Allotments: duty to prepare a food growing strategy - guidance for local authorities

Statutory guidance for local authorities to assist them in their duty to prepare a food growing strategy, as set out in part 9, section 119 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015.

Section 2 – Shaping the food-growing strategy

9.1 It is for local authorities to decide how best to meet the statutory requirements set out in the Act (see Section 1) but this guidance provides advice to help ensure appropriate consideration is given to the development of relevant aspects of the food-growing strategy.

Partnership approach to preparing local food growing strategies

9.2 A partnership approach is crucial and so local authority officers responsible for allotments provision or drafting the authority's food-growing strategy are encouraged to work with their planning colleagues and other relevant internal and external stakeholders including :

Internal stakeholders:

9.3 Internal stakeholders are likely to include the local authority's:

  • Biodiversity team;
  • Economic development team;
  • Equality and diversity team;
  • Environmental health department and the local contaminated land officer,
  • Planning department;
  • Relevant parts of the NHS such as health improvement and facilities management teams, and;
  • Schools/education colleagues.

External stakeholders:

9.4 Local authority officers should, in preparing the authority's food-growing strategy, engage with a wide range of stakeholders. This might include the following, as appropriate, but this list is not exhaustive:

  • Allotment associations;
  • Community councils;
  • Current allotment holders, possibly through site visits;
  • Delivery partners (see paragraph 10 and Annex B);
  • Grow-your-own groups including community gardens and orchards, school growing groups etc.;
  • Local private landowners;
  • Other public sector local landowners;
  • Other relevant local authority colleagues such as environmental health contaminated land officers, public health, economic planning/strategy, planning, Sustainable Development, Climate Strategy/Sustainable Energy Action Plan etc.;
  • People on allotment waiting lists, including people on non-local authority lists;
  • People otherwise interested in grow-your-own who are not on an allotment site waiting list or other form of grow-your-own site waiting list;
  • Representatives of relevant organisations e.g. Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society or Social Farms and Gardens;
  • Scottish Land and Estates;
  • Third sector organisations with an interest in allotments and grow-your-own opportunities;
  • Wider public consultation, if appropriate.

9.5 If it is considered appropriate at a local level, local authorities may establish working groups involving the local authority and local stakeholder groups to assist with the development of their food-growing strategy. Such groups may also provide longer-term opportunities in relation to information sharing and the promotion and development of good practice. Local authorities should ensure that they encourage people (including, in particular, people from communities which experience socio-economic disadvantage) to become involved in the process as authorities are developing their food-growing strategies, and use everyday language that people can understand and engage with.

9.6 When developing their food-growing strategies, local authorities should also consider other relevant local strategies around, for example, social care, health and wellbeing including health inequalities, social isolation, education, environment/biodiversity, climate change, economy, local outcome improvement plans, food poverty plan/food security/holiday hunger, and planning strategies. This list is not exhaustive, and authorities should consider all appropriate local strategies.

9.7 Local authority partners should also be encouraged by the local authority to have regard to the authority's food-growing strategy when developing or reviewing other local policies or strategies.

10. Delivery partners and advisory bodies

10.1 The ongoing success of any food-growing strategy will depend on inclusive partnership working with key stakeholders and advisory bodies providing advice and guidance to local authorities. Included at Annex B is further information on key delivery partners, advisory bodies and umbrella organisations. This list is by no means exhaustive.

11. Land and planning

Planning background

11.1 Planning is key to meeting the requirements of section 119. The National Planning Framework 3[9] recognises that land for food production within towns and cities will become increasingly important. A principle of the Scottish Planning Policy [10] is that planning should protect, enhance and promote green infrastructure, including open space and green networks, as an integral component of successful placemaking.

What type of land should be included when considering a food-growing strategy?

11.2 Local authorities must ensure that they take a balanced and considered approach when considering what greenspace, both existing and planned, could be used as growing space. Account should be taken of current and future demand for growing space in order to match people with the growing space that they need and want.

