting what can best be termed as greenwash:
noun [ C or U ]
an attempt to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is:
Campaigners say the ads are greenwash.
Here’s why I think that at least some of the rhetoric Roots spout is greenwash. From many angles, in a bid to reach carbon net zero, we’re all being exhorted to drive less and to use public transport more and where appropriate, switch to ‘active travel’. An exhortation which in the Avon region, is not easy to put into practice as I argued in this post: A war on movement? 22.4.23. So, when Roots who are only too happy to flaunt what they think are their green credentials start establishing commercial allotment sites in what are basically rural areas where the only realistic means of access is by car, they need to be called out for it.
Allotment sites in rural locations are traffic generators. They’re responsible for an increase in the overall number of vehicles on the road. At Abbots Leigh, local residents have pointed out that due to the configuration of the roads in the area, any increase in traffic will result a higher likelihood of accidents. Also with 700 plots and just 80 parking spaces, what happens on a nice sunny day at the weekend when 150 or more people want to turn up on the same morning to work on their plots? As I’ve pointed out previously, a desperate search for a parking place in the village and a high potential for confrontation.
For all the green rhetoric that Roots come out with, the stark fact remains that their rural sites are traffic generators. That’s more pollution and more potential for congestion. There’s no way Roots can hide or escape from that harsh fact. When us mere plebs* are being exhorted to cut back on our driving, how can Roots justify siting allotments in areas where pretty much the only way of getting to and from them is to drive? Is there some kind of exemption for what will most likely be the mainly middle class professionals, including a fair sprinkling of hipsters, when it comes to contributing to an increase in vehicle movements? It’s hardly a surprise that this alone is sticking in the craw of many people…
* At this point, I want to point that the two of us behind this project don’t drive. We get around by using public transport and walking. The number of times either of us have been on a plane in our lives (over six decades on the clock for each of us) can be counted on one hand. So, if Roots take objection to what we’re writing about them, they’d better be very careful about getting personal and questioning our impact on the environment, because I suspect theirs may well be a lot higher than ours!
There’s also an issue of equity. Not everyone in Bristol or Bath who wants an allotment drives. Roots setting up allotment sites in rural areas with little or no public transport provision is not going to do anything for the non drivers wanting an allotment. If Roots actually did care about social equity, they would be putting at least some of their effort into helping those non drivers living in the cities wanting an allotment to get access to one in their neighbourhoods. The fact that Roots are not interested in setting up small scale urban allotments and focus on large, rural sites where there’s an economy of scale pretty much says it all really.
Another reason why Roots are attracting flak is because a fair number of people aren’t buying the green rhetoric, instead simply seeing them as a commercial operation. One that until recently had managed to convince a lot of people before the wheels started to come off over the Abbots Leigh site. It should be pointed out that one of the sources of funding Roots have is via venture capital investors: Roots – PitchBook. I’ve had a look at their investors and they certainly talk a good game when it comes to their environmental credentials but at the end of the day, we’re talking about green capitalism. A presentation of capitalism as ‘caring’ but ultimately, one that’s still exploitative. Because, if capitalism wasn’t exploitative, it simply wouldn’t function.
Green capitalism is pretty much one of a kind with climate capitalism. A phenomena that has been exhaustively researched by Paul Cudenec at Winter Oak. This page is a good starting point for researching exactly what green/climate capitalism is really about: Climate Capitalists. So, when the land commodifying, traffic generators at Roots describe themselves as ‘progressive’, it’s worth looking beneath the bonnet because not everything is as it seems on the surface.
Last but not least, there’s the issue of how Roots are responding to the flak they’re getting over the Abbots Leigh site. Let’s just say that this is turning into a textbook case of how to not do public relations when you’re under pressure!
When a group or company are under pressure as they get a lot of flak, how they react and deal with it speaks volumes about them. The blatant ageism of this is not a good look: “Remember we’re picking up your shit, for fucking up the planet for the last 50+ years. We’re the generation that has to save it!”
Roots could save their reputation by admitting that Abbots Leigh was a mistake, walk away from the project, and learn the lessons from what has happened. The question is, what would be the attitude of their venture capitalists to them doing this? If Roots keep ploughing on because of the pressure from their investors, then it will reveal quite a lot about them as a company. That’s when things could get really interesting…
Dave – the editor
Loved this post – here’s my feedback –
Abbots Leigh should be commended for standing up for their community and expressing their concerns about the establishment of the new Roots allotment site. It is important for local residents to have a say in the development of their neighborhoods and for planning issues to be clarified before any work is carried out. The decision by North Somerset Council to order Roots to cease work on the site until all planning issues have been addressed is a positive step towards ensuring that the concerns of the community are taken into account.
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Good post – only thing I wanted to bring up was the use of the term ‘accident’ around increased traffic. It is an outdated term that is often seen as pretty offensive, dehumanising what are often negligent driver actions (eg. speeding or distraction). A term like collision would be more appropriate.