25 April 2012

S4M-01922 Allotments Regeneration Initiative (North Ayrshire)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-01922, in the name of Kenneth Gibson, on the allotments regeneration initiative in North Ayrshire. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges that there are more than 500 community, therapeutic and allotment gardens throughout Scotland involving more than 12,500 people every year; encourages the introduction of the Green Gym scheme, which has so far been established in various areas throughout Scotland, including Kilbirnie in North Ayrshire; understands that planning permission has been granted for more than 70 community vegetable plots and 72 individual allotment plots in Kilbirnie for the Garnock Valley Allotment Association; considers that the Allotments Regeneration Initiative indicates that allotments allow local people not only to grow their own fruit and vegetables in a sustainable way but keep active, meet new people and improve mental health, and understands from similar projects in South Ayrshire that allotment gardening can contribute in many different areas including healthy eating, sustainable food supply, healthy activity, educational purposes and fostering community links and green spaces.

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The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I thank Kenneth Gibson and everyone who has contributed to this interesting debate. I am not entirely certain that it is a good idea to have a debate in which we talk about politicians digging holes; we tend to do that metaphorically rather than physically. The debate has been interesting from that point of view.

I was absolutely delighted to hear about the genuine local action and engagement that Kenneth Gibson described from councillors in his area. We forget that a large number of councillors get engaged with issues that matter to local people. The example to which Kenneth Gibson referred, which has led to the action in North Ayrshire, is to be commended.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): An important function of local councillors is involvement with the local development plan. We have heard repeatedly about the identification of areas of land. I take it that the minister would encourage greater involvement by local authorities in the identification of land. To that end, could the Scottish Government assist by making any land that is within its control more readily available for the use of allotments?

Stewart Stevenson: Mr Finnie makes a good point. With regard to the Government’s land, we have already disposed of almost everything that it is possible to dispose of. We are bound by rules that require us to dispose of land at commercial rates. However, local authorities can dispose of land at lower rates for community purposes. In many ways, it is good and appropriate that local authorities take the lead on the issue. That works well when there is a commitment to do it.

I thank Brian Adam, in his absence, for filling in for me yesterday by opening the Cullen allotments. I had been looking forward to doing that but, because the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment is away all week, I had to take on one or two of the responsibilities that he would have discharged, so I had to come to Edinburgh sooner than I had previously planned.

Christine Grahame talked about 10-year waiting lists for allotments. When we took the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill through the Parliament, which was a big effort, one of the happiest days was when the bill team leader, who is an enthusiastic allotment person, received the news that she had reached the top of the list and now had an allotment near Inverleith Gardens. That was a happy day—she even took us out for a drink to celebrate, so excited was she. It was absolutely right that the bill team leader was engaged in that issue, given all the good aspects of that bill.

The small role that I play is that I dig the potatoes that someone else plants in our garden. I generally do it with my bare hands, which is a pleasant thing to do.

Christine Grahame talked about the proposed community empowerment and renewal bill. I am not sure how allotment issues will fit into that, but I will think about it.

In relation to Margaret McDougall’s comments, I am delighted that another member of the Parliament likes to use that delightful word “humongous”. She made a point about bee, wasp and butterfly beds. The official with whom I worked on this debate referred in some of the notes to bees, but he omitted wasps, because he does not like them. Of course, wasps are an important part of the pollination cycle, just as bees are, but we often forget that.

I was looking forward to hearing from Annabel Goldie, as I knew of her interest in the issue. I am beginning to wonder whether, in the modern climate, there is a gender issue, because it seems that it is all women who are getting engaged in plots and not the seedy old men with flat caps and a pipe, as might have been the traditional view. The important point is that the client base for allotments is changing and broadening, and more people are getting engaged, which we absolutely should welcome. I will watch the parliamentary roof with great interest.

Alison Johnstone talked about brownfield sites. There are successful allotments throughout Scotland on such sites. Boxes are available that can be put on brownfield sites to isolate growing vegetables—and, for that matter, flowers—from contamination that might be present in the soil. That brings into use brownfield sites that might be difficult to decontaminate because money is not available. In the meantime, with that technology, we can use areas for allotments even though the land is contaminated.

Margaret Burgess talked about therapeutic gardens. I have a particular interest in that, because many members of my family have been involved in mental health activities. My father-in-law was a psychiatric nurse and I briefly worked as one, as did other family members. Therefore, I am absolutely seized of the therapeutic advantages of allotments for people with a wide range of conditions, and in particular for people with mental ill health of one sort or another.

Kenny Gibson highlighted the marvellous work in his constituency. North Ayrshire Council’s allotment regeneration initiative is a good example that I hope many other councils will consider. We absolutely recognise the health benefits, the benefits of local growing and having vegetables on the doorstep and the benefits of just getting people outside and taking exercise. The North Ayrshire green gym is an excellent example of a project that encourages that.

A number of good examples have been mentioned in the debate. The Scottish Government is supporting the best practice event that is being held at Battleby, Scottish Natural Heritage’s headquarters, on 17 May. The event is being organised by SNH, and interested private and public individuals and organisations will be able to exchange knowledge to help our communities to be even more vibrant places. We are behind what is going on in allotments. The list of public bodies that are engaged in that is substantial and includes the Forestry Commission, SNH, the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, Trellis Scotland and NHS Lothian. We also have a grow-your-own stakeholder working group, which is delivering recommendations.

There is much more that I could say on the subject, but time is against us. I commend the work that is being done and assure all those who are present and all who read this that the Scottish Government is fully committed to the grow-your-own agenda and to community garden projects and initiatives. I thank all members for their contributions.

Meeting closed at 17:41.

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