Tenure of an allotment is an historic affair

John McNulty

John McNulty

First published in News

QUESTION: Outside of this office, I am to be found most evenings and weekends working on my allotment. What exactly is the legal position of someone holding an allotment?

ANSWER: An allotment is an area of land leased either from a private body or a Local Authority Landlord for the growing of fruit and vegetables. In some cases, the land will also be used for the growing of ornamental plants and the keeping of hens, rabbits and bees. An allotment is traditionally measured in poles.

This is an old measurement dating back to Anglo-Saxon times. Ten poles is the accepted size of an allotment, being the equivalent of 250m2, roughly the size of a tennis court. Statutory allotment rents are protected by the Allotments Acts. The rent on mine is £12 per year. Not bad for a piece of real estate worth several hundred thousand pounds.

Back in the early 18th Century, there was considerable interest in the provision of smallholdings to relieve poverty. There were private initiatives to provide allotment gardens on the outskirts of cities such as Birmingham, but most allotments were small and used more to provide leisure activities for working people than to relieve poverty.

The huge demand for allotments began in the early years of the 20th Century and by 1913, there were 600,000 allotments in England and Wales. During the First World War, large amounts of unused earth and land were requisitioned to provide allotments to increase the food supply and the number rose to 1.5m.

Allotment holders have some degree of security of tenure. The allotment cannot be terminated unless six months Notice to Quit has been given to the holder, expiring on or before April 6 or September 29 in a year. Where repossession is sought because a rent has not been paid, the rent must be in arrears for at least 40 days.

The legal obligations on a plot holder are fairly minor. They are to keep the allotment clean, maintain it in a good state of cultivation, keep minor paths clear and keep children and pets under control. They are normally offered to plot holders on a renewable one-year lease. What you cannot do with your plot is to use it for a business, let it deteriorate, use sprinklers overnight or use barbed wire in a dangerous way.

Bonfires are subject to strict conditions. In our allotment, bonfires may only be lit after dusk. The Allotment Act 1950 allowed people to keep chickens on any land that may be rented unless there is a specific clause in the Tenancy Agreement explaining why you couldn’t keep the chickens for your own use.

The allotment can only be held in one name at any one time. A tenant is always responsible for the maintenance of the allotment, even if he chooses to share with someone else. If you decide to give up the allotment, you must not pass it on to a friend directly. You must notify the Allotment Management Committee that you intend to give it up and your allotment will be allocated to the next person on the waiting list.

Despite extensive legal protection for allotments and legal requirements that they be provided, there is a considerable shortage of allotments and in 2010 a report estimated a waiting list as much as 40 years in some areas. Thankfully not in Oxford.

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