A guide to making land available for community food growing
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 highlight the positive impacts, support you in the decision making, and guide you through the process, challenges and legalities.
More and more people want to grow their own food and the reasons are various, from a need and desire to save money as the cost of living crisis 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 revitalising and we need to develop resilience to all these realities and 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? Somerset Community Food have worked with Landowners and 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 arrangements, community groups may agree to take on upkeep of connected hedges, paths, public footpaths etc..
* 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 minimising 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 square plot on average). A typical plot on a private site can attract up to £100 per annum where demand is very high. This can be an attractive income for marginal land that is difficult to farm or otherwise maintain.
Farmers can also sell produce or material (rotted manure, straw etc) to allotmenteers and community gardeners, hire or loan kit and offer other services. Roots Allotments in Bath, is a good example of this.
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 Community Supported Agriculture schemes may also generate larger financial returns.
Common Concerns - 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 land-users 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 guidebook or another agency that supports groups.
Is it a fad?
• With increasing population and food and energy prices rises, growing one’s own will continue to be an important element of 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 gauging local interest in food growing (for example being aware of local groups that organise food-related events, such as seed swaps, 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.
The Community Land Advisory Service have an extremely useful guide that details the step-by-step process for landowners (this version is for Scotland). We have summarised this below & added specific details to Somerset.
1. Find out about community growing - look at our growing projects map to see what is happening in Somerset, or contact groups such as 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 their project's aims and objectives- you may take guidance from the Community Land Advisory Service Community Lettings Questionnaire.
4. Talk to the neighbours of the site, gain feedback on ideas and continue to build a positive relationship as activities 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:
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 National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners and Community Land Advisory Service.
10. Give the community group the legal agreement details including a template lease (see below).
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 below)
14. Ask to see the tenant’s certificate of public liability insurance.
15. The community group gets their hands in the soil!
This section is all about written agreements, such as leases and licenses. We are very grateful to the Community Land Advisory Service for their groundwork in this area.
Why try & get a written agreement in place?
Some people may wish to skip over this section. However we have found during the Somerset Land & Food Project that getting more than a verbal agreement at the start is a hugely beneficial process - it is a way to survey everyone’s needs, make things explicit and transparent and give all actors involved a sense of peace and protection which will affect landowner-user relationships as well as how the land is cared for.
Having a lease in place means makes it easier for everyone to uphold their rights and should lead to a consensus which is record, clear and easier to enforce.
What is a lease & what is its function?
A lease is a contract agreed and signed between the owner and the tenant and must specify the beginning and length of the lease, the site to be let and the rent. We can simply agree things verbally but people forget, misunderstand or change their minds so the agreement is best to be written down and signed by both owner and user.
This allows both owner, or Landlord, and user, or Tenant, to be clear about what they have agreed, their rights and their obligations. The minimum we need to agree is who the Landlord and Tenant are, a description of the area to be used, or let, the length of the lease, and the cost, or rent. Usually the Landlord will want to control what the land will be used for.
For more valuable or complicated sites other details may need to be included, such as responsibility for insurance, payment of rates, access arrangements etc. The main points we agree are often called “Heads of Terms” and you will find a suggested template and a How To document about filling in the template here.
The intention of a lease is to set out the rights and responsibilities of both the landowner and his or her tenant. Both parties then know what they can and cannot do and can rely on the other party for what they can and cannot do. A lease is there to protect both landlord and tenant.
⁃ Overview document - what is a lease, different types of leases, do I need a lawyer?
⁃ How to register a lease - compulsory & voluntary registration, application process for registering your lease, fees, glossary
⁃ Leases - who can sign a lease, incorporating your group
⁃ How to complete your lease requirements template- what to put in your lease requirements/heads of terms including information on landowners, tenants/occupiers, site, rent, terms, access & parking, permitted uses, insurance, maintenance, erection of hard standing & buildings, compensation for improvements, responsibility for legal costs, subletting, break clause, water
⁃ Download an example Heads of Terms template here
• Business Lease information - with information on what is a business lease, business lease templates, finalising the business lease
What is a licence & what is its function?
A licence is a permission given by the occupier of a premises (who may be the landowner or tenant) to allow someone else to use their premises alongside them, the licensee does not get a legal interest in the land just permission to use it, i.e. it does not grant exclusive possession.
- Licenses Factsheet.
- Farm Business Tenancy Factsheet
- Allotment Agreements
- The National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners offer advice and training on licenses and leases.
Profits À Prendre
This information is taken from the Community Land Advisory Services factsheet on Profits à Prendre, which you can download here.
Profits à Prendre is an entirely different legal mechanism than a tenancy or a licence. It is the right to take something that is part of the land and capable of being sold, for example an orchard owner could give an abundance group the right to harvest the apples from his/her trees.
Because it is a right to take, it means that the owner of the land can remain in legal occupation whilst granting the right to another party. The other party has no additional legal rights and because of the nature of the activity, it is not necessary for there to be notice periods for the activity to stop.
A fee may be charged. It need not be paid in cash; it could be in kind, including services or produce.
In certain circumstances, it may not be necessary to enter into a written legal agreement because it is an informal one off arrangement.
The parties to the Profits à Prendre need to have a “legal identity”. This could be an individual, several individuals, a company (including a community interest company (CIC)), a limited liability partnership, a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) or an industrial and provident society (IPS).
Therefore an unincorporated community group would have named individuals, such as the group’s secretary and the chairperson listed as a party to the Profits à Prendre. They would be personally responsible for complying with the terms of the agreement. If they no longer wish to be involved with the group, a new Profit à Prendre will have to be entered into with new individuals.
Profits à Prendre have to be in the form of a deed which is required by law to be prepared by solicitors, barristers and licensed conveyancers in order to be valid.
Finalising a Profits à Prendre
1. Consider if it is necessary to enter into a written legal agreement, as it may be an informal one off arrangement
2. Both parties need to agree the following:
- What is to be taken?
- How much to be taken?
- Payments in return
- How long will this last for?
- Access and parking
- Who is responsible for legal costs?
3. At this point it may be worth revisiting the agreement type flow chart to make sure that the Profits a Prendre is still the most suitable arrangement for your project.
4. You will need to instruct a solicitor to draw up the Profits a Prendre as it is a deed and only a solicitor, barrister, public notary or licensed conveyancer may prepare deeds.
5. As it is a deed, you need to sign the Profits a Prendre in the presence of witnesses who also have to sign. It must be in writing and signed by the parties as a deed.
This guidebook was originally produced by Somerset Community Food, as part of the Somerset Land and Food Project, with financial support from the Big Lottery and was originally published on 'Incredible Edible Somerset' , we advise you you to check details yourself as
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.