Belfast City Council set to give its residents the Right to Grow

A proposal for community food cultivation on council-owned land is under consideration from officials at Belfast City Hall.

Volunteers at a community farm. Credit: Hands on London

Volunteers at a community farm. Credit: Hands on London

During the November 2023 meeting of the Belfast City Council Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, an Alliance Party motion on the "right-to-grow" was approved. It makes Belfast City Council the second in the UK to formally give its residents the Right to Grow, following Hull Council's historic motion passed in October 2023

The Belfast motion, led by Alliance Councillor David Bell and seconded by Green Councillor Anthony Flynn, was accepted under the condition that council officers would prepare a report assessing the feasibility of right-to-grow initiatives.

The preamble notes that the cost-of-living crisis, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change are driving food insecurity in Belfast. A report published in July 2023 by the Trussell Trust found that 1 in 6 people in Northern Ireland are food insecure.

The motion states:

It is therefore vital that the Council plays its part to ensure that our citizens have access to enough fresh food for day-to-day living. This Council agrees to adopt a right to grow on Council owned land that is suitable for cultivation. This would probably involve licensing cultivation of suitable land via community groups.

Social Democratic Labour Party Councillor Séamas de Faoite said the need for land access must be balanced against the dire need for housing in Belfast, a re-articulation of the economy/environmental divide that has been called "unhelpful" by planning experts. In a statement to Belfast Live, Councillor De Faoite said: 

In principle we support the idea to use land in more imaginative ways like this. But my concern is what happens when balancing the rights of people who might be using council land or property for this purpose, against when we come to identify other purposes for council-owned land, particularly things like housing - housing stress is such a major issue in the city.

I would like to see a clear policy of how we balance out the rights of those groups granted the right to grow, and how those rights can be removed in the instance the council has a clear view to use a piece of land again in the future.

A report addressing these considerations is expected to be presented to the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee in the upcoming year.

For more information on the Right to Grow, check out Incredible Edible's campaign where you can find a template motion and a campaign brief to kick-start the movement in your area.