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Allotment or Building Plot

Ruined Allotment

Ruined Allotment

I took a walk around our allotment site the other day and noticed a worrying trend developing. Some plots are beginning to resemble patios and building plots with permanent structures rather than allotments.

Now if you think about it, allotments are essentially pieces of land we rent to grow on for a period of time. That period could be a lifetime or just a year before one tenant leaves and another takes over.

At the same time, the tenants are all different. Some may want to grow in a greenhouse, some in a raised bed and some just in the soil. The guiding principle has always been to keep the plot in such a way that the next occupant can move on, clear the plot and grow what they want.

With my plots, the greenhouses are set on wooden sleepers and there are some raised beds with paths covered in wood chippings between. So when I eventually give up the plot, and I will, whoever takes it on can change things around fairly quickly to suit their wants and needs.

The wood from the raised beds can go for something else or even a bonfire, the paths will dig in and the greenhouses are simple lightweight aluminium jobs that can come down in a few hours.

Inside the greenhouse are some concrete slabs but they’re just laid onto the soil with a little sand used for levelling. Removing those and bringing the soil into use is just a matter of some digging over. Even the shed is merely laid on some bricks so they can be lifted in a matter of minutes when the old girl finally gives up the ghost.

However, some of the plots now have the sheds set on top of six inches of road stones compressed down and one greenhouse is set on a compressed stone, concrete and slabs base with a dwarf brick wall.

This high-quality permanent construction is all very well but sometime the current plotholders will move on and the new plotholder will be faced with a much harder job to bring that land back into production.

Clearing a few weeds or even a lot of weeds is par for the course when you take on a plot but removing a layer of compressed road stones is a much harder task. As for concrete bases, here we’re into hiring jack hammers to get the land back into production.

One of the worst examples on our site is a perfectly good plot that has been taken over following the previous tenant’s death. The new tenant has kept the old greenhouse but has literally used a digger to scrape off the topsoil (and removed it from the site!!) from the plot, then placed large raised beds with compressed stone and concrete paths and a large area in front just covered in stones and concrete.

I assume the new holder intends to fill the beds with topsoil but at the moment they’re just empty with some couch grass struggling up. They’ve been like this for months now. If the new plot holder has to give up at this stage, perhaps loses his job in the recession and can’t afford to finish the project, the plot is ruined.

To bring the land into production without spending on buying in soil would be a matter of years. And who wants to take on an allotment where you have to provide your own soil?

People, and especially those responsible for managing allotment sites, should remember that we only hold the plots for a time and our permanent structures can prevent someone else from enjoying their vision of growing. One man’s good solid base is another man’s nightmare.

Posted in Rants and Raves
12 comments on “Allotment or Building Plot
  1. Tracy says:

    John, I quite agree. I have put two thirds of mine to raised beds and used begged and borrowed slabs for most paths between them but they are only dropped in place and easy to shift when the time comes I’m no longer there.

    There are a few too permanent structures going up lately.

  2. annette says:

    Hello, with the permanent structures,just refer to any rules given out that concrete not allowed on allotment plots, think of it as slugs and snails and treat the prob lems straight away, to go away, thankyou for your news, Annette

  3. Liam says:

    Surely a clause should be written into the agreements signed by each plot holder to the effect that any buildings or structures erected and/or any paths or patio areas etc that are laid should be temporary in nature and easily removed, as and when the plot is surrendered. This could then be enforced by those who manage the allotments and they could insist that the plot holder remove any structures deemed to be in breach of the clause.

  4. Janet Kaiser says:

    I see this is another area where the “rule book” of a German allotment association, however tedious, has its merits! My husband and I took over an allotment in Flensburg on the German-Danish border last September and are delighted with what the previous/late tenant left behind. Indeed, we paid €700 to his family as a sort of takeover fee and although we have a lot of rubbish (which allotment does not have its fair share?) and had to pay a lot to rid the site of asbestos (the association demanded that of us)a concrete floored structure with three “rooms” is an absolute god-send. They are: a sitting room/kitchen with car-port type lean-too over the entrance; a toilet which doubles as toolshed and a potting shed which is full of “usefull” stuff and a mouse population, so we have not quite found where it starts or ends yet!

    The living area has a gas stove and we believe the previous tenant used to spend the night there often during the summer.

    According to the rule book, we “garden friends” are allowed to put up a permanent building no bigger than 24 square metres made of stone and/or wood only. The base may be concrete if the committee agree… In practice, it means we have chalet-type small buildings which are pretty substantial and add to the ammenties and durability of buildings. Not to mention health and safety! Now that would send ME personally off on a rant, far more than the presence or absence of a concrete floor or two!

    Seriously, from what I see here in the North, a great many people are using allotments more as “holiday homes” than productive land. Pretty gardens with barbecue facilities, hammocks, rose bowers, table tennis, paddling pools, sand pits, etc. are in the majority. It is understandable when the percentage of people who live in rented flats without gardens is far higher here than the UK and the available time for gardening is but a few hours per week.

