Y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Materion Gwledig - Y Bumed Senedd

Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee - Fifth Senedd


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Andrew R.T. Davies
Dai Lloyd
Jenny Rathbone
John Griffiths
Joyce Watson
Llyr Gruffydd
Mike Hedges Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Dr Hannah Pitt Cymrawd Ymchwil Sêr Cymru II, Sefydliad Ymchwil Lleoedd Cynaliadwy, Prifysgol Caerdydd
Sêr Cymru II Research Fellow, Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University
Dr Poppy Nicol Prosiect Global Gardens
Global Gardens Project
Gary Mitchell Cyd-reolwr Cymru, Ffermydd a Gerddi Cymdeithasol
Joint Wales Manager, Social Farms and Gardens
Lynne Lewis Cymdeithas Rhandiroedd Ystum Taf
Llandaff North Allotment Association
Nicola Perkins Cyd-reolwr Cymru, Ffermydd a Gerddi Cymdeithasol
Joint Wales Manager, Social Farms and Gardens
Stephen Taylor Cymdeithas Rhandiroedd Ystum Taf
Llandaff North Allotment Association

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Elfyn Henderson Ymchwilydd
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The meeting began at 09:30.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Bore da. Good morning. Can I welcome Members to the meeting? Can I ask Members: any declarations declare? We've had apologies from Gareth Bennett.

2. Rhandiroedd: sesiwn dystiolaeth
2. Allotments: evidence session

Can I welcome Dr Hannah Pitt and Dr Poppy Nicol to the meeting? We are very grateful you've come along to talk to us. Can we go straight to questions or do you want to make opening remarks?

No, that's fine.

I'll start then. What are your views on the Welsh Government's strategic approach to allotments and community growing? What more can be done?

I would say that around the time of the previous inquiry, so around about 10 years ago, the Welsh Government was in quite a leading position, particularly within the UK. It was doing things no other administration was doing, bringing together a stakeholder group, setting up the action plan—the only one at the time in the UK—and really giving some kind of profile and co-ordination to this area of activity, building partnerships and investing in it. Since then, the momentum seems to have waned a little. It's not so much of a profile issue; it's not so obvious what is being done or invested in, and I would say that one of the things that perhaps has been lacking is some kind of review or assessment of what difference was made when the action plan was implemented, whether there were things that still needed a bit more attention and, actually, what made a crucial difference.

Since then as well I think there are some key things in the context and situation that have changed that probably would mean that extra things or different things need to be looked at, so particularly the impact of austerity on communities and community initiatives. So, around the time of boom time of community growing, a lot of it was from groups like Communities First projects. So, that kind of foundation and base for action has obviously waned. And then also there's the rise of concern about and the problem of food insecurity, which is obviously something that this topic connects to. So, we're now working in a very different situation, which means there are new challenges but also new opportunities. And the other area of new opportunity is really the post-Brexit agricultural policy—what happens to the rural development plan investment, which has been channelled into supporting community growing previously.

So, if I sum up what the current approach is, I'd say there's a need to reinstate some kind of leadership and profile, bring back that kind of co-ordination and give some real impetus to pulling people together and just kind of assessing what's changed and what difference it made in that focus period.

I take that to be agreement. You talked about the action plan. Is it time now for a refreshed action plan or a new action plan based on what happened previously?

Certainly I would say the first step is that there would be merit in reviewing what difference it made. I'm not sure that everything in there was actually achieved or that it had the impact that was desired. I wouldn't know; I think there's a piece of work to be done to look at that. But I think there was certainly benefit in that approach in that it brought people together with expertise and interest and gave some real momentum to working in this area and it raised the profile of it. So, I think that approach is something the Welsh Government can usefully contribute in this area of work.

You said earlier that, under the European Union, the Government was supporting community growing. I'm aware of the LEADER programme having put some money into that, but apart from that I'm not aware of anything. Is there another programme I'm not aware of?

So, through the rural development programme funding, so pillar 2 of the common agricultural policy, there have been projects that have received money that have worked on this area of activity. So, Social Farms and Gardens, which I think you're hearing from later, have had projects that have received funding through that stream, which is putting them in the position to act in a co-ordinating and support role.

Have either of you had any input into the overall Welsh food and drink strategy currently being developed?

Not personally. Our colleagues at the Sustainable Places Research Institute are quite active in that area of work, and that's actually one of the things that I would say, that, in relation to harnessing more activity, particularly in relation to community growing, it needs to sit under an overarching food strategy so it's all channelling into a kind of common vision.


I think Hannah summed up this quite well. I don't think I have much more to say on this question. 

Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Mae'r cwestiynau roeddwn i'n mynd i'w gofyn wedi cael eu rhannol ateb yn barod. Allaf i ddechrau drwy ddiolch i chi'ch dwy am y papurau rydach chi wedi cyflwyno gerbron—maen nhw'n fendigedig, ac fe fyddan nhw'n cyfrannu'n werthfawr i'n hadolygiad ni? O beth dŷch chi wedi bod yn dweud, wrth gwrs, mae yna waith wedi cael ei wneud gan Lywodraeth Cymru yn y maes yma ynglŷn â rhandiroedd. A hefyd, dwi'n gwybod eich bod chi wedi rhannol ateb hwn, ond allaf i jest ofyn: a ydy canllawiau Llywodraeth Cymru wnaethon nhw gyhoeddi yn 2016 yn parhau i fod yn addas i'r diben? Neu, yn eich tyb chi, sut mae modd gwella arnyn nhw, neu os nad oes modd gwella ar y canllawiau sydd wedi cael eu cyhoeddi, oes angen deddfwriaeth newydd? Beth yw'ch barn chi ynglŷn â phenderfyniad y Llywodraeth yn 2014 i beidio â chyflwyno unrhyw ddeddfwriaeth yn y maes yma? 

Thank you very much, Chair. The questions that I intended to ask have been partly answered already. Can I start by thanking you for the papers that you've submitted—they are excellent, and they are a valuable contribution to our review? From what you have bee saying, of course, work has been done by the Welsh Government in this area of allotments. And also, I know that you have partly responded to this already, but can I just ask whether the guidelines published by the Welsh Government in 2016 remain fit for purpose. Or, in your opinion, how could they be improved, and if the guidelines that have been published can't be improved, is new legislation needed? What is your opinion of the Government's decision in 2014 not to introduce legislation in this area?   

Okay. So, I can say something in general on the guidance and I think Poppy might have some additional comments as well. I think the guidance that's available is really good, and it's a really nice achievement of working in partnerships with Social Farms and Gardens to get that real expertise knowledge together in a useful form. And it was something that was definitely called for at the time of the previous inquiry as something that would be a useful way forward. I think the question is how much it's being used. I don't know if it's something that local authorities are very well aware of; it would be a useful question to ask. And the profile of it as something they should be adhering to—again, I don't know if it's something that they feel that they really need to have in mind. So, those would be, again, part of the questions of assessing how successful the previous approach has been—those would be the crucial elements, I think.    

Yes, I was just interested in the report in 2016 that it does reference the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and that local authorities are expected to give due consideration to the sustainability and benefits of community-led growing projects. But then in terms of the actual action day to day for local authorities, especially in the context of allotments working with communities, I wonder how much guidance there is and whether that could be helpful for each allotment officer within the local authority to have a bit more guidance on the well-being of future generations Act, and how that can support allotment growing—whether that could be legislated for as well. 

Just to add, in terms of the legislative approach, I think there's a good framework there in terms of the environment and planning legislation that we've had since the previous focus on this, and also the well-being of future generations Act. So, it gives a good framework for this area of activity; it all lines up very nicely with what those legislative actions are trying to achieve. But because it wasn't part of the guidance and the previous action plan, it would be worth just being very explicit on things like area statements—how they can support community growing more.  

Hi. I'm just wondering whether you have a view on a need for a more consistent approach to allocating land for growing across Wales. I presume you wish to see that—maybe you can correct me if not—but if so, how can that be achieved, really? 

This was certainly one of the key obstacles that came out of the extensive research by the Welsh Rural Observatory in 2012. We're pretty confident that it still continues to be an issue. I think the first step would be to do some really proper mapping of the availability, the demand—which is the hard bit, working out where there might be demand that's being under-met at the moment—and then the potential to supply new sites. I think it's definitely a worthwhile exercise. My guess would be—again, it would need to be backed up with investigation—that there is still a problem meeting the demand and, again, it's linked to this decline in the basis of community-based projects and action and investment. So, certainly in our experience, the projects we know of that were linked to Communities First projects are now no longer able to operate as growing sites, so we've actually seen possibly a decline in the number of available places, perhaps.  

