Urban Growing

A growing debate: Reflections on Bristol City Council’s proposed Food Growing & Allotment Strategy 

By Bristol Food Network

Quite rightly, there has been a lot of discussion about Bristol City Council’s proposed Food Growing & Allotment Strategy and related fee changes and rules for allotment holders. There is a huge amount of detail in the council’s proposals and many objections have been raised on the allotment changes. In this blog, we have tried to provide some additional context to the debate and discuss a few of the controversies that have been raised elsewhere.  

Bristol Food Network, the lead organisation running Bristol Good Food 2030, were consulted on the Food Growing & Allotments Strategy prior to publication. Details of the proposed allotment fee and rule changes were not shared in advance, however, we have since discussed them in detail with the Parks & Green Spaces team. We will be submitting our own formal response to both proposals. 

The context of the proposals 

The Food Growing & Allotments Strategy forms part of the Parks & Green Spaces Strategy, which outlines ambitious changes to green spaces in the city over the next 15 years.  

The admirable vision for the Food Growing & Allotments Strategy is that the city will provide a thriving network of accessible spaces for local people and communities to grow healthy and sustainable food. This network will tackle food inequity, strengthen food resilience and support community cohesion and wellbeing.  

The strategy seeks to achieve: 

  • Reducing the number of people who are waiting to access Bristol City Council owned food growing spaces. 
  • Delivering new spaces for food growing  
  • Working to ensure people and communities from every area of the city can access suitable food growing opportunities. 

The strategy is currently open for consultation with the deadline for responses set as Monday 22 January 2024. We strongly invite all Bristol citizens involved in growing to respond. 

You can read the full Parks and Green Spaces Strategy here (Food Growing & Allotments starts on p.40) and the consultation is here.  

Proposed changes to allotment fees and rules 

Alongside the Food Growing & Allotments Strategy, the council is proposing changes to fees and rules for allotment holders.  

The Allotments Team has taken feedback on current issues from allotment holders and key stakeholders into account. The rule changes are designed to formalise processes, ensuring transparency and fairness and minimising complaints.  

Some of the proposals have been criticised by allotment holders, community groups and other organisations. The criticisms are generally focused around: 

  • Changes to fees and charges for allotment holders 
  • Balancing ecological concerns with the requirements of food growing  

There is a substantial increase in allotment fees proposed in the strategy which would come into force in September 2025 (time is required for Cabinet approval and giving notice to plot holders). 

Due to continuous cuts from central government, the current fees have made it difficult for the council to sustain the service at its current level, let alone improve it. The proposed fee changes aim to better reflect the time and effort invested in providing allotments, enabling the service to employ an additional team member. This, in turn, would potentially reduce the number of people waiting to access council-owned, food growing spaces and allow for more support for plot holders. 

These increases inevitably come with a risk of driving some people away from their allotments. The council has assured us that the proposed charges bring fees in line with comparable cities. However, there has been some criticism that the fee increases should be staggered to help people manage the change.  

Balancing ecological concerns with the requirements of food growing 

Concerns have also been raised over the possibility of allotment owners being forced to remove trees and hedgerows from their sites. These proposals have understandably raised eyebrows in light of the overarching objectives outlined in the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy aimed at increasing tree cover and fostering biodiversity.  

Avon Wildlife Trust has highlighted the potential removal of hedgerows and trees from plots, adding to the concern surrounding these measures: “Hedgerows planted as boundaries between plots might also face removal under the new rules. If made up of native species, these offer similar benefits as trees, especially if planted across sloping areas where they slow the flow of surface water, or in very exposed areas where they act as a wind break, protecting crops.” 

After conversations with the council, we have received reassurance that their primary focus is on removal of young, self-seeded trees, to avoid further encroachment on growing space. To safeguard biodiversity, advice has to be sought from allotment officers before removing anything other than very young trees. 

Propagation Place at St Werburghs City Farm, photographed at the Get Growing Garden Trail 2022, © Catherine Moyes

There is, of course, a need to maintain space for nature alongside freeing up space for growing, so we were heartened to hear that any tree removal will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. 

There is also concern about wildflowers not being permitted on plots – Avon Wildlife Trust has said: “We understand this is to maximise food production and trust that the designated nature areas have been strategically chosen to maximise their benefits.” 

As well as concerns about fees in general, Sara Venn from Edible Bristol advocates for a reconsideration of charging allotment holders for obtaining permission to install ponds and sheds.  

Venn said: “Encouraging allotment holders to dig ponds is another important way of ensuring allotment sites have healthy ecosystems that ensure good pollination of crops, and charging for permission again means those struggling the most lose out and are financially discriminated against.” In response, the council argues that seeking permission for ponds has always been a necessity, and the current charges align with the associated costs. 

With almost 8,000 people on the waiting list, optimising allotment land will open up more plots for citizens, a powerful step towards climate resilience, food security, and improved health. 

Other perspectives 

Food Justice & Allotments: Sara Venn, Edible Bristol 

Changes to Bristol Allotment Tenancy Agreements: George Cook, Avon Wildlife Trust 

Responding to the Bristol City Council Food Growing & Allotment Strategy: Bristol Food Producers 

One week left to have your say 

Remember, the consultation process is your chance to shape these changes. Your input on this proposal is vital, and the council will consider all citizen feedback before issuing a final version. Take the time to review and respond – let’s collectively nurture Bristol’s green spaces for a sustainable future. 

Complete the survey about the proposed changes to Bristol Allotment Rent and Tenancy Agreement. You can also find the full Parks and Green Spaces Strategy here (Food Growing & Allotments starts on p. 40) and the consultation is here. 

Join the conversation

So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.

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