Public Space for Growing Food in developments

Allotment Plots

A further means by which the planning system can improve access to fresh fruit and vegetables while contributing to physical activity and mental wellbeing is to facilitate the release and use of land for community allotments. This functions well as part of a wider strategy for healthy urban living, retailing, green infrastructure planning and regeneration.

In recent years there has been a renaissance in ‘grow-your-own’ gardening as people increasingly appreciate the health and environmental benefits that come with growing food locally. The health benefits of the practice are not linked just to diet but also to the mental benefits of community cohesion. The escalating popularity of ‘grow-your-own’ culture has meant that waiting lists for allotment plots have soared, leaving local authorities struggling to meet demand. The majority of allotment authorities (i.e. parish, town, district or borough councils) will have one or more allotment sites in their area and will maintain their own waiting lists of people wanting a site.

Allotment provision has a long tradition for meeting demand for locally grown food. Allotments can work effectively when included as a section of larger open community space. Consideration should be given to enabling access to allotments to be controlled by the managing group, though including a publicly accessible space within an allotment offers the wider community the chance to enjoy the allotments and engage in smaller-scale food growing.

It is recommended that a local community organisation be found to manage any new allotments, or that a new organisation involving local residents is created for this purpose.

It is also recognised that providing allotments in high-density situations may be challenging. As such, alternative provisions for growing food locally are considered below.

Land Within Larger Community Spaces

Elsewhere in this guide, we have recommended that developers consider providing well-managed formal and informal green spaces for residents.

Providing land (such as a community garden) that can be used by the community to collectively grow food is one option for increasing the different use options for public open space. Management arrangements and controlled access needs are likely to be similar to those for allotments, but of course a community garden must have open access in order to fulfil its function.

Waste Ground and Derelict Sites, Land Awaiting Development and ‘Meanwhile Spaces’

Waste ground and derelict sites offer opportunities for community food production. This use may be temporary while awaiting future development, and can help in ensuring security for such sites.


Green roofs can be categorised as extensive or intensive. Extensive green roofs tend to consist of non-productive plants, i.e. sedums, and are designed primarily for energy efficiency or water management. They tend not to be safely accessible. Intensive green roofs are designed to be accessible for either food-growing or other recreational activities. Intensive green roofs will require deeper soil levels to support shrubs, perennials and even trees. Beds for growing can be incorporated into the roof at the time of design/construction or can be added as containers after completion or during conversion projects. Loading capacity for green roofs should be addressed at the design stage.

Green Walls

Vertical growing on external and internal walls can be adapted for food production. Green walls entail technical considerations relating to maintaining plantings and growing mediums in place, and supplying irrigation. There are various systems now on the market to help achieve this and some modular planting systems are now starting to include productive plants in their design – in particular salads and herbs.

Productive green walls require high maintenance, including regular harvesting and seasonal replanting; they therefore need to be accessible. They will also have a dormant period during the winter when no plants will grow; allowance needs to be made for the appearance of the walls at this time. Walls can also be utilised for training espaliered and climbing plants, which give rise to fewer technical considerations.


Balconies can provide small spaces for individuals to grow a limited selection of plants, and are particularly suited to high-density residential developments. North-facing balconies overshadowed by other high-density buildings are unlikely to be suitable for food-growing. Planting containers and window-boxes can be incorporated into balcony design. Railings and structures joining neighbouring balconies can also be designed to support climbing or espaliered plants. Loading capacity for containers should be addressed at the design stage.

Grounds of Community Facilities and Public Buildings

Public buildings such as schools and hospitals have communities – staff, pupils and other users of the buildings – who can be encouraged to organise together to grow food and manage food-growing facilities.

Internal Atriums and Courtyards

Atriums or courtyards with adequate exposure to sunlight can create opportunities for food-growing, with micro-climates allowing high-value tender plants to be grown. Ground-level beds or planters can be used as well as living walls. Irrigation systems and water run-off systems will be required.

Landscaping with Edible Plants

Low-maintenance food-producing plants can be included in landscaping. These might be fruit or nut trees or vines. They can be freestanding or espaliered against walls.

Beds can include edible shrubs such as artichoke, currants, herbs, rhubarb and fruit alongside ornamental plants. Planters or containers can be used in hard landscaping designs or when no soil is available.

Raised beds

Raised beds might be used because of the presence of poor-quality soil, to provide growing space where there is hardstanding or on rooftops, or to assist access by wheelchair users or those who cannot bend down or get up easily. Beds should be up to 2ft in height for wheelchair access. They should be 3ft in width where access is from a single side; and 4ft in width where access is from either side.

Page updated: 9/02/2018

Make the most of the Essex Design Guide, register today

As well as ensuring you are always in the know about future changes and updates to the Essex Design Guide, registering with us will enable to you to add and manage bookmarks throughout the site, so your most-used areas of the guide are always easy to find.

Register for updates

© 2024 Copyright Essex County Council. All rights reserved.