An ‘extortionate’ proposed hike in allotment fees has come under fire – with hundreds of Sheffield residents backing a protest.
Allotment-holders with plots at Morley Street allotments, Walkley, currently pay £100 a year in fees – but face a rise to £160 in 2014, which they say will make them the most expensive in the country.
Hundreds of residents have already signed an online petition calling on Sheffield Council to freeze the annual sum – claiming the hike goes against its messages on healthy eating and affordable food in the city.
Allotment-holder Naomi Pickard, aged 44, said: “Two years ago we were paying £50 a year, which doubled to £100 last year.
“To raise it another £60 this year seems harsh when, in Leeds, rent is £38.50 a year and in Worksop it’s £8 a year.
“They do pay £100 down in Basildon, but their allotments have security and toilet facilities. We have no amenities here.”
Naomi, a mental health nurse from Walkley, who has had an allotment at Morley Street since 2011, said: “We grow lots of fruit and veg which has a huge impact on our shopping bills and is enormously important to us in this economic climate.
“There’s also the other benefits, such as exercise and the time spent as a family, plus how relaxing and enjoyable we find it in among the stresses of normal everyday life, that can’t be measured.”
Fellow protestor Mike Hutchinson, 57, is part of a team which helps with the upkeep Walkley’s community allotment plots.
He said: “The council’s own consultant on food strategy recently revealed 58 per cent of the Sheffield population have issues with weight and obesity.
“They spoke of the priority in increasing food security in the city, offering more local, healthy and affordable food options, and yet this hike in fees goes against that.”
The protestors insist they are not looking for a slash in fees, merely a cap that would allow everyone in their small community to hold onto their plots.
Naomi said: “We’ve all worked hard at getting our allotments to the shape they’re in and it would be sad if people had to give them up now.
“Many of us don’t have access to gardens of our own and our allotments become our gardens – as well as our opportunity to help provide for ourselves, our friends and our families.”
Dan Bilton, Morley Street Allotments chairman, said: “Our allotments are already among the most expensive in the country. It is hard to understand how private landlords, and neighbouring authorities, can charge £20 a year and our council can propose to charge £160.”
Coun Jack Scott, council cabinet member for environment, recycling and street scene, said: “We are in this position because the Government has taken £190 million from the council and we are faced with a range of very bad choices and have to pick the least worst options.
“Petitioners are right there are huge benefits to using allotments – health, wellbeing, good eating – but it is my view the proposed weekly cash cost of allotments, about £3 a week, is not excessive.”