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Clearer policies would boost urban growing in Leeds

By Incredible Edible

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Incredible Edible board member, Dan Robinson, and others from Incredible Edible Leeds (IE Leeds) have been working on securing a Right to Grow for the city. The Incredible Edible Leeds group supports 20 sub-groups within the city, and has over 150 volunteers but over the last year it’s become increasingly clear just how important a Right to Grow policy will be for the City. Leeds City Council, like others where Incredible Edible groups operate, often defaults to IE Leeds to back groups who want to start a community garden and while being part of a network like Incredible Edible can be very useful, it should never become a requirement in order for authorities to trust citizens with community gardening on public land. Below, Dan shares his thoughts with us on the Right to Grow in Leeds, why it’s needed, and what opportunities lay ahead.

IE Leeds is a fantastic example of how groups can work together to really bring community growing to life across a city, but lots of people try to start community gardens outside of the Incredible Edible framework too. What kind of challenges do people face when approaching the council?

“There’s always a level of caution and risk that needs to be worked through. Community groups are brilliant and have lots of great ideas but sometimes they don’t always understand the way that the decision makers view things. That’s made more difficult by a lack of clear processes. The council being able to explain those things to people and working through possible solutions is important, and it’s those negotiations which can be difficult for both parties.”

And do those negotiation challenges prevent projects from getting off the ground in Leeds?

“We see every day the enthusiasm, passion and energy of ordinary people who want to do something positive in their community. That could be growing food, it could be a local art project, it could be planting trees or sowing wildflower seeds. We do see community growing projects struggle to get off the ground because people don’t necessarily know how to navigate the paperwork, they don’t have the right insurance or the knowledge of how to complete a risk assessment. We live in this world where everything involves a huge amount of red tape, and I know it frustrates the public, and people working within the council. So yes, we do see it, where ordinary people are stopped dead in their tracks with an idea because of bureaucracy. We’ve had several projects referred to us, and then we take on the negotiations with the council. They know us and we know their processes better so that helps a lot in terms of having a trusted and proactive partnership. I think if we are bold and we are brave good things can happen, but councils need to be braver too, and make processes easier in order to allow community groups like us, to help them.”

What difference would it make if Leeds adopted a Right to Grow policy?

“Thousands of people are on a waiting list for an allotment in our region and more community urban food growing would have a massive impact on creating a brighter, greener, healthier city. A Right to Grow policy would fast-track that process by making it simpler for communities to access public land for those projects and it would also create a more equitable distribution of access to resources and land. I think it would really improve the relationship between the local authority and the people whom it serves. A straight-forward policy and process would be a huge cost saving of Officer time within the Council too because the current process – or lack of – means they spend a lot of time and resources supporting community initiatives to get off the ground. Leeds is a city which is innovative and leads by example. It was the first Local Authority in the UK to declare a Climate Emergency and a Right to Grow policy for the city would be the single biggest thing it could do to set an example for the rest of the country in how decision makers and citizens can work together to enjoy happy, healthy, sustainable and lives for the place that they call home. Not to mention the extended positive outcomes of physical and mental health benefits to project participants.”

So, will Leeds be adopting a Right to Grow? The policy has been discussed between a number of Elected Members and Senior Officers and has been also been discussed at Executive Board and the Climate Emergency Advisory Committee (CEAC). The policy proposal is supported by Foodwise (the city’s Food Partnership) and the city’s Food Champion (within the Council). The Executive Board have reaffirmed their commitment to community food growing in parks and green spaces but to create real change we hope to see Leeds City Council pass a Right to Grow motion for the whole of the city.

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