Town hall bosses are to consider asking developers to provide allotments in return for planning permission on large housing projects.

Brighton and Hove City Council, which runs 2,300 plots at 37 sites, closed its waiting list after the number of applicants reached 1,700.

In parts of the city applicants may have to wait up to five years for a plot to become available.

Geoffrey Theobald, chairman of the council's environment committee, said the council was reviewing the allotments service to see if improvements could be made.

He said it would consider asking developers to provide allotment space in certain circumstances.

He said: "With more people living in high density housing, allotments are now vital spaces for outdoor physical exercise and contact with nature, as well as for local, healthy food growing.

"In Brighton and Hove, the number of people wanting an allotment has jumped dramatically as more people recognise the opportunities they offer.

"Providing contributions towards allotments as part of a Section 106 agreement is something the council would consider if it were appropriate."

The announcement comes in the centenary year of the 1908 Smallholdings and Allotments Act, which placed an obligation on local authorities to provide sufficient allotments.

The requirement for local authorities to consider future needs for allotments when considering new developments ended in 1993.

David Lepper, Labour MP for Brighton Pavilion, who is supporting moves by a backbench MP to reintroduce the requirement, said he had received complaints that the council was slow to react when plots fell into disuse.

Mr Lepper said: "There's a growing interest in allotments, particularly because of the increasing number of flats being built in the city without gardens.

"A lot of young single people or couples who move into social housing or mixed developments without gardens would be interested if there were more opportunities to have an allotment."

Mr Lepper, who briefly ran an allotment 30 years ago in Whitehawk, Brighton, said recent interest may have been sparked by a growing desire among people to know where their food came from.

There was also a social aspect, with communities forming and growing up around allotment sites.

Celia Barlow, Labour MP for Hove, added: "Allotments provide attractive, open spaces and picturesque sanctuaries from the bustle of everyday life, not to mention the satisfaction of eating tasty home-grown vegetables.

"Britain has a long tradition of allotments, and we should continue to celebrate them, particularly when we are looking at ways of combating climate change."

A survey carried out in 1997 identified almost 300,000 allotments in England, with 45,000 of them vacant and 13,000 people on waiting lists.

In the most extreme cases, such as in the London borough of Camden, people can now expect to wait up to ten years before a plot becomes available.

Under plans introduced in Parliament under the ten minute rule by Oxfordshire MP Tony Baldry, local authorities would be expected to consider imposing a requirement on developers to provide allotment space as part of the conditions for planning consent for large scale housing schemes.

Geoff Stokes, of the National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners, welcomed the proposals, which stand little chance of becoming law without Government support.

He said a renewed interest in allotments had been triggered by a growing interest in fresh fruit and vegetables, due in part to the support of Jamie Oliver and other TV chefs.

There were also concerns about the long distances some supermarket food travelled before reaching the shelves.

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