[Inaudible.]—authorities, so if local authorities haven't picked up those growing sites, then that would be a considerable cause for concern.


I think Plasnewydd, the Adamsdown community garden that was behind Howard Gardens, for example—you had to access it through a Communities First space, so they don't actually have access—

Yes. And I think potentially one site on Pengam Green that was linked to Star.

For similar reasons—that they had to access it through somebody else's—

No, that within an allotment. I think it was more to do with resources and funding.

Could I just say one thing about access to land? I think as well as allotments, I'm just thinking, for example, in south Wales, how Riverside market garden is probably one of the few examples of the community-growing projects that's actually producing food for sale—horticultural production. I don't think they had much support in terms of the land, but they did in terms of infrastructure. But I think it is indicative that there aren't many larger scale community-growing projects like community-supported agriculture schemes or market gardens and box schemes, at least within the south Wales area, and access to land, I think, is one of the biggest challenges to that.

Given that Communities First was the catalyst for some of this activity previously, haven't the local authorities stepped into that breach then or have they just come to an end?

I'm not sure, to be honest. There are certain cases that I know of—there was a mushrooming up of lots of initiatives around 2010 and 2012 and a lot of them were attached to housing associations, or Communities First jumping in, and I know of certain instances where those sites are no longer operating, but I wouldn't know the detail of what happened with the local authority there.

Okay, thanks. I just wanted to ask as well about the way local authorities are managing waiting lists and whether you have any view on how that could be done more effectively.

Yes, so this is in terms of the Cardiff Council allotment officer. There's one allotment officer who's responsible for all of the Cardiff sites, which I think, especially if they're also responsible for supporting community allotments, feels like quite a tall order and potentially means that things take longer. So, I think that resourcing, in terms of local authority support, could help with that allotment waiting list. 

Because one thing that Wrexham is looking at is to offer quarter plots so that actually you can get more people involved, albeit with a smaller plot, obviously, but 8x5m, I think, is quite substantial. Do you recognise that, sometimes, the full plot is actually too big for individuals, and you practically need to be retired to have enough time to tend to them.

Yes, definitely, and I think the flexibility and the more open ways of working is definitely beneficial and I think we've seen different local authorities trying different things like that, which seems to be positive.

We're focusing on community-given land, but some in my area—I cover mid and west Wales—I've been notified by the allotment holders in Newtown that their land was actually gifted to them in 1919 and it's now under threat of development by the local authority. So, in terms of managing land that didn't originate in or wasn't in the ownership of local authorities, but nonetheless is now in the hands of allotment holders who are managing it really well, do you have an opinion on what the Welsh Government can do in terms of helping, advising or supporting local authorities or community councils to keep those in being, really, and supporting those communities?

I would hope that, given the well-being benefits and all manner of positive things that come out of having such sites, there would be encouragement that well-being plans and public services boards are recognising that. It would be hugely detrimental if sites like that were lost and I would suggest it would not be in line with what was expected under the well-being legislation. 


Just picking up on some of the points just raised. I think you said, didn't you, that roadside market gardening is taking place, but perhaps on a fairly restricted level? Am I right in thinking there are restrictions on selling produce from allotments?  

From allotments, yes. I think Poppy was referring to Riverside Market Garden. 

Yes. But for allotments there is, isn't there? I don't know if the Vetch patch—is it, Mike—in Swansea is still in operation—

I remember a few years ago when they were developing the site in all sorts of interesting ways. They had a pizza oven there and lots of social events. You know, they were looking to perhaps have occasions where the wider public came in and they sold produce to raise money to develop and expand their own activities, but they ran into some of the legal restrictions. They're still in place, then, are they? 

As far as I'm aware, yes. 

I don't know if that might be an interesting area to look at, Chair. Just in terms of the resourcing of local authorities then to properly support allotments and take allotments forward, do you think local authorities are adequately resourced in those terms? 

I think the example that Poppy gave of one officer in Cardiff being in a position of managing probably the most numerate sites in the country is quite a tall order. I think, again, it comes down to how much priority is placed on the issue because if local authorities feel like they're not going to be encouraged to prioritise this area of activity then they'll find other ways to target their resources. I would also draw attention, again, to the fact that the money that goes through local authorities is only part of the picture of supporting communities and individuals to grow food. As I mentioned, there's the rural development plan related investment and investment in things like health and well-being activity, which can have an impact on that area. Because we know it's a form of activity that has multifaceted benefits, the input can come from many directions. So, it's not just the direct investment in allotment support. 

In terms of allotment associations and community growing groups, do you have a view on whether they're adequately supported and resourced? 

I think that Social Farms and Gardens Wales provide a really vital support service for community growing groups. The resource for Social Farms and Gardens would be something that I feel would be important. Also, in terms of the management of the sites, I think there's been a lot of reduction in the overheads. So, for example, the management of roads or fixing water butts; water, the connections to the mains—so, just the overheads. I think that's something that potentially could need a bit more resourcing. But I think the main thing, maybe, is the human resources for that. 

From what you were saying just now, Hannah, is it your view that Welsh Government has a primary responsibility to have a strategy for allotments, to look at the action plan, as you say, review it, update it and whatever, and basically decide what priority they think should be given to allotments and community growing, and then make sure that local authorities and others are in a position to deliver? Would that be your view?

Yes. Obviously, you don't expect them to go out and deliver everything in this area, so what role can they usefully play? I think it is that co-ordination, profile and guidance, and particularly in terms of feeding through to local authorities to ensure there's consistency across the country. So, we know there's pockets of good activity in different areas. It would be worth while to make sure that that's promoted in other areas as well. So, that's the type of role I would say that they can usefully contribute. 

Okay, I wonder if I might ask a question on the Global Gardens project specifically, that is, the evidence that you've provided that paying full allotment fees is difficult for community groups and disproportionate. Would you have an alternative way of dealing with these matters in mind—an alternative suggestion?


I guess with the Global Gardens case, we work with, for example, refugees and asylum seekers, students, maybe young families—people who, probably, if they did want to get their own allotment, would be entitled to reduced rates. And I think for community growing groups that are based on allotments, especially if they're taking on larger amounts of land and also, potentially, bringing funding into the sites in terms of—. So, for example, we don't have a toilet on site, but hopefully, with some funding, we're installing a compost toilet. So, some kind of matching, if the investment is being brought in by the community growing project to help with the site overheads or the site costs in terms of developing the site, that the fees could be reduced in some way. I think, for the longer term sustainability of the growing projects, that could be helpful. Yes, that would be my main point.

I want to talk about land now, or the lack of it, in some cases, and if you have any suggestions on how more land could be made available for allotments or community groups, and whether you think there's a direct role for Welsh Government to help with that, and/or local government to help with that.

So, I think the first step, and probably one that should be started by Welsh Government, is a mapping exercise so that we understand the current situation properly, because, as I say, we kind of think there are probably problems still, but it would be useful to understand exactly where the pinch points are and the current level of demand. So, that would be the first step, and I think that's a clear useful thing that the Welsh Government can facilitate. The other way that they might be able to provide some leverage is where they have influence over public bodies that have sites that could be made available. I know this was something that was talked about in the previous inquiry: making sites available on a temporary basis, if necessary, so encouraging the use of meanwhile leases that mean that a site is given back after a short period. Again, it's that role of encouraging and facilitating and guiding other bodies that could be handing sites over.

Again, there's a useful role here for partnership with the third sector. So, the Community Land Advisory Service, a voluntary-led organisation, plays a really useful role in this area of supporting community groups with issues around land access and planning. It's a really useful resource for both local authorities and for community groups, and they've got all the expertise in working with planning issues and so on. So, in some cases, it's not just a question of knowing there's a site available and being able to take it on; it's also knowing how to go through that process and having somebody help guide through that.

I was just going to say that I think there's a really interesting case study of an organisation in France called Terre de Liens, and they work with landowners who perhaps are coming to the end of their farming career or they own land but don't really need to use all of it, and they can actually gift that land in perpetuity for it to be used for sustainable growing. I think something like that could be a really innovative approach to supporting new entrants to growing and the future generations to carry on. Because I think that challenge of investing in a site and then it's sold off for development, that's a real challenge, and if there's a way to address that, I think something like a land bank or a land trust could help with that, if it was run by the Welsh Assembly or by local authorities.

