Forking out more for allotments

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ALLOTMENT HOLDERS are calling for a review into rent rises after new research found Sheffield has some of the most expensive council-owned plots outside of London.

A fresh plea for a U-turn on the local authority’s decision to increase fees comes as a Liberal Democrat study found shows Sheffield’s annual cost is double the average charge in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Nottingham. Campaigners also claim some gardeners have already been forced out by the rise in April’s budget, which means the majority of plot owners have had to fork out £112 per year.

For some vegetable gardeners it represents a 100 per cent rise over the past three years.

Disabled people and households with low incomes now enjoy a 75 per cent discount, 
while pensioners have seen their discount slashed from 50 per cent to 25.

Sheffield Liberal Democrats have today called for councillors to re-examine the new charges, but the council claims the figures are ‘misleading’.

Dan Bilton, chairman of Sheffield’s Morley Street Allotment Society, said: “We always said Sheffield would be one of the most expensive in the country for allotments.

“There are discounts for those on benefits, but it’s ordinary people in not very well-paid jobs, or pensioners who don’t like claiming benefits, who are suffering because of this.

“They’re the ones who have been there the longest.

“We held protests in December before the budget consultation, but it seemed the decision had already been made, so we’d definitely back some sort of review. Private plots are charging less and I think more landowners are cottoning on to the fact they can open up and charge what they want.

It doesn’t bode well for the future of traditional allotments.”

Retired office manager Tom Gordon, of Norton Lees, said: “It’s the people who have had allotments in Sheffield for years being forced out.”

The storm comes in the 
same week Sheffield Council announces plans to roll out its new food strategy, which will see £190,000 of public money spent on ‘supporting communities to eat well’.

Recommendations in the report, approved by the cabinet at a meeting yesterday, also include working with takeaways and fast food outlets to encourage them to offer healthy options.

Coun Joe Otten, Sheffield Liberal Democrats spokesman on the environment, said: “Allotments are a vital resource, helping local people stay fit and healthy and allowing us to grow more food within the city.

“At a time when some people are still struggling to make ends meet, we should be supporting people to grow their own food not penalising them with higher charges.

“It’s clear that the council has allowed the rents to spiral out of control – we need an immediate review of these unnecessary and unfair hikes in charges.”

Coun Jack Scott, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for the environment, said: “The figures quoted for the other local authorities are only for rent.

“Our allotments for those who can least afford it are among the lowest in the country and we’ve committed to freezing allotment rents for two years. Our allotments are extremely popular – we still have a waiting list.”