These figures suggest Scotland needs Right to Grow legislation

I recently published research I’ve done which has revealed a mounting crisis in Lothian region for the increasingly popular idea of growing your own food.

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The research reveals two key issues.

Firstly, Freedom of Information requests show that across the region there are over 3,000 people on council allotment lists facing waits of up to 9 years to get a plot.

Secondly, some local authorities are opposing the idea of timescales and targets for providing allotments. Existing legislation says councils should provide allotments but it doesn’t specify any timescale, resulting in huge waiting lists.

These discoveries come despite statistics showing a third of Scotland’s population lives within 500 metres of vacant land.

These figures suggest Scotland needs Right to Grow legislation in the same way we have seen community groups being given the right to buy land that comes up for sale. It is appalling that across Lothian than are over 3,000 people on waiting lists and probably hundreds more who feel it’s pointless putting their name down.

It is hugely embarrassing that in East Lothian – known as the Garden of Scotland – there are over 300 people waiting yet the local authority doesn’t want to set timescales to reduce the lists.

I will be looking for opportunities in the forthcoming Community Empowerment Bill to give control to the increasing numbers of people looking to grow their own food. The demand is there, the land is there and the benefits are obvious.

WAITING LISTS

My Freedom of Information requests resulted in the following responses:

Edinburgh Council said it has 2,773 people on its waiting list. The waiting time for sites will vary from 4-9 years at present with an average waiting time of around 4-5 years.

East Lothian Council said it has 333 people on its waiting list. It said its list goes back as far as 2005, suggesting there are some people still waiting after 8 years.

West Lothian said it does not manage any allotments but where possible supports community groups to develop sites that are deemed suitable.

Midlothian said it has 15 people on its waiting list. These people face a wait of up to two years. The only formal plan to extend allotment provision or community growing spaces is within the plans for new town at Shawfair.

 

VACANT LAND

The latest survey shows there are 10,984 hectares of derelict/vacant land across Scotland. 30.9% of Scotland‟s population lives within 500 metres of a derelict site.

Hectares of vacant land in Lothian:

West Lothian 559

Midlothian 253

City of Edinburgh 110

East Lothian 38

 

TIMESCALES LOOPHOLE

In their responses to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the Community Empowerment Bill there were conflicting views from local authorities on the need to improve allotments legislation.

City of Edinburgh Council said the loophole on timescales needs to be closed.

However, East Lothian Council said there should not be a specific timescale for allotment provision or specific number per head of population.

Midlothian Council made no response to the allotments question.

And West Lothian said it was not aware of a requirement to change existing legislation and stressed that temporary allotment sites should not inhibit development.

 

A sustainable future for our rural communities

I recently spoke in a parliament debate on the Common Agricultural Policy. I stressed the need to ensure funding goes towards smaller farms and new rural enterprises. We must encourage a sustainable future for our rural communities. The full transcript of my speech follows.

Alison

Farm

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green): Scotland gets a bad deal from the common agricultural policy. Many members have already expressed frustration at that and I share their concerns. It is patently unfair for Scotland to receive such low funds relative to others in Europe. Relative to others in the UK, we also receive less. Scotland’s high percentage of rough grazing is part of the reason.

CAP subsidy is geared towards farms that already have the best chance of being profitable. If the CAP continues to reward those on the best land, Scotland will continue to lose out. Scotland, in contrast, is in an excellent position to argue that subsidies should be delivering profitable farms in tandem with the marginal and most biodiverse land. That is a big shift away from the argument for ever more direct payments and towards a CAP that delivers subsidy that is based on the public good.

I am pleased to say that the Scottish Government follows much of that argument. Area-based payments and the eradication of slipper farming are clearly sensible moves. The continuing modulation from pillar 1 to pillar 2 allows more targeted support and will deliver more public good for the public subsidy. At the European level, the principle has finally been established that pillar 1 subsidy should depend on outcomes that benefit the public good.

However, Green colleagues in Europe describe the reform as a massive missed opportunity that failed to deliver a fairer distribution of funds and does not deliver all that it might for the environment. Although 30 per cent of pillar 1 will be tied to greening, the measures are modest. They mean that most farms in Scotland will not have to do anything additional. It was important to ensure that a one-size-fits-all approach to greening did not hit Scotland’s diverse sector, but biodiversity is in critical decline and CAP greening measures should be one tool to help reverse the trend.