Yes. I think some farms in Wales already allow some of their land to be used for community growing. If they've got farm shops and they're part of farm markets, it makes perfect sense from a farm business point of view, doesn't it, and also facilitates local people and local community groups to get involved? I just wondered, Chair, whether—. We've had some local authorities, although they've been divesting themselves of them, to some extent, that still have county farms, and I don't know whether they use some of that land for that purpose, and they could actually involve community groups more widely than growing vegetables in the actual farm animal side of things as well. I think that would be really positive for lots of people who might only ever have an opportunity through that route in terms of getting involved in farming.


Again, at this moment, where we know everything's kind of being thrown up in the air in terms of agriculture and support for agriculture, there are really positive opportunities that come out of it, and around new entrants and what you might think of as more alternative in the Welsh context forms of producing food—so, more horticulture and community-scale enterprises, smaller. Those are the things that could be encouraged through changes to the way we're supporting farming at the moment. Previously, the Welsh Government said it wanted to expand the amount of fruit and vegetables grown in the country. So, those are the kind of ways that that could be achieved.

Yes, it is. There has been a big push, hasn't there, on share farming in the Welsh Government? I think they've even set up a portal where farm landowners who don't feel that they can farm the land would offer it in partnership to somebody who wants to come in and farm it for them for a share. Wouldn't it be—? And I'm not just thinking in terms of agricultural land or farming, but there are gardens I know of back home in Ruthin that could do with a little bit of TLC, shall we say, including my own, in case anybody suggests otherwise. And I'm sure there are people out there who would love to have that piece of land to be able to do something with it. So, is there not a place for some kind of portal that matches people? Very often, of course, those unkempt gardens are because people are quite elderly and they can't do it, and it might help, as well, with tackling isolation and all sorts of other things, really.

I think that's part of understanding the supply and demand of land. It seems that some people are working on the ground in this area, that you do have a mismatch of where there are spaces available and they're not finding the groups that could or would want to take it on. So, there does seem to be some kind of role for some kind of matching—

Because my perception of allotments is one footprint with maybe 10 allotments. You could actually have a network of allotments spread out over a town or village.

It wasn't until recently I appreciated just how little fruit trees there are in Wales. There have been lots of different schemes to encourage people to plant more trees, but it's never been specified 'and they must be fruit trees'. That seems to me a huge missed opportunity with the benefit of hindsight. I just wondered if either of you have ever advocated that and then not been heard.

It's a very good question, but yes, I think fruit, and nuts I would add as well, there's no reason—. It's not something I'd specifically—

I think there is a challenge with allotments. A lot of the guidance specifies that most of the plot should be used for cultivating fruit and veg. So, then, that can bring into—. Some sites even advise against planting larger fruit trees and nuts.

Whether there could be almost community orchards within allotments or other spaces that could be community—

Well, I was just thinking more in terms of encouraging those who don't need all their land to give part of it for a community orchard.

Could I just ask a quick question, Chair? It seems to me there's a tremendous amount of waste as well, with apples, for example. People who have apple trees just allow them to lie on the lawn and rot or perhaps be eaten by the birds, which is a bit more positive. Some of the organised days, where you bring apples along and you can have it turned into apple juice or whatever are great, but it's a bit disorganised and you're lucky if there's one in your area—and there might not be. It must be possible to have schemes of even collecting apples and turning them into apple juice or cider or whatever. It's just such a shame to see all that waste. Our apple tree's just died, but when it was alive, we took apples around to all the neighbours and people were baking lots of apple tarts and things, but a lot of people today, they just don't do that, do they? It must be possible to get organised to prevent that waste.


In Cardiff there is a group called Orchard Cardiff, and they try to harvest fruit trees in back gardens and other areas. I think the challenge is the resources. I think they got some funding, but then—. But yes, to scale that up would be interesting. 

Much on the same theme, I'm really interested in what Llyr just said, because I know that happens in my street and other streets, where people take over the gardens of retired people. I'm just trying to think how we could pull this all together in terms of—whether you know of any piece of work that's been done, trying to pull it all together in terms of alleviating loneliness for some people. It's really good for your mental health, and the social prescribing will come into this, and also using as much available space as possible to encourage pollinators and tree planting, et cetera. So, has anybody—or can you point us to any work where it's been pulled together as one piece of work, connecting all these constituent parts that this can clearly tick off?

So you mean an example of a project where it's managed to—

There's a project in Adamsdown, I think, and Grangetown, called Growing Streets Together—I can't remember the exact name. But it's led by Michelle Fitzsimmons, and they're trying to support people to create gardens in their front patch, and then also have conversations. So, it's both bringing people together and gardening, supporting pollinators. But in terms of—. I do know about GoodGym, who run—. So, lots of young runners go and run to perhaps elderly people's homes and help with the garden. So, something like that could be tapping into some of what you're talking about. 

The one worry I'd feel if that became the focus of the community growing is that those spaces—although it's a real benefit, it's also there's no guarantee of the longevity of it. So, that could be maybe one element of it, but also having more secure pieces of land that have a dedicated function of cultivating crops. It feels like an important strand of it as well. 

That's great. And if you could—if they'd be able to through you, Chair—send us the details of the ones that you—? But yes, we agree; you need sustainability. Thank you.

Social prescribing is pretty central to the Government's 'A Healthier Wales' policy, particularly to deal with chronic illnesses, mental illness, chronic pain, and I just wondered what conversations, if any, have been taking place with GP practices to match up growing projects with people who would benefit from social prescribing of that nature.

It certainly has happened in cases, and I think previously it's been slightly a matter of, if there's an individual GP who is aware of the opportunities, they've pointed people in the right direction. So, certainly I've been aware of individuals with stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, various different kinds of conditions, where it was recognised by a particular individual that gardening could be beneficial for them, but also the social contact with being at a communal site. So, I think in previous years it's been a case of whether the individual GP has recognised the value of it. I'm not sure if there's been anything more co-ordinated than that to target and promote it as a route, but it would certainly seem to make sense to do so. 

I've certainly known of individual families who've been given an allotment plot as part of their well-being agenda, but it's lapsed, in many cases, because they don't have a car—how do they get their equipment to the plot—and all these sorts of barriers if it's not in the immediate area. And I noticed, in your paper, you talked about the range of skills required to run a community garden and underestimating the importance of having the ability to manage them in an inclusive way, which is, I agree, a huge skill. So, it's really how would you see the framework for that to operate, because the individual family I have in mind, they might have continued with it, if there'd been a little bit more encouragement or advice on what were the quick wins. 


I think the first thing is to recognise it's not for everybody. So, we wouldn't want to see a situation where everybody is encouraged to take on an allotment and it's not right for them. I think, secondly, it's recognising that, particularly if you're talking about vulnerable individuals or people with quite complex needs, supporting people like that with any activity—so, whether gardening's the route for it or something else—is a skilled thing to do and it also takes resources. It's not just the capital things, such as a building or a space; it's that time, expertise and training, which is quite often harder to get grant investment in. Which is why, I think, the approach where existing community organisations, community groups, have an involvement and, perhaps, a site as part of their operations can be a good way to do it, because they've got that foundation in place already. They've got skilled people there who are there for the long term and can build up relationships with people—so, that kind of model where it's embedded in appropriate local organisations. 

Okay, because that needs funding. Communities First used to do this sort of stuff. So, do you think that this is something that could be mainstreamed?

Potentially, yes.

Just on that, Chair, I'm aware of some community groups and charities working with people who have mental health issues that have actually linked with the local health board, and they've actually sent a mental health professional along when it's become really challenging. And that's been really beneficial, having that link.

Yes, but I've also known of mental health organisations that have had an allotment and they've just let it lapse. 

One of the examples we gave you in our paper was work by a colleague; the project he looked at really did function as a hub, where different organisations and referral agencies came together and used it, knowing there would be people there who they could then provide advice and support to. And that seems to be a really useful model, where different agencies who provide a different part of the picture use it as a touch point. 

I think, from the point of view of Global Gardens, that's maybe an example. I think quite a lot of, perhaps, routes back to work or support workers recognise that gardening is potentially beneficial for their clients. We have got quite a lot of signposting, but, in terms of the resources for then working with those clients if they come to the gardens, sometimes they come alone and there isn't that balance within the growing site. So, I think that is important, if that is going to be scaled out within community growing spaces—that there is also that provision for support workers within the growing spaces and to be able to really work with and understand the needs of the clients.

Do you not think that it needs a champion, a growing champion, given that, just like eating real food has fallen out of fashion—? We used to get all this knowledge handed down from our grandparents and parents, but people don't do that any longer. So if you're from a family where you've never known anybody who gardened before, you're going to need a bit of advice on the time it takes for the seed to develop into a plant. 