11.3 There are many different forms of food growing spaces that local authorities can include in their strategies, from the traditional to the innovative. Local authorities should incorporate as many appropriate forms of growing sites, and types of growing, as their local areas allow. Examples of these are shown in the tables below:

Types of growing

  • Allotments;
  • Community growing spaces;
  • Edible hedgerows;
  • Green walls and roofs;
  • Hydroponics/aquaponics;
  • Orchards;
  • Other forms of growing such as market gardens, peri-urban and urban farms run as social enterprises.

Growing sites

  • Appropriate spaces for green roofs / green walls;
  • Community establishments with open areas;
  • Growing spaces in schools, hospitals, prisons, universities, colleges and other public areas;
  • Indoor growing;
  • Land which is due to undergo future development and may be suitable for "meanwhile use";
  • Landshare or gardenshare schemes;
  • Non public sector land suitable for leasing (or purchase) from a private landowner;
  • Places for beehives;
  • Planters or containers in hard-landscaped areas;
  • Suitable 'street corner' space;
  • Unused or underused areas of land;
  • Vacant, derelict or brownfield land, considering alternative growing methods where decontamination is not feasible (see advice on contaminated land, paragraphs 11.24-11.26).

11.4 Further forms of growing space and types of growing are set out in greenspace scotland's Community Growing Matrix[11].

11.5 If they consider it appropriate to their local area, local authorities may consider other food-growing locations such as in local residents' homes or care homes with large private gardens. For example, an agreement brokered whereby a person grows produce in a neighbour's private garden, in exchange for a share of the produce grown, may satisfy that person's growing space needs, resulting in them voluntarily removing their name from the authority's allotments waiting list. If such arrangements do not meet that person's food-growing needs, then they will remain on the waiting list. Organisations such as Edinburgh Garden Partners[12] facilitate such arrangements in their local area.

Open space audits

11.6 Scottish Planning Policy expects relevant, up-to-date audits, strategies and action plans covering green infrastructure's multiple functions including open space to inform local development plans (and any sub-plans).

11.7 Local authorities are required to carry out an Open Space Audit. Local authorities should make use of the typology in Planning Advice Note 65[13] (PAN 65) (which includes 'allotments and community growing spaces') as a starting point for auditing open space but may also consider whether some categories require further classification.

11.8 Local authority officers carrying out the open space audit should contact their local contaminated land officer to ensure that food-growing sites identified are suitable, or can be made suitable for growing, as soon as possible in the process.

11.9 The PAN recognises the role of community involvement and users of open space/ interest groups in inputting to the open space audit and strategy process (PAN 65 para 36). This can help identify demand for allotments and other growing spaces and local authorities should ensure that consultation is carried out with appropriate stakeholders. Waiting list data will also help to identify demand for allotments. Local authorities should set out how this demand for allotments and growing space will be met via their Open Space Strategy and Local Development Plan.

11.10 The outcome of the Open Space Audit, detailing existing growing space and existing demand and anticipated demand, should be mapped or otherwise recorded.

11.11 Demand for growing space, and the multi-function growing space identified, should be evidenced to prevent such spaces from becoming stalled spaces. Such evidence may be obtained, for example, by analysing waiting lists and considering what future demand might come from new housing developments etc.

Identification of land audit

11.12 In consultation with their internal stakeholders (listed at paragraph 9), local authorities should carry out an audit of land, both to identify all existing growing areas and to identify new land which will be suitable for growing. Such an audit to identify growing land must be balanced with other greenspace land requirements. The local authority should decide, according to local preferences, the format, layout and content of a land audit and how to set out in their food-growing strategy the land identified as suitable for food-growing.

11.13 New land identified which will be suitable for growing can be any appropriate land – local authority owned land, other publicly owned land, or privately owned land that the authority could lease (or purchase).

11.14 Excluding private gardens, there are a total of 119,299 hectares[14] of greenspace in urban Scotland. Nationally, there are approximately 33,000 hectares of land in local authority ownership, a further 856,000 hectares[15] of land in public ownership, and 2,478 hectares[16] of vacant and urban derelict land in public ownership. Local authorities should consider assessing the suitability of appropriate areas of such land for community growing, in addition to identifying suitable areas of privately owned land which could be leased (or purchased) for growing.

