Express & Star

People in the West Midlands waiting six years for allotment plots as demand soars

More than 3,000 West Midlands residents are facing lengthy waiting times for council-managed allotments, with some waiting over six years for a plot.

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Wood Green Allotments, Wednesbury

On average, residents are waiting approximately 35 months before a plot becomes available, according to new analysis of Freedom of Information requests conducted by Oak Tree Mobility.

The study of nine councils in the West Midlands shows that there are currently more than 5,900 council-run plots across 178 sites in the region, but demand for allotments has soared over the past few years.

It comes at a time when supermarkets are suffering fruit and vegetable shortages and a compounding cost of living crisis has increased the British public’s interest in growing their own produce.

With an average annual cost of just £46 to rent a five-pole allotment plot through local councils in the West Midlands - £1 per year more expensive than the national average - allotments are seen as an affordable option for growing produce.

The Royal Horticultural Society reported a 20 per cent increase in seed sales in February 2023 compared to the previous year, as fresh produce availability was hampered by supply chain issues.

Additionally, a survey conducted by YouGov revealed that 44 per cent of Britons plan on cultivating fruits and vegetables in their gardens or allotments this year.

Jim Payne, the secretary of the association which runs the council-owned Wood Green Allotments in Wednesbury, spoke to the Express & Star about why allotments have garnered such popularity.

Jim said: "Why are allotments so in demand? There's a very easy answer to that. Five to 10 years ago, no one wanted a plot, then Covid hit and everyone wanted to get outside, so they wanted plots.

"A lot of people stuck with it but some found it hard work and gave it up. That's the main reason, it's all because of Covid.

"The second reason is the price of food in supermarkets, so a lot of people want to grow their own produce. A packet of seeds can make 200 plants. You don't have to be a brainiac to realise that makes sense."

Jim also noted that councils across the country are under pressure to deliver on social housing, leading to decisions being made over the future of allotments and whether houses should be built on them instead.

The secretary of the association believes three allotments have been closed in Birmingham and that other areas are seeing similar closures.

Many allotments are also being hit by petty theft and criminal damage, with Wood Green allotment holders suffering heartbreak after a gang recently broke in every night for nearly two weeks.

Allotment holders watched their hard work go down the drain after greenhouses were smashed to bits and plants were ruined in a wrecking spree.

More than £4,000 of damage was inflicted on the plots, which allotment holders believe was done purely because criminals knew they could.

Jim said: "It started off with a bit of damage and theft. Then when these people realised they could do it whenever they felt like it, they came every night.

"It was colossal damage. I heard that one allotment holder is thinking of giving it up altogether as it will cost him over £400 to replace the glass in his greenhouse and he doesn’t know how he will afford it.

"They have stolen things, but the initial attack was purely them doing it because they knew they could do it. It’s unbelievable really. Some of the old fellas are totally gutted."

The 72-year-old added: "We had stuff happen last year, but the damage was nowhere near as bad as this. There were some people keeping chickens and they even threatened them.

"They were throwing things through their coop and making holes in the mesh.

"We’re just an association, we don’t have a lot of money. We asked the police if we could make a claim for the damage but they said they don’t really know.”

"Insurance for allotments is only public liability insurance, there’s nothing for theft or damage."