There's a scheme operated by Garden Organic, who specialise, obviously, in organic growing, but as far as I know, it's not managed to take off in Wales. But they use a programme called Master Gardeners, where they have volunteers who they support to act as those knowledgeable people who can then support others who are less knowledgeable. And in some cases, that means going into a school and helping with the school gardening. But, yes, that kind of model seems to work quite well where it's been established. 

I think that's a really good point that Hannah made. I know they also do Master Composters, and I remember having a conversation with someone from Garden Organic about whether there is a similar scheme in Wales. And they were saying they've got the format of it, but the funding isn't there maybe for them to implement it. So, something along those lines of Master Gardeners or Master Composters could really help transfer the skills across.


Thank you for the evidence so far. Hannah, in your paper, you talk about the educational benefits that gardening can bring. Can you enlarge on that slightly, for the committee's benefit? And to both of you, could I ask how you believe that open spaces help with the biodiversity side of things? Can it make a real impact when it comes to biodiversity?

So, on the education side of things, there's a wealth of research that's looked at gardening in schools. It's one of those things where it's hard to pinpoint exactly the benefits, just because of the nature of children's lives, and everything else that's going on. But the signs are that it helps with engagement in learning. So, taking them outside, doing something different, seems to engage their attention, and get them more excited about learning. It can have a particular impact for those who struggle in a school classroom environment. Teachers also say it has positive impacts on behaviour. So, if they're out doing a session outdoors, it seems to still some of the behavioural issues that some children experience. And I think where it's been found to be most productive, in terms of being part of education, is where it's really linked to the curriculum. So, using something like weighing tomatoes that have been grown to teach maths, having enterprise projects where they run a business selling what they've grown in the garden. So, where teachers are able to link in to those core lessons, it seems to be particularly successful.

In terms of the food and health-related benefits that can come out of it, again, it's quite complex to pinpoint exactly what happens. But it seems that, where a school is taking a wider approach to thinking about food—so, things like the catering, and perhaps doing community meals, where parents and grandparents come in one day a week, embedding learning about food sources and health in all aspects of school life—that's where it seems to make most impact. So, rather than just saying, 'Let's grow some carrots on the windowsill', and that being all they do with food, having that kind of whole-school approach, involving pupils in all aspects of food education, seems to have the most impact. So, programmes like Food for Life, which are really built on that model—that's the way they champion it, and it seems to make a real difference in perhaps things like increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables that children eat. That seems to be one of the things that can come out of it.

Is there a correlation between the growing and that experience? I can remember when I was in primary school, we had little allotments in the school there, about 2 ft by 2 ft—when you're little, they seemed huge. But is there a correlation between that experience and then carrying that experience through in later life, to that positive eating experience?

There are two aspects of that, I would say. The first is that there's obviously a lot of other things that influence what you eat, particularly as you go further into older life. So, it might play a part, but there's a lot of other influences that might be pulling in other directions. The second thing to emphasise is that most of this educational activity happens in primary schools. It's very hard to continue it on in secondary schools, because of the amount of pressures on other things that pupils have to be focusing on, and teachers tend to find it harder to make room for it. So, obviously, that's at the point where young people are starting to make their own decisions about how they eat, and also thinking about where their career might be going. It's a real crucial missing link—that there isn't much growing and food-related educational activity at that stage, where it perhaps could have a long-term benefit and impact on them.

I was looking at the Wildlife Trusts' evidence on the benefits of urban green spaces and allotments for pollinators. I think there is a lot of evidence out there—almost even how the diversity of plants growing in urban areas can provide more pollen and nectar than perhaps rural areas. I think that, specifically in the case of allotments, there can be a challenge in terms of the diverse practices being implemented. So, for example, there isn't really any regulation around the use of chemicals—herbicides, pesticides and fungicides—within the sites. Some allotments maybe do have their own local management, but I think that could be something to look further into in terms of the benefits for pollinators, because it really does depend on the way the sites are manged. I know there are a few cases where—one allotment, for example, has got funding from Buglife to plant swards along the edges of, perimeters of, allotments to support wildlife, pollinators and other mammals. I think that's really beneficial, but it does seem to be on a case-by-case basis, and, in terms of the inputs, I think that's something that perhaps will play a role in the potential of the benefit for pollinators and biodiversity.


I'm interested in the point you make about sprays and pesticides and stuff like that in particular, because you talk to allotment holders, and, quite rightly, they're very protective of their independence and what they do on their allotments as such. So, unless it would be some sort of national ban, if you like, on the availability of those products, I presume you wouldn't be advocating micromanaging allotments to create that.

I think there is—I think, in Bristol, for example, there is a case of an allotment that's run as an organic allotment. Perhaps that could be—there is an option to get on the waiting list for an organic allotment, versus non-organic; perhaps that could be a way of avoiding micromanagement, because people should have the choice to do the practice that they want within their garden, but I think also it is a challenge if we are hoping to build biodiversity within allotments. 

Just in terms of pollinators, one of the allotments in my constituency was told they couldn't have a beehive on the allotment, just because one resident nearby had objected. It seems to me there's a lack of joined-up thinking here on the crisis in biodiversity and the need for having more bees. Obviously, an allotment is a good place to have it. So, have you any idea, or have either of you any idea, has anybody mapped the number of beehives on allotments? Because you'd think that ought to be a primary objective—just like the soil, the compost toilet, you need the beehive.

One of the roles of the guidance that the Government was involved in is exactly highlighting these kind of issues, drawing attention to the opportunities and how you overcome some of those challenges, for exactly the reasons you point out. If we are saying we need to promote pollinators and increase biodiversity, particularly in cities, then these are some of the ways it could be done, through community growing sites. 

So, in order to make these excellent ideas fly, because we're all nodding, do you think that government at all levels—both Welsh Government and local authorities—need to have targets for increasing allotments, increasing produce from allotments, to actually start to get the sea change that's going to be needed, because otherwise lots of good intentions don't really go anywhere?

I guess targets are always appealing and yet unappealing at the same time, aren't they, because of unintended consequences and also the way it drives things in certain directions and maybe doesn't deliver exactly what you hoped. I would say the key is to give some impetus and priority. If targets might be one way to do that, then okay. There may well be other ways as well to achieve the same goals. 

Thank you. So, there are no more questions. Thank you very much for coming along. We've finished exactly on time, so it's worked very, very well. Can I thank you for your evidence? We found it very useful and it will help with our final report. So, thank you very much for coming. Shall we have a break until half past? Yes.


Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:19 ac 10:31.

The meeting adjourned between 10:19 and 10:31.

3. Rhandiroedd: sesiwn dystiolaeth gyda chynrychiolwyr tyfwyr cymunedol
3. Allotments: evidence session with representatives of community growers

Bore da. Good morning. Can I welcome Gary Mitchell and Nicola Perkins from Social Farms and Gardens, and Lynne Lewis and Stephen Taylor from the Llandaff North Allotment Association? Welcome.

Do you want to make an initial statement, or can we move straight to questions?

Happy to go to questions.

Yes. Yes, happy to do that.

Okay, fine. I'll kick off, then. What are your views on the strategic approach to allotments and community growing in Wales? Is there more the Welsh Government and local authorities can do to help?

Firstly, thank you, Chair, for inviting us to give evidence today to support our written consultation. Social Farms and Gardens has been delivering direct support to community allotments and gardens, funded currently by the European moneys administered through Welsh Government. So, we feel we're well equipped to comment on the strategic approach, as we see the impacts at grass-roots level.

Doubling the number of allotment sites across Wales, as in Mark Drakeford's current manifesto, would certainly represent a positive strategic direction, supporting the future generations Act and parts of the environment Act. However, gaining a consistent approach to delivery across local authority areas we feel would need support, including training and policing. This would help to eliminate inconsistencies that we've seen currently in the implementation of their allotment strategies, which most local authorities have, but, in terms of how much they've actually been carried out, it's quite variable.

So, in March 2016, we were commissioned by Welsh Government to create a guidance document for local authorities, private landowners and groups, to enable traditional allotments and community growing. We don't feel, currently, that this is being fully disseminated, as we're still seeing a lot of challenges by groups in terms of accessing land and difficulties in erecting simple community-friendly structures, such as shelters or composting toilets. We feel that Wales has some excellent allotment and community food growing guidance documents and has the potential to lead the UK, but, currently, we feel there are too many pieces of paper that are sat around and it's really that they need to be better implemented.

Thank you for inviting us, Chair. Good to meet you all. I'd like to echo what Nicola said about training. I think it would be very helpful if we could have some annual training for association committee members to take them through what's required of a committee for an association. I think that would be helpful.

