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Hull set to allow ‘right to grow’ on unused council land in UK first

Hull is set to become the first city in Britain to give people a “right to grow” on unused council land.

Community groups, charities and even small groups of neighbours would be able to cultivate fruit and vegetables on suitable council land in what campaigners say will provide healthy local food, boost mental health and revive neglected spaces.


Hull councillors unanimously passed the “right to grow” motion that means the council will produce a map of suitable land it owns and help those who want to grow food on it overcome practical obstacles such as insurance or provision of water for the plants.


The motion, which will first go before the council scrutiny committee, follows a burgeoning local and national campaign for a “right to grow” on neglected urban land.


The waiting list for allotments in England has risen by 81% over the past 12 years as more than 150,000 people seek a place to grow fresh food.


“It will benefit Hull in many ways,” said Gill Kennett, a local councillor who backed the motion, which received cross-party support. “We are a deprived city and we do need cheap food. In terms of mental health benefits, growing food gives people something to do, it gives them confidence, it ticks so many boxes.”


Incredible Edible, a grassroots network of more than 150 community growing groups, is calling for a national “right to grow” law obliging all local authorities to keep a register of land that could be used for growing, and which people could apply to.


Campaigners say councils can meet the growing demand for places to grow in urban areas by stripping away bureaucratic obstacles such as growers requiring public liability insurance, which could be provided under councils’ existing insurance. Even land earmarked for development that sometimes lies unused for years could be cultivated for one or two harvests.


Pru Elliott of Incredible Edible said: “We need to see a change of rules and a change in the way land is used. If communities are given a right to grow they will use it. We just need to get rid of the red tape. If Hull can bring this to life I hope it will be an example for councils around the country that it’s something really tangible that they can run with. It’s about letting go of control a bit and trusting communities.


“It’s producing healthy food, it’s benefiting mental health, it’s reducing crime and antisocial behaviour – we’re seeing that councillors in more deprived areas get it. They recognise all these extra benefits that come with something as simple as people growing food in the local community.”


The Create Streets thinktank, whose chair is an adviser to the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, recently produced a report calling for a “right to grow” as part of a greening up of British cities.


In Hull, the motion came about after Hull Food Partnership – a collaboration between local people, businesses, charities and the council – devised “food hustings” at the local elections, where councillors discussed how Hull could address local food issues from food banks to “food deserts”.


Anna Route of Hull Food Partnership said: “Everyone should have the ability to access good quality locally produced food regardless of their background or income, and we want to remove as many barriers to feeding people well as possible.”


Darren Squires of Rooted in Hull, a social enterprise that grows food on former industrial land in Hull, said the benefits of growing food in urban spaces included providing fresh, healthy produce for food banks, boosting mental health, growing low-carbon food, and also providing wildlife-friendly green corridors in the city.


“People do want to grow but we don’t have the opportunity to unlock that land normally,” he said.


Squires said he hoped the motion would result in the council providing groups with public liability insurance under its own umbrella as well as practical help such as connecting up growers with sources of water for dry spells, whether harvested from nearby roofs or via mains pipes.


“I grow in a small yard and I can eat salad all summer and it costs me a few pounds rather than a few pounds every couple of days from the supermarket,” he added.


“There are some veg that no amount of money will get you the same quality as something you get when you pick and eat it the same day. You’ve not eaten French beans until you’ve eaten some you’ve grown.”


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