I was reading David Derbyshire’s excellent blog on the Daily Mail site the other day and he was discussing the appalling increases in allotment rents that many councils are imposing. The article can be found here: Squeezing the pips out of allotment holders makes no sense
We’ve come to expect inflation increases in allotment rents each year, usually the subject of much moaning on the site but acceptable. A pound or two a year has been the norm ever since I took on my plot but these increases are extortion.
David points out that Barnet in London is going up from £58 a year for a standard 10 rod plot to £170 and non-residents of the borough are looking at an increase from £110 to £340 a year.
It’s not just London allotments, apparently Leeds and Manchester have jumped onto the bandwagon. I dare say many other councils will be taking a lead from them and rubbing their grubby hands at the thought of an increase in revenue.
Now we know times are hard and that money has to be saved from the public purse, but are allotments the right target? In recent years the popularity of allotments has increased and we’ve seen an influx of new blood on the sites which is very welcome. Young mothers bringing their children to learn where the food on the plate comes from and professional’s discovering a new and fashionable hobby. I’ve even heard of some people paying a gardener to look after a plot for them, which defeats the object in my book!
NSALG managed to shoot themselves in the foot by publishing and promoting heavily a report claiming the average plot could save a family £1564 a year. I personally think that is bunkum, most keen plot holders won’t save anything like that. However, it’s ammunition for the councils. If you’re saving £1500 then charging £300 isn’t so bad, they say. Of course allotment holders save money but if that was the only reason for having a plot then they’d be better off getting a second job. At just £6 per hour their time would generate over £900 a year.
Core Allotment Holders
There are some on the sites who won’t find £300 a year worth worrying about but many of us will. The retired on fixed incomes which shrink in value as everything else increases, those on sickness benefits and the unemployed just can’t pay this.
Those in low paid jobs, the traditional working class, are really feeling the squeeze and increases like that are the final straw. Yet these are the people allotments were created for and they’re the people who will still be digging away long after fashions have changed the wealthy have found new hobbies.
Social Benefits of Allotments
Physical health is improved of course, which has to save money for the NHS and there are proven mental health benefits as well. I know myself that overwhelming problems fall into perspective after a day on the plot re-connecting with reality and chatting to other people.
When I first took on my plot we had serious financial problems and quite frankly they could easily have crushed me. Now there are many people in the same position and time spent in a hobby that actually saves money rather than costing money can really help.
What to do about allotment rent increases
If your council are trying to increase your allotment rent unfairly then the best way to counter it is on the political front. Remember, all politicians want to get re-elected so something that threatens that will be taken seriously.
Download a list of your councillors from the web site and write to the all. Don’t email – write on paper. Letters are always taken more seriously than email. Mail merge is helpful for this.
Point out the benefits of allotments, find out what they’re increasing charges in other areas by and compare to those. For example, ‘The price of parking has risen by 5% but the proposed allotment rent increase is 300%’ Get others on the site to write or at least sign your letter.
Petitions have some effect but far more if they’re handed in with the local press and a photographer taking shots. Make it clear that “We’re as mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore!”
Allotment Conspiracy Theory?
If they increase the rents and drive off the core plot holders, eventually they end up with empty sites to sell to developers when the market turns around, as it will, in a few years.
If you want to keep your plot affordable, if you want to keep your plot then you need to take action. Not national action, this is a local issue, you need to take local action.