I think so too. I think our main point of liaison is not with Welsh Government, but with local authorities. So, I think anything that could be done to ease that process would be helpful. 

And, in terms of what else Welsh Government could do—ways in which you could help—I think one of the things we're very keen for on our side is our environmental issues, and I can talk more about that when we come to biodiversity later. But I think one of the things we've been looking at is how we can utilise our water resources. So, it would be very helpful if we could have some liaison with Welsh Water to look at using those resources in a better way. For example, on the Leckwith-Droves site in the west of Cardiff, they have no piped water from water services at all. All their water sources come from boreholes that they've installed; I think there are 46 in total. So, it would be very good if we could explore ways in which we could utilise water. We do, on our site, make large efforts to save water—we have lots of containers—but, if we could have something on a more formalised basis with resources, that would be enormously helpful, and, if you could all see your way to enabling that, it would be most helpful.


Just for clarity, when you said the Leckwith people had 46 plots or boreholes—

Forty-six boreholes.

They have a level 3 agreement with Cardiff council, because they don't have water provision on site.

They don't have the infrastructure there. Yes, sure. Okay.

So, it is fascinating what happens, you know.

Yes. I just wanted to come back to the reference to Mark Drakeford's personal manifesto to be leader of Labour. I mean, clearly, that doesn't necessarily mean that there's a palpable change in Government policy. Have we seen any change so far, or is it wait and see?

I think that's the issue. There isn't a strategy yet and there are no, let's say, top-down, even, ideals. We've seen it now, personally, through Mark Drakeford's statement and we're pleasantly surprised about that, but actually it's not backed up by the research that's needed. We know that. So, actually, if you talk about doubling the allotment provision, we don't actually know what we're starting with as an indicator, so that's worrying. And, as we know, both from your rounds this morning, not only is that data missing, but, actually, more importantly, what is the demand? That's the real key, because, if we just increase provision, is the demand there following it? We're very confident it is, but, actually, it's a dangerous game to increase provision without having that little bit of evidence that says, 'Yes, here's your strategy and this is why it will work.'

You touched on demand there, and I think that's a really important point, because time and time again we hear there's a lot of demand for allotments. I was visiting an allotment only on Friday, and it was very poorly managed. A lot of the allotments were derelict, almost, with stuff left on them. Has there been an audit of allotments across local authority areas to understand which are functioning very well and which are falling into disrepair, losing the opportunity to create new opportunities for people to come in? Because there's one thing about creating new opportunities and new sites, but, if the existing sites are being poorly managed, then we're not really getting to the crux of the problem here.

I think it's fair to say—it was raised at a couple of points in your earlier discussions as well—there are only a few, and a very few, local authorities that actually have a dedicated allotment point of contact, even, and that tends to be your one or two larger cities. Everyone else really struggles with tacking it onto somebody's job description somewhere down the line. So, if you haven't got that ownership and that passion, your delivery is going to be weakened would be one of my points to note. But, actually, where should that point of delivery be sat is a big question that we'll perhaps be looking for answers to in the future, about is the local authority perhaps not based placed to be the main point of contact for allotments, so could that be devolved down to a lower level, such as town and community councils that are really willing to do more, are really connected to their communities, and they absolutely know what their communities want, whereas a local authority—. I'm from Powys, and I pick up some of the points—huge geographical area. It's a very, very minuscule part-time job of the allotment point of contact. He's not an allotment officer. He's got thousands of other acres to manage. So, there are difficulties about where we potentially see the best fit for management, and the legislation sort of implies that in England, but only in England, it falls to the lower level of community authority or local authority, whereas in Wales it sort of clearly states that it's Welsh Government, local authority, town and community councils, and, where they don't exist, it ends up as meetings of parishes, effectively. So, it's a bit more complicated in Wales, perhaps.

Could I come in there? In my written submission, I alluded to this, because I was reading through the report, the previous report, and it did seem to me that there does need to be a mapping of how allotments are looked after across Wales, because, clearly, from what you say, we don't want there to be derelict plots. We do want there to be access and availability for people to use the land that's available.

Without dwelling on it too much, but, to pick up your specific question around the evidence, the last lot of evidence that was done was in 2013. It was only for the whole of the UK, and it showed that there were 52 people on a waiting list per 100 plots. So, that was the last lot of formal evidence gathered by the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners, in 2013 and for the whole of the UK—well, England and Wales, not the whole of the UK.


The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners. It's still available because it's the only piece that we've got to reference.

I think we are lucky in Cardiff in that we do have two officers who work for the council, but even then the communication—I mean, when you look at it, they have to cover 27 sites across Cardiff, just two staff, and the communication is poor, the accuracy of stats is poor. We are lucky at Llandaf north that we currently have 17 vacant plots and no waiting list, but that is because we are a proactive committee and we actively go out and engage with people on the waiting list and get them plots as soon as we can. But it is a recurrent problem. Even we've got plots that have gone derelict, simply because a previous tenant has left, hasn't notified us, hasn't notified the council. There's an arcane procedure where they get a chance to appeal against this, that and the other, which can take up to year. In that time, the ground has become overgrown and weed-infested, and then you offer that to a prospective tenant, and they say, 'No, thanks.' So, in addition to keeping some kind of statistical evidence, you'd look to see some kind of workforce that would maybe clear plots and make them accessible for people.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Alla i ddiolch i chi i gyd yn y lle cyntaf am eich tystiolaeth ysgrifenedig dŷch chi wedi cyflwyno ymlaen llaw? Mae o'n fendigedig. Ac mae gen i gwestiwn penodol ar gyfer Ffermydd a Gerddi Cymdeithasol. Dŷch chi'n sôn yn eich tystiolaeth fod angen dull cyson o gael gafael ar dir ar gyfer tyfu ledled Cymru. A allech chi jest ymhelaethu ar hynny? Sut y gellid cyflawni hynny a phwy ddylai fod yn ei wneud e?

Thank you, Chair. Could I thank all of you in the first instance for your written evidence, submitted beforehand? It is excellent. And I do have a specific question for Social Farms and Gardens. You say in your evidence that there is a need for a consistent approach to accessing land for growing across Wales. Could you just expand on that? How could we achieve that and by whom would that be achieved?

Yes, the $1 million question. A point well raised. I think what we've alluded to through our consultation through the previous work with this sort of committee is that we have to iron out what that overarching strategy would be for provision. If there is a clear desire and demand to create more growing spaces, then we have to put the strategy in place.

We've done a bit more research, following on from our submission and stuff. So, at the moment, there is an online portal available to local authorities to actually do an awful lot of work around their management of allotment sites. Across the UK, 75 local authorities take up that service—it's a paid-for service. In Wales, there are only two: Wrexham and Conwy. So, there's a question: is there already existing technology that would speed up this process? If it's being used by 73 other local authorities, it would suggest it's probably not far off. So, that would be one of our arguments. Let's have a real look at—. Things move on and processes move on, but if a private company has developed a system that theoretically could help local authorities to manage their vacancies and their allotment plots, that would be great.

We are definitely advocating for some transparency on waiting lists, because every local authority does quite different things around waiting lists. Some are quite public, publicly accessible on the website, but the danger with that is that if you go and look and your current local authority has a huge waiting list, you probably don't bother adding your name to the list because you might well have passed away before you reach the top or you will have moved out of the area. And that is a recurrent theme, because those waiting lists aren't managed. So, we're sort of advocating as well that perhaps some oversight nationally on waiting lists would be really important information, and, as long as that filters down to the local authorities or the town and community councils or the devolved sites to pick up those waiting, we think there are some real opportunities to just harness some technology out there to speed this process up.

In terms of availability of land for growing, then, some farmers allow some of their land to be used, and that can work well from the farm business's point of view as well as individuals having land to grow produce on. Is that something that you think is significant and that could be expanded, and might there be a role for the county farms that some local authorities own?

Yes. So, it already happens in some instances. So, Powys, again, recently gave up two pieces of land from two separate farm holdings specifically for community allotments, put in some infrastructure and even found a little bit of budget to go with it and basically just shaved off a few acres from the farm holdings. So, it clearly can work.

There are, let's say, some fears around, 'Is that local authority then providing a statutory provision or not?', because there is definitely a fear, and we are not seeing any new sites being put over to allotments by statutory local authorities because of the fear that that land is then locked in statutory provision for allotments. We see that there are loopholes that allow them to effectively put them into community ownership that gives less protection to that site. Is that an issue? I'm not so sure, and we've talked about perhaps even, in the meantime, leases and short-term leases, and that's definitely a demand.