Scotland will be allowed to use 8 per cent in coupled payments, but I agree with the Government that there should be scope to do more. Coupled payments could also be tied more closely to agri-environmental outcomes. The lack of a real cap on large payments means that funds will not be available to help smaller farms and new entrants. Despite receiving support, they will continue to find it hard to break through and make a success of new enterprises.

I mentioned Scotland’s large percentage of rough grazing. I wanted to link back to that as I talk about crofting. There is no crofting in the region that I represent—Lothian—but colleagues in the Independent/Green group have asked me to speak on the issue. Crofting is extremely important to the Highlands, where it maintains the communities in our most remote areas.

The crofters’ conference that was held in Stornoway last month highlighted the plight of common grazings—rough grazing land that extends to half a million hectares. Many people feel that common grazings are ignored by the CAP and that they are underused or are being abandoned in many areas because the support that is available to livestock producers is too small. It is important that more attention is paid to common grazings and to crofting in general. Managed grazing can promote biodiversity, maintain the peatlands and enhance the land’s high nature value, as well as provide profitable high-quality livestock. The move to area-based payments is an opportunity to ensure that rough grazing, high nature value farming and extensive livestock production are supported, because they are vulnerable but environmentally important.

A significant pillar 1 move to supporting farms on more marginal land leaves open an opportunity to use funds that have been allocated to least favoured areas to support more spending on agri-environmental and organic measures. I urge the Government to look at that. I support Scottish Environment LINK in its calls for 50 per cent of the SRDP fund to be allocated to agri-environmental, organic and forestry schemes. A move in pillar 1 to more marginal land support would allow that happen.

Scotland has great potential to produce more diverse, local and organic food. While we continue—rightly—to campaign for improvements in CAP, we must continue to do all that we can under the current arrangement to encourage and increase such production, as the benefits that it brings to local communities and local economies are significant.

I thank Scottish Environment LINK for its briefing and its calls to ensure that the move to regionalised payments improves the level of basic payment support to high nature value farming and extensive livestock production, which are economically vulnerable but—as I have said—extremely environmentally important; and to improve the prioritisation and targeting of the SRDP, with increased funding being allocated to advice.

The Parliament may not vote as one at decision time, but I am absolutely certain that we all recognise the need for a sustainable future to be provided for our rural communities, our world-renowned countryside and our environment.

SEEKING MEETING WITH FIRE CHAIR OVER CONTROL CLOSURES

I have today written to the chair of the Fire Service board asking for a meeting to discuss controversial proposals to close the Edinburgh control room. You can read my letter below.

Fire controlHaving met with affected staff at the control room at Tollcross I’m determined to hold the fire board to account on this. The plans were not discussed in advance with these highly skilled workers and I have concerns that a promise of consultation will have little effect on the direction the board has agreed.

It’s a bad start for the new single service and it has its work cut out to reassure those of us who want to see an Edinburgh control room retained.

Alison

 

The Fire Service statement on “strategic intent” is here:

http://www.firescotland.gov.uk/news-campaigns/news/2013/09/long-term-sfrs-property-requirements-considered-at-board-meeting.aspx

Dear Mr Watters,

I am seeking assurances that the decision of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service board to consult on proposals to close control rooms including Edinburgh will be meaningful.

Having discussed the matter with local staff I continue to have concerns, and would be grateful if you could address them, either in writing or by way of a meeting with me here at parliament.

Why was the control room closure plan not discussed with staff in advance?

What assurances can you give my constituents about the quality of service they might receive if their 999 calls are handled by outwith the region?

Will the wider implications of closure on the Edinburgh community be properly considered?

I note that the board expects to save £4.8million a year through property rationalisation. How much would the closure of the Edinburgh control room save and where would any savings be invested?

I note that the board wants property “strategically located across Scotland’s communities.” Is Edinburgh not a strategic location?

I note that you intend to commence a programme of more detailed engagement with community planning partnerships and other key stakeholders and that the chief fire officer plans to visit staff to hear their views. What assurances can you give that this engagement programme will genuinely influence the final decision?

Yours faithfully,

Alison Johnstone