I’ve been contacted by allotment holders in Hatfield about the huge rent increases the council is imposing on them. I think it’s a disgrace.
History of Allotments
Practically, allotments date back to the first half of the nineteenth century. They were a way of enabling the poor and underpaid to provide food for their family. Those who had moved to the growing towns and cities had no gardens or land of their own. Think of the back to back rows of terraced houses with cobbled yards and shared toilet blocks.
Obviously there was no point in renting the allotments at a price the poor could not afford or a price that would approach that they would pay for the food they could grow on the plot.
In both the First and Second World Wars the allotments became vitally important to the nation’s survival. Outside of those periods, they’ve made a real difference to the health and wellbeing of millions of people.
Arguably nowadays many have their allotment plots primarily for recreation rather than food provision but in a period described as a ‘cost of living crisis’ and some people depending on food banks and charity, allotments still have a part to play in keeping the wolf from the door.
The Allotments Act 1950
So important are allotments that parliament enacted laws regarding them. The Allotments Act 1950 actually mentions in Section 10 the rents to be charged for allotments let by local authorities.
In practice allotment rents vary hugely and have increased year on year which is no surprise with inflation but they’ve usually been affordable. In Birmingham allotment rents vary from £51.25 to £113.56 depending on the size of plot with a 50% discount for the over 65s. They roughly equate to 50p to 60p per square metre per annum (Site updated April 2022).
Now allotment tenants of Welwyn Hatfield have received notice that their rents are to treble for 2023/24. Yes, treble!
The rentals for 2022/23 were £7.50 per 25m2 for a plot without water and £12.50 per 25m2 for a plot with water. That works out to be a little less than Birmingham but not anything remarkable. The new rents are to be £22.50 or £37.50 per 25m2 literally treble. Making these rents far higher than Birmingham at 90p or £1.50 per square metre.
Considering the accepted standard size for an allotment is 10 rods or 252m2, a full size plot with water available in Hatfield would be £375 a year. Quite how the council justifies this increase to its voters I don’t know. Well I know what they say..
Judging by the comments on this petition regarding allotment rents, the plot holders have a different opinion.
Value of Allotments to Society
One of the accepted benefits of allotments that was highlighted to parliament is social mixing and cohesion. People from different backgrounds, income groups and ethnicity all working away on their plot.
If the rents charged to tenants become unaffordable to the less well off, that social mixing will be lost. A site full of those – and only those – who can afford the rent.
Worse still is the prospect of councils using high rents as a way to evict tenants. Once the site occupancy falls to low levels the site ceases to be viable. Then the council can sell it off as prime building land. Allotment sites provide green spaces and breaks to the urban environment. Sites once lost are gone for good.
Low allotment rents are a necessity if individuals and society are to reap the benefits allotments bring to everyone, not just the individual plot holders.