So, there's a demand, and my argument would be that the demand is being met because it's not being met by local authorities. So, innovative farmers making some reasonable income off a small plot of land—much more than you would get for £100 an acre grass keep. If you can charge £50, £60, £70 a plot for a small area, your income is £2,000 a year, for instance. So, I can see why the demand is being led and picked up by farmers. But there is a fear about whether those sites are protected enough, and whether we are doing enough to protect that statutory provision of allotment growing spaces.

And there's also then that fear of how they are managed because, theoretically, you would have more confidence in them being at a local authority level or a community town council level, whereas these are effectively private tenancy agreements. There are issues, but there are definitely some opportunities as well. 


There's no reason why members of the community shouldn't be involved in the farms themselves on a more collective basis in terms of the livestock aspect, as well as horticulture, really, is there? 

Absolutely, and it's definitely a growing trend in, dare I say it, England around that whole care farming aspect. So, we've got a really strong care farming network in England, but quite a weak one at the moment in Wales, sadly. So, we're trying to work with Welsh Government about how we might be able to liven that sort of support and that network as well, to benefit farmers themselves as well, not just the people involved in it.

Joyce Watson wants to raise a point on this matter. 

Just because you've mentioned Powys a number of times, and I had an e-mail yesterday from Powys— 

They were quite well-briefed, yes. 

—from Newtown, from plot holders there, and they feel under threat. It was gifted to them 100 years ago this year, and it's now owned and managed by the council. So, what they're saying is they're under threat of the site being developed. And I give that as an example, simply because you keep mentioning Powys. So, what are your views, if you have any, in terms of how land that has been donated to the public could be protected for the public, particularly when we're talking about allotments, because there are 30 plots on there? 

We tried to do a bit of research, and I'll be honest and say we didn't find it, because we are interested in, 'Is there a trend at all for allotment sites to be developed upon?' And if there is, then that's a worry, because within the statutory legislation you can develop on an allotment site as long as you provide a suitable alternative that's better or at the same level as they've already got. So, there is statutory protection there, but it's not very protected, really, and you've got to probably consider local authorities being under budgetary pressures. Most allotment sites are in prime development land, and that is always going to be an issue for a local authority.

There is potentially an assumption that says, 'As a local authority, we might not manage our waiting lists very well so that we can prove there isn't really a demand, so when I want to develop my prime development site I've got an easier ask of the Secretary of State.' So, there are all sorts of issues around it. We're interested in, 'Is there evidence of local authorities developing on statutory allotment sites?', because if there is, that's worrying, and 'How do we then need to tighten up that legislation?' But we also get the point from the local authorities that I can see an absolute match in huge amounts of budgetary income for a green site for development.

You'll perhaps be aware there is a green infrastructure working group under Welsh Government at the moment, looking potentially at new development sites, and how green infrastructure should sit better within—. At the moment, it's larger urban developments, whereas we hope that sort of filters out a bit. But they are already thinking around, 'We're building a lot of houses, we need to build provision for green spaces.' And we're trying to make sure it's not too prescriptive on just allotments, because otherwise we end up with a very defined thing that only attracts a certain clientele, if you like, or a certain user group, whereas green spaces can offer so much more benefit. So, Welsh Government, thankfully, are doing some great work around that, but I don't see how we address that issue where the land that those sites are on is so valuable, if there isn't that strong statutory provision to protect them.


What about the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? Wouldn't that supersede?

Yes, it should do and it should say that that local authority absolutely has to engage their community in those decisions. I think they're all struggling with working out what that actually means for them.

I'm not saying that this would help the people of Powys particularly, but we've taken a self-protection approach in that we applied for a green flag community award and I think what we've tried to do is promote the site, so that if anybody did say, 'We'd like to take it over', there are opportunities for us to say, 'Well, actually, this is an award-winning site.' We've won Wales in Bloom's best allotment in Wales for the last two years running—we got a gold award and a silver gilt this last year—and we've got a huge wild-flower meadow that we planted, and we're trying to say that if it comes under threat, then it will destroy a very valuable site et cetera, et cetera.

I'm just interested to know whether the Powys allotment holders have used the office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, because she might have something to say on this, if Powys is just ignoring their obligations under the well-being of future generations Act.

I guess I need to declare some involvement in much of this: I'm from Newtown and I'm running a very large community-scale project in Newtown as a direct deliverer as well. The issue is that people get very attached to their allotment sites, and rightly so. And some of them have been allotment tiered for a generation or more—family to family even. So, people are very emotionally and physically attached to their allotment site. So, when any site is under threat, we have to understand that those emotions start to play as well. And actually, in Newtown, we are creating 90 new allotment sites for a smallish local authority town, if you like, so there is provision, but actually they're quite attached to their current site, and rightly so, and perhaps they don't want to see it built upon. So, I fully understand their concerns. I'm not sure they would win too many arguments if there is a better or enhanced provision available to them, to be honest. That's where I think they will struggle. But I think they will get quite political at the right time. 

Yes, I just want to ask a question quickly—I know we haven't got a great deal of time—about guerrilla gardening, because if prominent land in communities has been left unused and unproductive for quite a period of time, we have seen in some parts of Britain, local communities taking matters into their own hands, as it were. I suppose by its very nature, it's difficult for Government to facilitate or direct, but do you think there is a role for that sort of movement?

It happens right across Wales already.

Yes. Conwy has got some really activist movements—not 'activist', that's the wrong way to look at it, but a real proactive movement around—. It's the Incredible Edible network and it's actually quite strong in Wales. So, we're an affiliated network to the UK network. Machynlleth is another really proactive town on guerrilla gardening, with some local authority approval or town council approval. Newtown has Incredible Edible trailed through Newtown as well, and then we've got it in all sorts of pockets underneath the M4 as well. It's already there. Again it's 'I want to do more with my local green spaces', and they could deliver more than just a mown piece of grass.

Yes, thank you. We've spoken a bit about the resourcing of local authorities and the sparsity of allotment officers across Wales, but I was just wondering whether there is sufficient funding and support available for allotment associations and community growing groups and, if not, what more could be done to support them.

I'll let Nicola answer that one.

From the community growing perspective, certainly there used to be a large number of small-scale grants to help kick-start projects to help them maintain and develop, and then also for groups to become more sustainable. With the demise of Communities First and things, where a lot of these £500 to £1,000 grants used to come from, there really aren't the same types of moneys available and what is there is in much, much greater competition now. So, I think there's certainly an opportunity—I mean, obviously tools, group insurance, volunteer recruitment and being able to retain those volunteers through basic things like tea, coffee, biscuits, that type of thing. That money really is essential. So, if there was an opportunity for, maybe, us as an organisation to administer small grants to help catalyse community growing, then that would be a fantastic opportunity. I'd also like to advocate for the concept of constituted community allotments potentially being allowed to sell their produce. Because if there's a constitution that stipulates that any funds raised by the group would be brought back into the group for the purchase, again, of tools, of seeds for the following year, then that really would reduce their reliance on grant funding, which really isn't out there any more. 


That's a point that came up in the earlier session as well and I think it's ne that we need to reflect in our report, really— [Interruption.] Go on then, yes. 

We're a locally managed site so we have a local management agreement with Cardiff city council. Under that agreement, they take about £11,000 revenue and we get just under £5,000 back to manage the internal affairs of the site. I think the rest of that money disappears because it goes into other budget heads. So, essentially, the allotment officer does not have that budget—it disappears elsewhere. So, they will carry out emergency works or health and safety risks, but generally speaking we look after ourselves. We also have a small shop where we make around about 10 per cent profit, which we then plough back into the site. We also invest—one of the investments was a large polytunnel where we grow on plants and seeds for sale to people. But it's a kind of community within a community. We try to give some of the excess produce away, for example, to a local food bank, but, of course, they can't take perishable goods, which is rather sad. Then you try to leave some out for free and the local shops say, 'Well, that's a bit unfair', which I can see.   

Yes, of course. We've had a couple of references to Communities First and the effect that losing Communities First is having on this sector. Could you just tell us how significant a loss that is, just for us to understand what impact it is having? 

As you'll all be aware, finance options stimulate demand. We know that in every sector. So, once you restrict what finance options and support options there are, the support on the ground or the sites on the ground start to diminish. So, we did a bit of number-crunching before today, as you'd expect. We've supported in the region of 600 plus community growing sites across Wales since 2008. We're now working with about 450, so there is a marked decline. There will always be natural wastage of, 'Gosh, that's a lot of work', or 'Our committee structure hasn't quite got on and we've fallen out and we've parted ways' et cetera, et cetera. But there's not physical evidence but there's anecdotal evidence to say that if you're not supporting a demand via some finance and some networking and support and training and facilitation, the demand will be less. 

