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Mapping for green growth across Old Trafford

On 6th November local residents gathered in Old Trafford’s Community Centre to hear more about a project that aims to identify potential sites in the area where land could be used to grow food.

The event included a report back from two mapping workshops held in May, as well as the opportunity to share some food and watch a screening of a film made about the work.
In addition to discovering who else in the area was interested in establishing new growing space (private outdoor space is very limited in Old Trafford), participants were treated to a film that helped explain where some of the ideas for the initiative came from;  New York City (NYC) and a project called 596 Acres

The 596 Acres website states: “We are creating a practice of building online tools neighbors can use to clear hurdles to community land access. The tools turn city data into information about particular pieces of land and connect people to one another through simple social networking functions.”

As part of this 596 acres has mapped publically owned land in NYC, which can be viewed online. The website is fascinating and represents a huge amount of collective effort to gather this information.  It is an Open Data project and they share the code that they used to create the map.

Central to the film and the project is the problem of local people not being able to find out who owns land which is not being used.  In Old Trafford the mapping was in response to the long allotment waiting lists, which now stretch into years in some parts of the city.  Why not then, use land which is often neglected to establish Community Gardens?

In Old Trafford the mapping was in response to the long allotment waiting lists, which now stretch into years in some parts of the city.

In the film Kirstin Glendenning from The Kindling Trust  said that the aim was to galvanise people to: “develop a culture where we perceive  land, particularly Council owned land as ours unless the Council can they prove they need it for another purpose, we should have access to it.”

After the film showing there was a discussion which included input from Paula Segal from the New York City project, who talked about the work in the United States. 

Sadly, there are significant differences in information that can be accessed in the United States on land ownership and mapping data and the UK.  Much of the discussion after the film related to this.  In England to find out who owns a parcel of land requires investment of £6 per enquiry with the Land Registry. The maps that were shown at the meeting from the mapping carried out in the summer identified many potential places where growing could be developed. To progress this, land registry enquiries would be needed for each of these. 

There was an interesting discussion about what happens at Trafford Council when a search is carried out about a piece of land. We learnt that the information is not held (for example in a database) by the Council, because ownership of the land can change, so the investment in the enquiry is also lost if it is not shared. 

Curiously we also learned that one of the parcels of land that had been mapped in Old Trafford has been investigated by the Council, and no owner has been found on the Land Registry.  This presents an interesting opportunity to use that land, but how can information like this be shared more effectively between the Local Authority and residents who might be interested in adopting the land?  Clearly a site such as the one developed in New York could help collect information about land ownership both in Trafford and elsewhere across Greater Manchester. You can view the film here.

Everyday Growing Futures (13 minutes, 2013) is directed and produced by Caroline Ward and Erinma Ochu and commissioned as part of the Everyday Growing Cultures project This project is partly concerned with identifying citizen-led solutions to the current allotment waiting list crisis and is funded by the Communities and Culture Network+

Follow @growingcultures and @allotmentdata