Making land available for community groups is a hugely positive thing you can do as a landowner, a step which can be mutually beneficial and often benefit a large number of people.
This guidebook is designed to support you in the decision making, help you understand the process, challenges and legalities, as well as help you see the positive impacts your choices may have.
More and more people want to grow their own food – the reasons are various but range from a need and desire to save money as the recession bites, to know what they are eating, to introduce their children to where food comes from to being outside with their hands in the soil as a way to keep active and relax. And they need access to land close to where they live.
As waiting lists for allotment plots grow around Somerset and parish and town councils, whose duty it is to provide growing space, come under pressure to find suitable available land, public and private landowners, both large and small, are pioneering ways to give people access to their land to grow food in ways which benefit everyone.
There is also demand for land from new growing enterprises such as Community Supported Agriculture schemes where local people share the risks and rewards of providing a harvest with the grower. With only 1% of churn in the market for land, new growing enterprises whether community based or more commercial will need to be established on land already owned.
At a time when population is growing, food and energy prices are rising, the countryside needs revitalizing and we need to develop resilience to all these realities coming thick and fast, the prospect of bringing food production back much closer to home makes complete sense. Landowners have a very important role to play in enabling this. Luckily, there are numerous examples of both private and public landowners successfully entering into agreements that provide people wanting to produce food with access to land.
Motivations for making land available
So why make land available? In the last four years Somerset Community Food have worked with Landowners, feedback that has been shared for motivations include:
* Because they care - and wish to support their local community and sustain positive relations.
* To reduce maintenance costs. Land management responsibilities can turn maintenance costs into revenue streams by utilising land for community groups. Depending on the agreements, community groups may agree to take on upkeep of things like hedges, paths, public footpaths and so forth, if these are connected to the land they are managing as a group.
* To meet their own objectives. Public landowners such as Local Health Authorities have objectives around tackling obesity and improving diets - community growing can be an ideal way to achieve this.
* Minimising risk. Smaller private landowners are minimizing their exposure to risk from putting all their eggs in one basket at a time when key inputs are subject to ever increasing price volatility and commodity prices are fluctuating wildly. They are finding it can be prudent to diversify “crops” by spreading bets and externalising some risk in exchange for access to land at the same time as sometimes helping to create new employment opportunities
Diversifying into more localised growing and farming opportunities can be an income generator in the current economic climate. Incomes can start from £3-400 per acre for new allotments. Local authority run sites charge fees ranging from £25 per plot per year upwards (a 25m x 25m sized plot on average). A typical plot on a private site attract up to £100 per annum where demand is very high. This can be an attractive income for marginal bits of land that are difficult to farm or otherwise maintain.
Farmers can also sell produce or material (hay etc) to allotmenteers and community gardeners, hire or loan kit and offer other services.
One also needs to be aware that if the land is managed by another group, the management costs of this land is also significantly reduced. Larger projects such as Communituy Support Agriculture schemes may also generate larger financial returns.
The Community Land Advisory Service undertook a rent survey of what different groups are paying. You can read it online here or download it here.
Before diving into the process, it is worth exploring some of the common concerns that landowners can have.
Ongoing maintenance and sustainability costs
• If sensible rents are set, full costs can be covered.
• If sites are managed in a devolved way (for example an Allotment Society), interaction with them should be professional. With a good legal agreement both parties should know what they are responsible for or not.
• Constituted groups should be able to apply for funding which can help cover any infrastructure costs.
• A robust agreement will require landusers to keep sites clean and tidy.
Interacting with lots of people, losing control or otherwise generating a lot of work for yourself
• We encourage all groups to be professional and establish formal structures for making decisions and managing the day-to-day needs of a site, such as Allotment committees. If these structures are in place then the committee should be able to take care of all of the administration and decide a single point of contact to liaise with a landowner, when necessary.
• Staying connected and involved, as well as maintaining positive communication can ensure that there will conflict will be minimised or avoided.
• If your experience to working with a community group is different to this, you may like to direct them to this handbook or another agency that supports groups.
Is it a fad?
• With increasing population, potentially higher unemployment for the foreseeable future, and food and energy prices rises, growing one’s own will continue to be an important element of some people’s lifestyles.
• Being aware of demand for land in your area is important before getting started For example, find out about waiting lists for allotments in your area, as well as gauguing local interest in food growing (for example being aware of local groups that organise food-related events, such as seed swaps, harvest shows - or have even advertised for land locally).
Pressure from development
• For local councils that are under pressure for development, there is new planning guidance has been prepared to require developers of new housing to “build in” growing spaces.
• “Meanwhile” arrangements can enable growing space until land is needed. For more information about this click here.
The Community Land Advisory Service have put together an extremely useful document that details the step-by-step process for landowners. We have summarised this below & added specific details to Somerset. Click here to download it.
1. Find out about community growing - look at this website to see what has been happening in Somerset. Or contact groups such as the Social Farms and Gardens
2. Identify a community group to use your land - see a list of groups in Somerset here or visit national websites such as www.transitionnetwork.org
3. Ask the group about the aims and objectives of their project - you may take guidance from the Community Land Advisory Service Community Lettings Questionnaire.
4. Talk to the neighbours of the site - to gain a bit of feedback and continue to build a positive relationship in case anything begins which may affect them.
5. Complete the Heads of Terms - download the Community Land Advisory Service template here.
6. Investigate Insurance - Speak to your current insurers to see if extra cover is required.
7. Check what type of legal agreement is appropriate - see the flowchart produced by the Community Land Advisory Service below, or download a copy of the chart here.
8. Give the Heads of Terms to the community group.
9. Amend/ Negotiate Heads of Terms with the community group. If necessary seek advice from a third party to help facilitate the process. You can access free advice from the Community Land Advisory Service & the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners.
10. Give the community group the legal agreement details including a template lease. For more information on leases click here.
11. Take legal advice to ensure you are using the right agreement with all necessary clauses. A solicitor should be instructed to finalise the agreement.
12. Exchange draft agreement.
13. If both are happy print final copy, complete notices, sign and exchange (See more information on who can sign a lease here).
14. Ask to see the tenant’s certificate of public liability insurance.
15. The community group gets their hands in the soil!