Okay. And also the RDP funding—of course there's a question mark in terms of European funding there. What kind of impact do you think losing that would have? 

Huge. For us as an organisation, we're not quite sure where our future may be without it. You've touched this morning on the LEADER funding. Again, that's RDP, European linked, so that has a finite life and all the LEADER funds now have put their final call out for submissions. Once March 2021 is here, we can't see where that comes from. Welsh Government have supported their own new initiative under ENRaW—enabling natural resources and well-being—and we will see some support and particularly use of green spaces and community gardens under that funding stream, hopefully to gather lots of the evidence that we're needing. But, again, at the moment, we're only being told that that will roll on to a future fund. At the moment, there is no guarantee. So, the ones that have been funded now—excellent, fantastic—but where's the future? It's a big question mark.  

—on what restrictions there are in terms of sales from allotment sites? I was aware several years ago of a site where they had a pizza oven and they wanted to have evenings where they sold pizzas to raise money for their activities and so on, but I think there were legal restrictions that made that very difficult. Are you aware of—?

Oh, yes. Statutorily, we're not allowed to sell our produce for our own gain, which may well be something—you know, if you have a review of the legislation—that may be something that you could look into. 


The legislation states you can only sell surplus, so defining 'surplus' is interesting. I guess the idea was there to protect the fact that allotments were set up to enable families to grow food for themselves, not to set up microbusinesses. So, you need to understand that that probably still needs to be protected somehow. But for an allotment association or allotment group to be sustainable, they need to earn income.

I think that's what we do, in effect, because what we provide is compost, seeds, seed potatoes—all the things that you might need on the site. That cuts down on environmental issues—people don't have to travel to a garden centre. We're competitively priced. So, I think that's where we make our 10 per cent, which we then plough back in.

Would you like to see a relaxation that would allow pizzas to be baked and sold, for example?

The biggest call so far is for a cider press—[Laughter.]—but you are right. We do hold a community day in conjunction with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and that goes down a treat, doesn't it? They bring the youngsters along and we show them around, but we provide food. There are quite stringent restrictions on fires and on gas cookers and gas cylinders, which is understandable. So, that would be difficult for a pizza oven, I guess.

Before I ask my principal question, it's great to see a well-run allotment organisation and buy-in from the allotment holders, but I would imagine that, on quite a few allotments around the country, that individuality, i.e. that person's plot that they want to—maybe the original ethos of what allotments were: growing for yourself—. How do you see managing those tensions? Because it's all well and good setting up new allotments as well, but unless they're managed well, you've got a recipe for conflict there, haven't you? I said in an earlier evidence session that I visited an allotment on Friday, and one thing I asked was, 'Have you got a committee that organises—?', 'No, no, we want to be on our own. We do our own thing.' So, there's a recipe here for quite a bit of conflict, is there not?

One of the things that came out of a survey we ran at the Royal Horticultural Society show was that, in equal measure, some people like the community involvement and some people like just to be left alone. And I think you have to respect both of those views. I think what we've tried to encourage, through newsletters and through meetings with the site and through general conversations is, 'Look, if we maintain this site to a high standard, we're likely to keep it for the future and for future generations.' So, I think you've got to sell a message for people to buy into, and, luckily, we've been able to do that. But you are right. One of the largest sites in Cardiff doesn't have an active committee, and the result of that is that it just falls into disrepair.

The danger for us as a committee, as legislators as well, is that you create quite a prescriptive environment or you suggest quite a prescriptive environment, but, actually, in the medium to long term, it's more detrimental to the advancement of the allotment cause, is it not? And I presume all parties here today would say that you shouldn't be too prescriptive in what you're saying; you have to reflect local circumstances.

Yes, absolutely. Also, we carry out regular plot inspections, so I and the chair go around once a month, and the purpose of that is not to get people off the site but to find out what's helped in their progress or—usually, it's family circumstances, social circumstances. So, it's not a draconian activity; it's simply to encourage people and to help them if we can. You know, we'll get volunteers to come in and—. So, I think it is creating that community feeling, and if you haven't got it, I don't know how they would manage.

And just on the evidence that Nicola and Gary presented, you talked about the fact that there should be national charging or national structure rather than regional or local variation. Could you explain your thinking on that to the committee?

I think some of the evidence suggests that we're sadly, in some areas, moving to allotments being slightly elitist, slightly middle class and not able to reach down to the lower level of our entire community. Definitely price is raised as a barrier time and time again from some of our more lower end—lower financial means within the groups that we work with. And there is a huge range of price, and I don't see why we tolerate that in Wales. So, Cardiff is perhaps £100-plus; mid Wales is £12 a year for the same-sized plot. That's hugely disproportionate and as you move slightly further north, you might find it even drops as low as £10 a plot. So, it's a fear factor. Why is that so? There shouldn't be a barrier to anyone requesting an allotment, and that was their original intention—affordable, accessible and 'a place for me to provide sustenance for my family'. And if price is putting that at risk, then there's a concern, in our opinion.


Is there a correlation, though, between that price that you highlighted, say, in Cardiff, of £100 and some of the other authorities at £10 or £12—that the level of service, for example, that allotment holders in Cardiff—? I mean, if you're getting a service and you're getting something back, whilst no-one likes paying any more, you don't mind putting that money on the table. If you're getting nothing back for it—. So, is there evidence that, actually, for that extra money you are getting something back?

I think that's what we're saying. There needs to be transparency over what you are getting for your money. Because some allotments will provide sheds, some will provide uncosted water, some will provide communal composting areas and bays, and in others you just get your plot and everything else is either in addition or you don't get it, so forget it. It's transparency. So, I suppose people have to know what they're signing up for—and they will do through any allotment agreement—but I think there's an idea from us to potentially set some guidance around what a price for an allotment might look like. And we know that we're making allotment sites more affordable by reducing the size; there's clear demand and clear evidence that a standard-sized plot is too much for many working families, time-wise, space-wise et cetera, et cetera. So, obviously, the fees have got to, again, define what you get in area, if you like.

You said 'guidance', so you'd say it would be better to be just a guiding principle rather than—.

I don't think you could legislate, because every local authority will approach it differently. So, they're all going to have different structures.

I think, just to be clear on price, you can get a plot in Cardiff for 30 quid. You know, if you take a half plot, which is 125 sq m, which is quite a sizeable plot, and you're over 60, it's £30, and it's £60 if you're under 60. And then it's £120 for a full-sized plot, and I agree with Gary—many people bite off more than they can chew when they come along and they wish that they'd have taken the half. So, we try and encourage them to take a half-sized plot to begin with.

What's happened, I think, over the last, perhaps, seven years, which I think is interesting, is that there are more and more young people taking on plots—young families. I think I've let about 22 plots since February and I would say that 45 per cent of them have been under 30. So, I think that's a huge change, but, again, I think Gary's right—it is tending more towards the middle class, whereas it used to be a working man's sideline, if you like.

Just to add, please, I really think that recommendations need to be made that community allotment plots—so, when they're shared, you've got a number of volunteers—I think they really need to have preferential rates, because if you look at it from an allotment association point of view, you've got people coming along, you've got them learning horticultural skills. They may not have those skills already, and it gives them the opportunity to learn in a supportive environment, and then, when they get to the point that there's a plot free, they're in a much better position to be able to take that on, with the skills and that knowledge. But projects such as Global Gardens that you've already seen this morning—they're paying close to £700 a year, because they have sufficient demand in their group to need to take on that many plots. But if you look at the range of vulnerable people that they're working with, they're supporting refugees and asylum seekers—they really shouldn't be paying anywhere close to that.

I just wanted to explore a bit further what Stephen was saying about the more middle-class make-up of your new applicants. I just wondered if the local councillors or the Assembly Member or Communities First, when it existed, did any outreach to the poorer sections of your community to say—

Not as far as I understand it, no.

Okay. Because in some cases, if  there's a perception that that's for somebody else—.

I think you're right there. I think the first step is to apply and if you don't feel that that's—. When people come on site, they are surprised, really, at how very down to earth folk are, because they're engaged in the same activity and have the same purposes, and how welcoming they are. But taking that initial step—. A point was made earlier about the management of waiting lists. So, for example, we don't have a waiting list and yet somebody told me that they'd applied and were told they were twenty-seventh on our waiting list. We don't have one. Now, that didn't put them off, but when you look at somewhere like Pontcanna, that has maybe 80 or 90 on their waiting list, where they've actually closed it because it's too many. How accurate that is, I don't know, but that's another project. 