    Some allotment assoications demand a certain minimum percentage of the land (usually 30%) be for food production, but if the trend is towards leisure rather than feeding the masses, it makes sense to build to last. At the end of the day, each association can decide how much building is sustainable and to be honest, the sturdy structures bring families and friends out to share in the fun much more than the rickety, often highly unsanitary sheds of yore!

    You pays yer money and takes yer choice!

    Greetings from a cool cellar somewhere in a pretty hot Flensburg!

  5. Donald Cape says:

    Our allotment site is owned by the City of Carlisle Council and rented to people on an individual basis. The Council did want plotholders to form an association but after two organised meeting they decided to leave things as they are for the time being.
    The terms and conditions in the rental agreement have a clause that reads ” no sheds, greenhouses or other structures can be erected without written permission from the City Council. I am in the proccess of putting down a base for a greenhouse consisting of 440mm X 200mmx100mm concrete blocks set only on well sieved soil. The path inside will be slabs set in soil as well.
    When I rang up to check if was OK the Green Spaces Officer for the Council said that it was fine to do it this way.
    I think the rest of the plotholders would have plent to say if someone did start to put up anything they thought wasn’t within what they, and me ,thought wasn’t suitable and would be difficult to remove if the plot was vacated.

  6. Darren says:

    VERY WELL SAID JOHN! I couldn’t agree more,and with the other replies. I’ve recently taken hold of a tenancy with Bolton Council(which came with a few terms and conditions!)and am required to submit a plan of my plot with proposed siting and measurements of any buldings or structures,with limits on heights and size.I’m ok with this(surprised,didnt expect it at first),think its a bit of fair play for all.
    The plot is uneven clay soil with a slight gradient and i’ve been pondering the prospect of laying some sort of bases(recyclable,of course)for future shed and greenhouse. your description above sounds about right for the job,nice one John. OH YEAH! Cool couple of books,by the way! Later all.

  7. Eric says:

    An allotment site near to us, in Derbyshire, has plots which resemble the play area at the local park. Councils should get to grips with this sort of abuse, especially when in the neighbouring town there is a waiting list of about 10 years.

  8. Sue says:

    I agree that in the UK, putting in hard-to-remove structures should not be allowed. When I took over my allotment, it was hard enough to simply remove the generous crop of weeds. If there had been any concrete to remove? Horrors!

    However, Janet in Germany is describing a culture in which allotments are viewed differently, allowing for something more like chalets at the seaside here. What is the “done thing” in one place isn’t necessarily the “done thing” elsewhere.

    The current issue of Country Living (August?) has a feature on Swedish public gardens (I think that’s the term) which include small holiday homes.

  9. John says:

    The German gardens are known as “kleinegarten” and the culture is quite different. Some have electricity and some people will spend all weekend there.
    I recall that in the 60’s the government commissioned a report, the Thorpe report, which went to several continental countries to examine this as a real possibility for British allotments which were being abandoned as traditional veg and fruit growing plots.

  10. Gill says:

    At my allotment in Warrington we are not allowed to have structures at all – no greenhouses or sheds. I think the most you can get away with is a plastic polytunnel.

  11. Ian says:

    I came to this page thinking it would tell me how to prepare a base for a greenhouse. Whoops! Having read this excellent article and thread, I am now having second thoughts…Think I will prepare a brick base, but only a rectangular base without a concrete floor. At least that way it is sturdy and easily gotten rid of if needed. I agree about the comments that some allotment sites are turning into playgrounds, but you have to admit that some of them look rather nice. Middle-ground needed here I feel.

  12. Mickey says:

    An allotment should be for food production and posssibly some flowers and a place to sit and chat with fellow allotment holders or sit and read a paper or book with some refreshment in peace with a cuppa and a flat cap on ones head. A shed and a glasshouse that can be easily removed by a tenant when he or she moves on is a necessity and it would be good if the council or association provided such structures in a standard way as it gives every allotment symmetry and then the structures would not have to be removed by a leaving tenant and the structures would be there for the new tenant. Crop Rotation should be done by all and the allotments could have the paths and sections for crop rotation laid out. Basically it would give people entering gardening a laid out allotment that would be set up for optimum production. Why should people starting out have to rent overgrown allotments especially with rents that are due to go up by quite a bit and why can an allotment not be provided by the council or association in a working order and then kept in working order by the tenant until they move on. I have taken over an allotment recently and it is going to take will power to stick at it and remove all the rubbish on the site before I can even start digging and planting. It will then cost bucks to get a shed and a glasshouse and to condition the soil. If I am ready for gardening proper next year then that will be challenge enough. Then all this investment in time and money could be taken away whenever the council decide they want the plot back so its not entirely fair how the council hand over these allotments in mostly an overgrown state with rubbish, rotten wood and carpets covered with tangled weeds. Somebody is being paid big by the council to do the admin for these allotments and what they need is better management.

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