11.15 The Open Space Audit will identify land currently used for growing. When looking for other land which will satisfy future demand for growing space for allotments and other community growing space, a variety of methods should be used, such as:

  • Analysis of datasets such as the OS MasterMap Greenspace[17];
  • Vacant/derelict/brownfield land mapping, and whether identified sites could be used as growing spaces;
  • Other local open spaces, e.g. schools, hospitals and other community establishments with open spaces;
  • Public workshops/consultation to identify current and potential future growing sites;
  • Temporary or "meanwhile use" of land due to undergo future development, such as the temporary use of land as an allotment site at the Grove, Edinburgh, where raised beds were placed on pallets as site development was expected to take a number of years in that particular instance[18];
  • Options for leasing (or purchasing) land from local private landowners;
  • The local development plan which will identify new residential land releases and developments which may be suitable to incorporate growing space.

11.16 When identifying new areas of land suitable for growing, local authorities must also be satisfied that there is a current demand, or that there will be a future demand, for food-growing land in that area for it to be deemed suitable land.

11.17 Local authorities should consider all options for land and other type of growing space when considering what land may be suitable, from the traditional types of growing land to the more innovative approaches such as green walls or hydroponics; from large spaces to suitable 'street corner' growing space.

11.18 The outcome of the Open Space Audit, detailing existing growing space should be mapped or otherwise recorded. Authorities should also map planned future growing space, such as within future housing developments.

11.19 In addition to mapping existing and future growing space, local authorities should also assess and map current demand for growing space – both allotment site demand and other growing space demand. Engaging with community gardens and their volunteers, independent allotment sites and other growing spaces will help to identify current demand, in addition to demand identified via local authority allotment waiting lists. When considering demand, authorities should also map where future demand for food-growing space is likely to be, such as where new housing development sites are being planned, particularly those developments which will provide little or no garden space to residents. Local authorities may also wish to take steps to retain quality topsoil in the gardens and food-growing spaces of new housing developments;

11.20 Local authorities should also consider any existing 'unofficial' sites there may be in their local area. The history of Granton Community Gardeners[19], Edinburgh, is an example of how an initially 'unofficial' site flourished and continues to grow and benefit the local community. Authorities may identify and consider appropriate action, for example if the unofficial site is on local authority land, and adopt and include such sites within their list of local authority allotment sites. This may also assist the authority to increase their allotment or growing space land. If the community group who have been managing the 'unofficial' site wish to request delegation of certain functions of site management, this should be considered in the usual way, in accordance with section 123 of the Act.

11.21 If it is appropriate, a local authority may wish to consult a neighbouring authority and work across boundaries if there is suitable land available in a different region which would help to satisfy current or future identified demand for allotments and other community growing spaces.

11.22 Local authorities may also wish to consider how to engage with schools not only to raise the profile and highlight the benefits of growing in schools, but to identify possible growing areas within school grounds. Support or alternative arrangements may also be needed at particular times of the year at school sites, such as during school holidays, to prevent the areas from becoming neglected during such periods.

11.23 Local authorities might also find the Eco-Schools Scotland framework a useful way to engage with schools[20].

Contaminated land

11.24 When identifying land which may be suitable for food-growing, it is important for the local authority's environmental health team or contaminated land officer (CLO) to be contacted at the earliest opportunity.

11.25 The environmental health team or CLO can provide advice at all stages in the process, including the environmental risk assessment, to ensure that the soil is suitable (or can be made suitable) for food-growing.

11.26 If the soil is found not to be suitable for food-growing due to contaminants in the soil, the environmental health team or CLO will advise on the steps to be taken to make the site safe for food-growing. Full details of the contaminated land process are contained at Annex C, and a flowchart of the contaminated land evaluation process is contained in Annex D.

Local Development Plans

11.27 Local Development Plans are key to safeguarding existing and potential allotment and food-growing sites. The plans seek to enhance existing green infrastructure sites, and promote the creation of such new sites. For example, new-build residential development plans should have sufficient nearby green space for a range of recreational uses, including food-growing.

11.28 Local Development Plans also encourage the temporary use of unused or underused land as green infrastructure, but making it clear that such temporary use will not prevent future development of the site.

