Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Islington leads the way on new allotments

Great news over the garden fence in Islington where a derelict car park in Holloway is being transformed into 30 new allotments (see photo below of Cllr Ruth Polling and her digger!).

Central London boroughs like Islington and Camden are the only ones who have an opt out from the 1922 Allotments Act which requires councils to provide food growing sites if six or more ask. Despute that opt-out Islington Council is spending £1m over 2009/10 to encourage community food growing. The Edible Islington campaign has already created 30 new food growing projects in schools and established 60 community food growing sites across the borough.

Residents on the council's allotment waiting list are now being contacted and invited to take on one of the new allotments on the Holloway car park site.

What a contrast with Camden. As a result of all the work we – lots of us – have done on raising awareness about the need for food
growing there is massively more demand for allotments now compared to 2006. When I was elected the waiting list was about 5 years which I thought was too long and so didn’t join. By last autumn it was an estimated 50 years so Camden closed the lists.

There has been no new allotment provision in Camden for decades although there are more food growing areas. They are mostly mini-orchards or community allotments – like the Hancock Nunn housing estate in Belsize (see below) – rather than traditional “one-person–one-plot” sites.

Camden could be doing a lot more than it is but there’s still a lot going on here, especially on housing estates, which is where most of the potential sites are. We have more than twice as much potential green space on our housing estates than we do in our parks and open spaces. There’s also been an attempt to map potential food growing sites using satellite data although I tend to think that residents know where the potential food growing spaces are – they just need help to negotiate with the owners and understand what works where and when.

Havana now gets 50% of its fruit and veg from inside the city limits because it went through a catastrophic collapse of its fossil fuel-based economy in 1991 when the Russians stop supplying oil. The Cubans were forced to use every roof, every balcony, every wall, every scrap of urban land to grow food – and all organic because there were no oil-based pesticides and fertilisers. (BTW Transition Belsize is screening the film of the Cuban story tomorrow night.) In the UK Middlesbrough Council has done excellent work over the last few years to position itself as an enabling body on food growing.

We need to be creative in an urban environment like Camden. For example, I think vertical surfaces are probably our best potential new growing space after housing estates so we need the council to start think about how it helps residents with the skills needed for vertical food growing. Or we need to help ourselves via the Transition groups:

Transition Kensal to Kilburn
Transition Belsize
Transition Bloomsbury

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