Chair, just on that, presumably the community days are a good opportunity to get people in and explain to them the possibilities and just break down some of the preconceptions and barriers that they might have perceived.

Yes, and we do have a presence at local festivals. Last year and the year before, the Cardiff Allotment Holders Association had a stall at the RHS show in Cardiff, which was very well attended, and we made a lot of contacts. We did carry out a survey about what allotments meant to people, and I've got the results of the survey here, which are really interesting. I can give you copies for later.

That would be helpful, if you could share that with us.

In fact, 94 per cent of the people we interviewed said that they felt that allotments helped with their mental well-being. So, the results are impressive in terms of what allotments and gardening can do for people's general health and development.

We need land if we're going to have allotments. We've heard about Powys farm holdings, which is fantastic, but in your view, how can we access more land for allotments? I know about the Newtown scheme, because it's on my list to do. But it's about community growing, quite frankly. That's the basis, and if that's going to happen, do you think that there's a role here for the Welsh Government or local authority to play in ensuring that there is land available? And also, I suppose, alongside that, the security of that land remaining available.

I'd like to just put a little bit of context, I suppose, on land for food in Wales. We've always felt there's a bit of a disparity between food policy and agricultural policy, and I'm always saddened that those two don't sit very well together in separate areas of the country, to a degree. One goes off in one direction, and one goes off in the other. I'm grateful that the cross-party group met the other week, and some of you are involved in some of that, and trying to work out how that looks.

But a couple of figures just to digest. Welsh agricultural statistics: we only have 1,628 hectares producing fruit and vegetables out of 1,800,000 hectares. That is less than 0.1 per cent of our land that is producing food for Wales—edible food to eat. Obviously, there's lots producing meat and stuff. To me, that's worrying. The Welsh Assembly assisted in putting the food security report together back in 2010, which showed that there is a real risk around our own food security. The latest evidence suggests that that now only translates to supplying 5 per cent of our Welsh nation with their five a day, and the latest guidance from Public Health Wales is that five a day is nowhere near enough and it needs to be seven a day. So, that land now only produces 3 per cent of our needs in Wales. That's quite scary.

On the flip side, DEFRA's latest report, from 2018, so quite fresh—2.8 per cent of fresh produce came from free sources, which is basically gardens and allotments. So, into households, 2.8 per cent entered in 2018, but in 2016 and 2017 it was 3.8 per cent. So in 12 months there is a 1 per cent reduction in free and affordable food going into homes. For me, that's really worrying, and that's where allotments play an absolutely key role, in allowing people in poverty areas, and particularly in food poverty areas, to supply more of their own basic needs, with the right support mechanisms, with the right association. So, we absolutely need to do more.

Your question around could the Welsh Assembly nudge Welsh Government to do more—yes. And I'm thankful that the Welsh Government is just in the process of transferring their first two pieces of land out to the community specifically for food growing. It's taken a long time, but we're getting there. But even with those two pieces of land from Welsh Government, there are differences. So, one is on a leasehold and one is on a freehold, and they're the only two pieces of land being transferred out to the community for food. So, 'Why?' is the question. What's the difference there, and why? There's then the question, really, around is the local authority—and I'll say it again—is the local authority the right area to try to provide the land. So, Welsh Government can do a bit, because they've got land. That's absolutely easy.

We know that a lot of the land transfers happen through a community asset transfer process. The Welsh Assembly and Welsh Government have created community asset transfer guidance for local authorities to adopt. They don't have their own, interestingly. So, Welsh Government doesn't have its own community asset transfer policy. It has a national one for others to adopt. So, there is a piece of work, I think, for Welsh Government to have their own so that communities can come to them. But that asset transfer policy really was designed around buildings. It was designed around toilet blocks, if I'm honest, libraries, community halls and structures. It requires a three-step process for a community to access that land: a business plan, or an expression of interest, a fully costed and designed business plan, and then a legal business case to take on that land. And the ones that I've worked on have cost in the region of £3,000 to transfer out into the community. It's not affordable for a piece of land trying to design and develop local, affordable food. So, there's perhaps a change to that. If we're using that as a guidance document, maybe we need to look at a specific one around land itself and move it slightly away from toilets and libraries and community halls.


Just to add to that, really, when you think about more land, what more land is there than what we've already got? I think it comes back to the point you were making earlier. We've got at least seven plots that have become so overgrown and derelict that we can't use them. And I wonder if there is some research around just what is available on the sites that already exist. I don't know how many acres that would come up to and how much more growing that would be—probably not to bring it up to DEFRA standards. But there is land there that we already have access to that is going waste. 

So it'd be fair to say, then, that we need to do both things. We need to look at the land we've got and maximise the use of it, and look at the land that could become available and maximise that availability and affordability.

May I just add—? I think this was one thing that was always unclear in the guidance. Because when there are more than six taxpayers requesting plots, then the local authority needs to show that it's considering that demand. But there's never been any guidance as to what the time frame is to consider that guidance. And also the geography. So, there may be plots available in Llandaff, for example, but certainly if somebody's maybe in Butetown and reliant on public transport links, then that might just be prohibitive in itself. So, it's maybe getting a little bit more guidance in terms of what the geography is and where is the supply and demand and how that needs to be catered for, really. 

Can you let Joyce finish? Because we're coming very close to the end, and I want to come to your question as well.

Okay. Can I just tie it up? These six taxpayers requesting a plot—it needs to be in the community where the person can walk or bicycle to, doesn't it, otherwise it becomes—

It should be, but I don't think that's actually stipulated anywhere. 

It could be anywhere in that local authority. 

If you could let Joyce finish her questions before we move on.

I just want to know if you've got an example that would be useful to us about acquiring land in different models, maybe, to the one that we're currently trying to work with.

Welsh Government, do you mean?

Yes. We're trying to work with a specific model, but if you have come across a different model that works really well.

I think we've touched on it before. There is a whole range of models that could be used, and it probably differs almost from area to area. But, yes, we would absolutely welcome the opportunity to showcase some different examples out there, and we can do that via some written papers, following on from this. We'd absolutely welcome site visits to some of the other sites anywhere in Wales, and that's always an open opportunity. 

We hoped to make a site visit, except the weather was rather inclement on the day of our attempt to visit. 

Yes, we suffer from that a bit in Wales.

'A Healthier Wales' is the Government's strategy for transforming the health service, and that includes social prescribing, where appropriate, for people with chronic conditions, whether it's mental health or pain relief. And I wondered what framework exists for matching up GP practices with growing opportunities for those for whom that would be an appropriate intervention. Because the doctor can't be facilitating that; they can discuss it with the individual, but it takes a little bit more to link up the dots. I just wondered if either of you, or any of you, have you got any involvement on that. 


I think at the moment it's very ad hoc and it depends what resource, potentially, the local health board has. I know in Blaenau Gwent they had a pilot project running for six months, but at the moment it is—. For community groups wanting to facilitate social prescribing, it's really—there's a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of demystifying how they can actually approach commissioners, who they need to approach, and they need support in terms of setting themselves up to be able to cope with that type of administrative burden, as well, of being able to facilitate that. 

At the moment, there are quite a lot of groups and very good examples of groups doing it, and it tends to be in what's called a local cluster group. So, each practice is part of a cluster groups of practices. One area of practices tends to work together quite well. There's very little evidence yet of more national than that via local health board administration, but there's definitely some very good strong evidence of how some groups are making it work through their GP. Actually, all the GP has to do in those areas, instead of writing a prescription for drugs, is say, 'Your prescription is to go and join that group and get some fresh air, and go and enjoy that'.

At the moment, we're doing quite a lot of work, particularly in Cardiff, around evaluating that data. What I will air is one of the frustrations is there's a cost of that delivery to the community groups, and at the moment we're only aware of one compensation method through social prescribing in Wales, and they're currently paid £4.80 per prescription. So, the health board, the cluster group, is basing it on a prescription cost to them, rather than the health benefits to that practice and to the health board in general and Public Health Wales. 

So, a lot of work hopefully will come out of this 'Enabling Natural Resources' funding to say, actually, the monetary benefit is in the hundreds/thousands of pounds, so therefore you need to look at this as a bit of a budget saving, yes, but actually flow some money back into the community groups. Because the community groups are struggling to deliver the demand that they've got without any compensation, if you like—without any payment to them. But it is complicated.  

And also, as one of our previous witnesses, the Sustainable Places Research Institute, pointed out, it does actually require groups of people to be inclusive in their approach, and there's probably a bit of capacity building needed if somebody's not done any gardening before. 

Gary Mitchell 11:23:20