The answer lies in the soil: Leicester researchers study council allotment provision

Posted by mjs76 at Nov 10, 2011 02:28 PM |
Research from our Department of Media and Communication yields fine crop of data.
The answer lies in the soil: Leicester researchers study council allotment provision

Biggest vegetable competition at Aylestone allotments

Postgraduate student Yana Manyukhina and Dr Farida Vis from our Department of Media and Communication have compiled the first ever national dataset of information about allotments.

Every local authority in England and Wales (except inner London authorities) is legally required to provide allotments. Allotmenteering has been growing in popularity in recent years but there is a wide discrepancy between councils. Yana and Farida used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain data from 216 councils, including the cost of rents, water charges, discounts and changes in tenancy agreements. This is building on data that highlights waiting list statistics (from Margaret Campbell of Transition Town West Kirby).

They then had some serious number-crunching to do, not least in calculating plot sizes in square metres when many allotment dimensions are still recorded in poles!* Further data will be released through their website.

The initial batch of data has been published today on the Guardian’s website, revealing that allotment rents vary from 1p/sqm in Bolsover and Chesterfield to 55p/sqm in Runnymede. The number of plots managed varies from 3,492 in Leeds to just eleven up the road in Blaby (which, to be fair, is a smaller place than Leeds).

Rents have increased considerably in recent years. The research compared 2008 and 2011, where data was available, and found a 207% increase in Cannock Chase, a 130% increase in Brent and five other councils with a 100% increase.

Despite this, allotmenteering is still very attractive and most local authorities have a waiting list. Sheffield and Southampton each have more than 2,000 people waiting for the chance to start digging. In fact the Leicester research reveals that there is, on average, one waiting list name for every plot in England.

Farida has described the ideas behind the research and the process used in an article on the DataDrivenJournalism site, where she says:

 Although it is tempting to simply highlight some of these issues in different ways, with additional data and snazzy visualisations, we are keen to stress that whilst there is an issue with councils not providing more sites, it is also clear that they are not exactly in a position to necessarily do so given the current climate of cuts. So therefore we are also interested in exploring alternative solutions to the waiting list crisis. For example by identifying underused plots of lands (brown field sites and others), which could serve as temporary growing spaces - pop-up allotments anyone?
Farida Vis,

Yana and Farida have set up a blog to document their continuing research into this topic and you can also follow them on Twitter.

*The rod, pole or perch is an archaic measurement equivalent to five and a half yards; 320 poles equals one mile.