Growers plot legal action over huge fees rise

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ALLOTMENT holders in Sheffield are considering legal action over plans to more than double their rent over the coming year.

Sheffield Council is reducing its subsidy for running costs at allotments from around 70 per cent to 45 per cent.

Currently, Sheffield Council charges allotment holders £35 a year for rent and water on a 250 square metre plot. The fee is one of the lowest in the country – in Bradford and Bristol the charge is £47. Minor increases are set to be implemented in Sheffield from April, bumping the fee to £37.90 and allotment holders will be asked to pay for the year up-front instead of nine months in arrears.

But from 2013/14, charges are set to rise much more steeply.

Plots of up to 200 square metres would cost £50, plots of 201 to 300 square metres would cost £70 – and plots bigger than 300 square metres would be £100 a year for rent and water.

The council says half price discounts would be available for pensioners, disabled people, students and those on low incomes.

Rob Hawkins, president of Sheffield Allotment and Leisure Gardeners Federation, said: “Having a large increase in rents is a leap in the dark. The damage that this will do is to the areas of the city where the ‘healthy living’ alternative should be encouraged.”

The federation has taken legal advice and found that under the law, rent increases must be at ‘reasonable’ levels and according to a previous legal case such rises should not be ‘disproportionately greater’ than an increase in fees for other leisure services.

Mr Hawkins said: “Councillor Leigh Bramall has justified the increase by saying that “allotments have been heavily subsidised in the past”. In this case, the past refers to the past three years. Prior to this, allotments were heavily underfunded.

“Allotment rents have gone up by over 25 per cent in the last six years, well above inflation.”

Coun Leigh Bramall, cabinet member for environment, said: “We are facing heavy government cuts and have a gap of £55 million for our next budget in April.

“ This means we have had to find savings or increase charges across services. Even with all the planned increases we will still be subsidising the allotments service by 45 per cent and our prices will still compare favourably with those in other cities.”