11.29 Local authorities may wish to embed in their local development plans a percentage of open space requirements based on the size of the development, an approach undertaken by Moray Council in the Safeguarding Open Spaces section of their Local Development Plan[21]. Such an approach could also set out the requirement for edible food-producing species to be provided, including hedgerows and fruit trees.

11.30 Authorities may also wish to consider developer contributions towards the provision of allotments and community growing spaces in new housing developments.


11.31 Local authorities may find helpful the planning / food-growing strategy flowchart, which sets out the links between the open space audit, open space strategy, local development plan and the food-growing strategy. The flowchart can be found at Annex E.

12. Not for profit/more than profit

12.1 A food-growing strategy should include grow-your-own initiatives which are run other than with a view to making a profit. In particular, it may include social enterprises run other than with a view to making a profit, such as where any income generated is put back into communities or back into the social enterprise, and is not used for the purposes of a trade or business.

12.2 This approach will still allow growers on allotments[22], on a not-for-profit basis (if their lease permits the sale of produce), to sell excess produce to local people and enable them to access food that is grown locally when they are unable to, or do not wish to, grow it themselves.

12.3 This not-for-profit criterion will be relevant in identifying land in a local authority's area that it considers may be used as allotment sites, but it is not relevant in identifying other areas of land that could be used by a community for the cultivation of vegetables, fruit, herbs or flowers.

13. Assistance to local community groups

13.1 Local authorities should work in partnership with community groups and other stakeholders to identify land, including vacant land, in local authority ownership which could be used for food growing. The authority's internal stakeholders (listed at para 9) should also be consulted at the outset when considering land for food-growing. Authorities should also consider what other assistance can be provided to community groups, such as signposting the groups to various sources of funding, providing assistance with Land Registry searches to determine ownership of land, or assisting/advising community group investigations into contaminated land.

13.2 Local authorities may find that community groups wish to approach the authority to make a Participation Request (Part 3 of the Act), or make an Asset Transfer Request (Part 5 of the Act)[23].

13.3 Such Participation Requests, and Asset Transfer Requests if granted, may assist local authorities to meet their requirements to provide additional suitable land for growing, in addition to empowering communities.

14. Waiting lists and signposting to alternative options

14.1 It is recognised that local authorities may face difficulties in providing additional land for allotment sites and in resourcing such a policy. The ongoing requirement for additional allotment sites will remain visible through local authority waiting lists, however local authorities may wish to consider parallel activity to identify other food-growing options, such as signposting a person on the allotments waiting list to a community garden or land/garden-share arrangement, where their food-growing needs may be met. If their food-growing needs are not met then the person will remain on the waiting list. It is for the local authority to manage its waiting list as it sees fit.

14.2 Other possible benefits to be gained from signposting people on the waiting list to community gardens are the learning opportunities to be gained by people on the waiting list, and the value of additional volunteers being available to help a local community garden. Some community gardens experience difficulty in attracting and retaining sufficient volunteers to maintain the community garden. Paragraph 3.2 of this guidance highlights the number of people lacking the skills to grow their own. Linking people on the waiting list to local community gardens might therefore help to address both of these points by providing additional volunteers to community gardens and increasing the knowledge and skills of those wanting to grow their own, in preparation for them being offered a lease for their own allotment. Local authorities should also consider relevant training or mentoring opportunities or informative websites that they can direct prospective tenants to when signposting them to other food-growing options, to help the prospective tenant equip themselves with the knowledge and skills to begin to grow their own produce.

14.3 The provision of other food-growing options must not be used by local authorities as a reason to provide fewer allotments, unless waiting lists show this is necessary. To assist those wanting access to food-growing land, local authorities may wish to identify and signpost prospective tenants to other food-growing options whilst activity is ongoing to identify additional land for allotment sites, and while local authorities consider how they intend to meet the requirements set out in section 112 of the Act (duty to provide allotments). Prospective allotment tenants on the waiting list who are signposted to other food-growing options may or may not decide to take up such alternative food-growing options, however they will remain on the allotments waiting list unless they decide to remove their name voluntarily.


Email: Pamela Blyth

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